With Tron Legacy on the way after 28 years, the original Tron has clearly left a lasting impression. Whether this impression is worth a tight sequel, with a strong story or a glossy, shallow cash-in, remains to be seen. However, an examination of the original 1982 film may indicate whether Tron Legacy will be worth the price of your ticket in the end. This is why I have decided to review Tron on DVD, as any upcoming sequel deserves at least a small investigation of its origins.
It is the early 1980′s and Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has been swindled out of some lucrative intellectual property: video games. During his employment at technology company ENCOM, Flynn’s game designs were stolen by fellow employee Ed Dillinger (David Warner), who used them to gain power in the company. Now ENCOM’s Senior Vice President, Dillinger has created the Master Control Program (MCP), an intelligent system that controls ENCOM’s computer network, while also stealing programs from other companies to increase its power autonomously. Flynn is determined to procure evidence from ENCOM’s network to prove Dillinger theft. But after breaking into an ENCOM laboratory, Flynn is transported into the computer network itself by the MCP.
Inside the network is a visually striking world of programs, bits, memory and data in the form of a society. This society is governed by the Master Control Program, whose tyrannical regime dictates the lives of captured programs. These programs appear as humanoids resembling their programmers (or “users” as they are known), many of which are imprisoned for believing in such “users” and forced to compete in fatal “computer games”. Flynn teams up with an independent security program named Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) to fight the Master Control Program and retrieve the valuable evidence hidden inside the system.
The concept behind Tron reminds me of Pixar films today such as Toy Story, or Cars, in that it brings life and emotion to an inanimate/non-human world. Tron, as Pixar has done, also applies the rules of the inanimate world and translates it into the world of the film. Therefore references to computers and the vernacular are rife, clever and very welcome. I particularly enjoyed the appearance of a ‘bit’ which could only communicate in positive and negative terms.
Tron, of course is not aimed at proficients in computing, it is aimed at the family audience, so the plot itself is quite easy to follow and an enjoyable one at that. The themes are equally mild, despite addressing ideas of religion, faith, truth and authority. Don’t worry though, religious and atheist families will both find something here to teach their kids. I was impressed that the film addressed these themes at all, when the appeal was clearly focused on the visuals at the time of production. Many times films have failed to live up to their visuals with complementary plots, but Tron delivers a simple, yet satisfying 90 minutes of story.
From a 2010 perspective, the visual flair of Tron is still brilliant, for several reasons. Many of the physical sets in the computer world are extraordinary, even by today’s standards. There are moments where everything on screen looks as if it was drawn with a neon marker. Each character is dressed in glowing blue or red suits that fizzle and resonate with vibrancy, while their skin looks monochrome and high contrast. There are also computer generated sequences incorporated within the film that fit almost perfectly. Although it is very dated, the effects could successfully be described as retro CGI, rather than tacky. In fact, the CGI set pieces are extremely well choreographed. They even use real world camera techniques, with tracking and panning shots, making the limited detail in the action very exciting. This is also helped along by some excellent sound effects during the various chase and battle sequences.
Unfortunately, less praise can be said about the music, which was a real disappointment compared to the rest of the film. The problem with science fiction music in the 1980′s is that it is both atmospheric and eerie (e.g. Blade Runner) or it sounds unpleasant and chaotic. Tron fits into the latter category, which is a shame because good music could have really stepped this film up.
The acting is well done overall, although you can’t really expect in-depth performances from people portraying programs. However, Jeff Bridges is really great throughout, adopting a strong sense of adventure and a fun attitude. Bruce Boxleitner’s character, the security program Tron, doesn’t carry the movie as you would expect from the title, but he does come across as a strong, no nonsense individual.
I really did enjoy Tron more than I expected. Although, I feel you do have to watch it with the right attitude. Don’t expect to see a timeless classic, but rather a retro classic. Many younger viewers may find it hard to watch something slower than contemporary science fiction, but if your family has sophisticated appreciation and the capacity to sit through older movies, Tron is definitely worth the trip back in time. Regarding the necessity of a sequel: I think the idea is rather intriguing, although not entirely necessary. I welcome the return of Jeff Bridges though and look forward to seeing how 28 years has changed his character and the film world.
Looking for something 80′s, retro and science fiction? Tron is the film for you.