Synopsis: The first film to venture forth inside the previously unexplored three-dimensional realm of computer imagery. Tron dazzles with revolutionary visual effects and mind-bending action sequences. Flynn, a computer whiz who invents video games, finds himself at the mercy of the evil human forces who answer to the Master Control Panel- a powerfully corrupt computer presence that has beamed Flynn inside its deadly game grid. There, an electronic civilization thrives, and “Light Cycles” race at heart-stopping speeds. With the aid of his friends, Alan and Lora, Flynn’s only hope is to activate Tron, the courageous and trustworthy counter-program, in a heroic battle to save humankind!
eyelights: its phenomenal visuals. the basic concept.
eyesores: the third act. the sometimes weak correlations between the real and computer worlds.
“On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.”
‘Tron’ is a live science fiction action-animation motion picture that tells the story of a computer game programmer who is sucked into the system as he tries to hack into his former employer’s computer – to find evidence that his games have been misappropriated. Now digitized and immersed in a computer world, he has to find his way out, all the while battling Master Control Program.
I was really young when ‘Tron’ came out, back in 1982. My dad, who was a computer programmer, was fascinated with it because it was the first motion picture made extensively with CGI. I don’t know if he ever saw it, but I vividly remember him telling me about it. At the time, it felt as though ‘Tron’ was everywhere: in television commercials, the Sunday comics, and in local arcades.
It was the video game that I got to experience first. While it would be years before I could see the movie, my friends and I played the arcade game to death; we pounded quarters into it. The various games within ‘Tron’ were not only exciting, but looked amazing for the time; no other video game matched its visuals or game interface. It remains one of my fondest arcade memories.
When I finally saw the movie, I was deeply disappointed: it was nowhere nearly as exciting as the game had been; it spent too much time in the real world and, when in the computer world, it got bogged down in abstract concepts and dialogues. You pretty much had to be a programmer (or an intellectual) to appreciate what it aimed to do. At the time, I was too young to enjoy it.
I still bought it when it came out on DVD, however, when the 2-disc special edition came out. I felt that it was an important enough picture that it should be in my collection. And, anyway, I wanted to give it yet another chance, even though by then I’d seen it two or three times and still hadn’t fully savoured it. I ended up watching all the special features on this fully-stocked set.
I was becoming a fan, if a minor one.
Clearly, the reason to see ‘Tron’ is for its mixture of CGI, traditional animation and other effects, giving it an otherworldly look. To make the scenes look more technological, the live action bits in the computer setting were shot in black and white and coloured with highlights afterwards, giving the picture a sort of artsy, avant-garde, vibe. It still looks amazing, unique, to this day.
The visuals are unusual, original, highly-influenced by computer technology of the day. Granted, the CGI is dated, but it’s entirely suited to the way this early-’80s computer reality would look. The set design is also very sweet, with control rooms that are reminiscent of ‘Star Wars’ crossed with ‘The Prisoner’. Heck, even the costume designs are cool, albeit mostly because of the highlights.
The next reason for watching ‘Tron’ is for the way that the filmmakers brought the arcade games to life. We are first introduced to them from a real world perspective, showing a kid playing the 2D version in an arcade, and then being shown the 3D iteration inside the machine. This made the game seem so much more exciting than it already was, turning them into action sequences.
The first game consists of two players standing on circular, ringed courts, throwing a ball at each other with large scoops. When they don’t catch the ball being lobbed at them, the ring the ball falls on disappears, leaving them with less and less space to move on. It may seem simplistic, and it is, but the fact that they are suspended over a pit adds danger. Plus it looks cool.
Then there is the light cycle competition, which has two teams of three trying to outmaneuver and eliminate each other by creating tangible trails in their wake to block the others’ space. When any of them run out of space to move, they derezze. It’s visually-stunning to watch, from the moment when the characters teleport in, morphing into their bikes, all the way to the end.
Frankly, these games are the centerpiece of the picture. The plot is too high-brow for the average audience to fully digest, so it’s the action that moves the picture forward; the activities inside the computer only vaguely make sense in real terms, and thus are heightened to stimulate the audience. Even the characters are merely anthropomorphized versions of programs.
How they coexist is peculiar.
The biggest question comes in the religious overtones, with the programs believing in Users as almighty deities. The believers are even oppressed for believing in these higher powers and promised freedom by MCP’s underlings if they shun their ways. Naturally these concepts reflect human conflicts, but I’m not sure what the filmmakers’ message is here, and how it applies exactly.
The way that the programs interact with their Users is also unusual and intriguing. For instance, Flynn (Jeff Bridges at his cocky and enthusiastic best) talks with programs as though he didn’t need a keyboard, even as he uses one. Similarly, the story’s villain (played by David Warner) communicates with MCP by voice. I suspect this was done for effect, to bring the exchange to life.
Speaking of MCP, it’s interesting to note that its motivation was similar to Skynet’s in ‘The Terminator‘: its intention is to take over the Pentagon and Kremlin because it feels that it can run the world better than humans ever could. It’s a perfectly logical conclusion, but it goes into conflict with its use of gladiator-like games to eliminate its opposition: why would it waste time on games?
Still, this minor issue can likely be ignored by the average viewer. And those familiar with computers, likely have greater issues with the film’s translation of programming concepts. The real problem with ‘Tron’ is its weaker third act, from the slapsticky, silly scene in which Flynn loses control of the recognizer, to the picture’s abrupt wrap up. The picture totally loses momentum then.
But, all in all, ‘Tron’ is basically a fun, inventive fantasy adventure movie with a computer motif. It may not be the greatest cinematic achievement, but it’s a landmark anyway. It’s well worth seeing, if not for its historical significance, then at the very least because there is no other motion picture like it; it’s an original, unique vision that leaves quite the impression whether you like it or not.
End of line.
Date of viewing: April 24, 2015