8.26.2014

Tron (1982)

Yeah the cover's pretty similar too.
"Trapped in a fight to the finish inside the video world he created."

Hello all, welcome to a new week at The Tagline! Summer is meandering towards its conclusion, and I am slowly being driven insane, so I thought now would be an opportune moment to explore a movie that features less preposterous science fiction than Hackers. To that end, I will be talking about Tron today. Yeah maybe it was a lame joke, but seriously, today I'm reaching back deep into history so that we can have a chat about the original Tron, a movie that spawned a franchise over the course of several decades, and eventually a sequel in 2010, which some people who clearly had never seen the original didn't like (and I'll talk more about that in a little bit). Originally conceived in 1976 by its director and writer Steve Lisberger, Tron was intended at first to be an animated feature, but as time went on and no one picked up the production, the emphasis slowly shifted towards backlit animation mixed with live action and computer animation, which was what ended up happening when Disney eventually picked up the film (yes it was always Disney, some people didn't know that I guess? I shouldn't be surprised but...) There it developed into the work that would eventually spawn a fairly prolific franchise, including a cartoon and a number of games. It's important to take this movie in a little bit in context of when it was made. In 1982 computers were very much not the mainstream, and even video games in their earliest form (Pong being a major inspiration for Lisberger) were an extremely niche attraction. It was the director's hope that he could sort of open up that world, and eventually that DID happen, though at the time Tron was not extremely successful (that being said it wasn't a flop either, it almost doubled its money).



Lookin' pretty sharp for 1982.
So there's some background, but what is Tron about? Well if you have seen Tron: Legacy you should have a pretty good idea. Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a former programmer for tech company ENCOM trying to hack into their mainframe to find evidence that his programs were stolen and claimed by the now CEO of ENCOM Ed Dillenger (you might say that Flynn is trying to PENETRATE the mainframe, but I'd slap you). Flynn's efforts are thwarted by the Master Control Program, an autonomous process that Dillinger created, which now more or less commands itself. Indeed, the MCP wants to branch out and seize control of other computer systems, despite the feeble protests of Dillinger, who clearly has lost control of the situation. Meanwhile, in an attempt to help Flynn, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, who is also notable to only huge geeks like me as Captain John J. Sheridan of Babylon 5) and Lora Baines, two other ENCOM engineers, help Flynn sneak into ENCOM, where he continues his efforts to obtain the data he needs. Unfortunately, the MCP sees this as a threat to its own efforts, and so does something super sci-fi and digitizes Flynn with a crazy laser that he somehow didn't notice was aimed at his back. Flynn is then trapped inside the grid, a computer world within the system where the MCP is taking total control, and intends to have Flynn participate in lethal gladiatorial games until he dies.

Who wouldn't want to hang out in an arcade run by Jeff Bridges.
It's here that Flynn meets a security program named Tron, created by Alan (and also played by Boxleitner, basically everyone in this movie has a computer version of themselves) and together the two vow to take out the MCP before it can enact its plan and oh yeah also kill them all. This effort of course involves playing deadly cyber Jai Alai and racing super cool light cycles because why the hell wouldn't it, we're in cyber space so things should be cool and glowy. There are also tanks, which is pretty neat too, I'm sad the tanks didn't make it into Legacy, but I guess we can't have everything in life. Beyond the neatness, there isn't a lot of depth to the plot of the movie, but that's generally not that big of a deal, because the rest of the movie is so enjoyable (though certainly looking back the effects are not so spectacular compared to 30 years later and so the kind of feeble plot is more of an annoyance).

Oh my god. are all Quarian suits modeled after Sark?
It is really still pretty impressive to see how slick looking of a film Tron is, considering when it was made and the budget it was created on. There's a lot of ingenuity at work, and it makes for a movie that has a kind of otherworldly beauty to it, complemented nicely by the soundtrack and otherwise excellent sound work. Obviously after Legacy I was really missing a soundtrack scored by Daft Punk, but then again I am always kind of wishing I was in a club with Daft Punk DJing and Michael Sheen capering about like a deranged fop. That isn't just me... right? Going back to re-watch this movie after the release of its sequel, it is also really striking how Tron: Legacy is a very different sort of story that at the same time makes almost constant callbacks to the original, and parallels it in a lot of ways that I found charming rather than derivative. If you get the chance, you should watch Tron if you haven't already, though getting a hold of it is kind of tough.

That's all for today! Join me again on Thursday for still more CYBER EXCITEMENT.

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