Should I Watch..? Tron
What's the big deal?
Tron (sometimes stylised as "TRON") is a sci-fi adventure film released in 1982 and was written and directed by Steven Lisberger. Inspired in 1976 by the video game Pong, Lisberger's film is about a hacker digitally transported inside the world of a computer system itself where he must battle for his freedom alongside a heroic security program. The film stars Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan and Barnard Hughes. Despite critical success, the film was deemed a disappointment by producers Disney after only earning $33 million in the US. Over the years, the film has proved influential to artists in various fields and eventually, a more financially successful sequel was released in 2010 called Tron: Legacy (1).
What's it about?
Former ENCOM programmer Kevin Flynn is scraping a living owning a video game arcade. Having designed a number of computer games for the company, he was screwed over by unscrupulous corporate rival Ed Dillinger who claimed he had developed them instead. As a result, Flynn left under a cloud while Dillinger climbed his way up the ladder to become senior Executive VP. Convinced that evidence exists in ENCOM's mainframe of Dillinger's betrayal, Flynn attempts to hack into ENCOM's system but comes up against the artificial intelligence Master Control Program.
Assisted by his former colleagues Alan and Lora, Flynn breaks into ENCOM's laboratory to bypass a security lock-down but finds himself zapped by a prototype laser beam which transports Flynn into the mainframe itself. Captured by programs loyal to the MCP and his second-in-command Sark (who bears a resemblance to Dillinger), Flynn finds himself battling for survival alongside other programs in a series of gladiatorial games. But somehow Flynn escapes with a security program called Tron and together, they set off to shutdown the MCP permanently...
Kevin Flynn / CLU
Alan Bradley / TRON
Ed Dillinger / SARK
Dr Lora Baines / YORI
Dr Walter Gibbs / DUMONT
RAM / Roy Kleinberg
Steven Lisberger *
Release Date (UK)
21st October, 1982
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Academy Award Nominations
Best Costume Design, Best Sound
What's to like?
Despite the fond memories of viewers around the world, the film itself is not one that looks good in the cold harsh reality of today. That said, the film has plenty going for it - the moment Bridges is zapped into the machine, the film becomes a mightily impressive journey of the imagination. With its crude digital landscapes, epics canyons and corridors filled with blinking lights, the film's unique atmosphere provides a genuinely thrilling environment for the characters to interact with. Some of the wonder has naturally evaporated in the years since its release but you can tremble at the sight of the light-cycles or cower at the ominous presence of Sark's ship which bears more than a passing resemblance to something you'd see in Star Wars (2).
Warner was always a terrific baddie and he has real fun as Sark, growling with menace at his incompetent henchmen. Boxleitner is far better as Tron than he is as the 'user' Alan but Bridges is just too good to ignore even if you know that deep down, you're watching the Dude. The film kinda forgets about Flynn's attempts to claim ownership over some video games once the action transfers to the Grid and when the iconic light-cycles scenes begins, you find yourself hypnotised by the spectacle of it all. And that's what this film is really all about - providing a spectacle for young audiences.
- Despite being hailed as one of the first movie to incorporate CG animation, only about twenty minutes of footage is shown - the rest was shot on 65mm Super Panavision or 35mm analogue film.
- The computer used for the movie's effects had only 2MB of memory and 330MB of storage, which severely tested what the programmers could do. At a certain distance, things were simply blacked out to allow the effects to continue.
- The film was actually disqualified for an Academy Award for special effects because it was felt that using computers was "cheating". It did, however, pick up an award for Technical Achievement in 1996.
What's not to like?
Trouble is, young viewers these days will probably complain about getting a migraine during some of the film's trippier moments. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey (3), the film includes the sort of visual effects that have epileptics feeling nervous. We've become used to fancy visuals these days, whether its the near-total abandonment of sets and props used by George Lucas in the Star Wars prequels or whether it's simply one character who is digitally imposed like Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings (4). Blocky visuals and largely monochromatic backdrops feel astonishingly old-hat and at times, you wonder if the script was written by someone who only had a vague idea of what a computer actually was.
Thankfully, you don't need a degree in computing to understand the film. Despite the pretty visuals, the film forgets about its screenplay and character motivations and settles down to become a standard chase movie which blends elements of The Wizard Of Oz (5) and Metropolis (6) into the mix. Obviously, these aren't bad films to incorporate but it doesn't have as many ideas as you might initially think. The ending is on us before we know it and to be honest, it didn't make a great deal of sense. In the real world, the story is wrapped up far too quickly while in the digital world, it was simply a case of 'Game Over'.
Should I watch it?
People who remember the film the first time around will be more impressed with Tron than I was, rose-tinted spectacles being helpful like that. Today, it feels about as cutting edge as a stone axe but one cannot deny the film's depth of imagination and technical wizardry in pulling it all off. Sadly, the film's weak story and obviously dated effects ruin the pictures appeal to viewers these days but it's interesting to note what younger viewers more used to the likes of "Call Of Duty" would make of it. But for those of you who remember "Space Invaders" and "Pac Man", this is a fun blast of nostalgia.
Great For: players of early video games, nostalgic adults, anyone yet to see Tron: Legacy (1)
Not So Great For: younger audiences, bored children, cos-players - you'll never look like Jeff Bridges, no matter how hard you'll try
What else should I watch?
"Tron" is a rare picture where the imagination exceeds the film itself but at least Tron: Legacy (1) provides some up-to-date visuals for viewers to goggle at. Annoyingly though, it appears to repeat the same mistake its predecessor made by forgetting to include a decent story to fully get the best out of its visuals. But the soundtrack by Daft Punk is fantastic and the cast deliver some solid performances including the returning Bridges and Boxleitner. Well, some of the cast do...
While computing might be an interesting area for movies to explore, these films are shackled to the technological era in which they are made because technology moves on so fast. Just ten years after the release of Tron, we had The Lawnmower Man (7) giving us a glimpse of virtual reality which would be replicated in other films like Disclosure (8) and Johnny Mnemonic (9). None of these movies are considered cutting edge today (indeed, some didn't look that great when first released) but expectations have receded among audiences - nowadays, the world wide web has made technology like emails and firewalls feel commonplace.