Much like The Black Hole or Dragonslayer, Tron was another tonally strange attempt from Disney to bring their live action movies up to date in the wake of the sci-fi/fantasy extravaganza we all know as Star Wars – and yet unlike those other movies, Tron has somehow managed to persevere beyond being just another strangely traumatizing family film from the House Of Mouse.
Moving beyond the realms of a partially remembered cult oddity to a movie that somehow spawned a belated, big budget sequel, Tron has somehow kept a fiercely loyal fanbase who fully embraced its computer literate world building, primitive CGI and heapings of glow in the dark spandex – but how does it hold up now nowadays?
Join me now as I log in and traverse a world of bits, bytes and battles as I hack into the Tron.
Video arcade owner Kevin Flynn spends his free time attempting to hack into the mainframe of previous employer ENCOM to find proof that it’s nefarious senior executive vice president Ed Dillinger only rose to prominence because he stole a bunch of hit video games Flynn created and palmed them off as his own. However, the reasons why Flynn’s attempts keep failing is that ENCOM’s Master Control Programme has actually gained sentience and is calling the shots through Dillinger after becoming a powerful artificial intelligence, something that’s discovered by straight laced computer programmer Alan Bradley and his engineer girlfriend Lora Baines. Teaming up with Flynn (Lora used to be with him – awkward), this trio break into ENCOM in order to get to a main terminal and unlock Alan’s “Tron” security programme that should sort out that pesky A.I. once and for all…
However, the MCP has a few tricks up its digital sleeves of its own a uses an experimental dohicky to zap Flynn into the computer world where he awakes as a prisoner of the MCP’s sadistic henchman Sark. Forced to play gladiatorial games for his survival, Flynn meets up with Alan’s programme, Tron and plans an escape with him in order to get to the MCP and free the mainframe from its tyranny as it stamps out faith in the “Users” (aka programmers) in an act similar to digital religious persecution.
Trying to stay ahead of Sark’s forces, Flynn finds that, as a User, he can actually manipulate parts of the mainframe in order to complete their quest, but will this be enough to successfully travel to their goal despite this world of programmes and pixels being more loaded with more danger than a midnight stroll through a 70’s New York?
I’ll have to be honest, Tron was always a movie that avoided me back in the day. I’d either catch bits of it on television during a rainy bank holiday (always the light cycle bit) or else I simply wouldn’t bother which has left me a little perplexed by the love it gets from some quarters.
In a few cases I’ve felt it’s completely unwarranted as the movie is pretty obviously flawed as hell – the plot and pace are so glitchy they’re screaming for a system reset while the chemistry between actors are a clear case of file not found; and yet even someone as immune to Tron’s charms such as myself can see that past the clunky dialogue (de-rezzed means dead) and a story that isn’t much more than an 8-bit remix of Spartacus, there is actually something rather beguiling about this massively analogue attempt to realise a digital world.
Firstly, the more dated Tron gets, the more enticing its world becomes as the endearingly low-res and incredibly primitive computer generated imagery has created a universe devoid of intricate details that truly feels unlike anything seen on film before or since. These days we’ve become used to the photo-real grass of Pandora or the hugely detailed worlds Hollywood usually gives us in fantasy cinema, but Tron is impressively scarce – stark even – and it totally fits into the remit of a computer world still in its infancy.
While the characters run around in grey leotards and bicycle helmets that come complete with a glowing visual effects trim, it admittedly looks fairly hokey, but then Lloyd Bridges was also in the 70’s remake of King Kong, so maybe he just was cursed for appearing in big budget movies. All the same, it still somehow works although I’d imagine it might have burnt out the odd adolescent retina or two back when it was showing on the big screen and never would this have been more likely than the iconic gladiatorial sequences that are still play pretty well in a retro sort of way. The disc battles, where combatants hurls glowing frisbee at each other in order to knock one another into an abyss is pretty funky but it’s the light cycle bit that everyone remembers as players whizz across the field, making 90 degree turns on a dime and trying to get their opponents to crash into the walls the cycles leave in their wake. They’re a great couple of sequences and it’s a Hell of a shame that they aren’t longer, because once Flynn and Tron head out into the mainframe things tend to get a little stodgy.
It doesn’t help that Bruce Boxleitner’s Tron is a hero more vanilla than a twenty storey Mr. Whippy and Bridges’ Flynn is a bit of a scum bag who has no compunction about making a move on his new ally’s girlfriend Yori, which undoubtedly puts a new spin on the phrase “Getting with the programme”. Also, as everyone is constantly referring to Flynn as a User, it amusingly makes him sound like a raging drug friend, which is even funnier when you realise Bridges attacks his scenes with that hazy, laconic detachment he brought to The Dude in The Big Lebowski. In comparison, David Warner in not one, no two, but three villains roles seems to have given up on trying to work out what all the silly costumes and blue screen is for and is just here to have fun as two of his roles answers to the third. However, apart from looking like a twirling lava lamp of doom, the Master Control Program, with his gargantuan nostrils and piggy eyes, looks less like a marauding A.I. and more like the living embodiment of what you see when you accidently open the front facing camera on your phone.
So, did a fresh new viewing of Tron manage to reboot my opinion? Not a whole lot, no – but I do have an added respect for the thing as a movie that attempts to grasp a brand new concept that’s years ahead of it’s time (*cough* Matrix *cough*) but still needs a bit more byte.