Are you ready for my very first TRON Tuesday? Good! Because today I’m talking about the one, the only, the original TRON.
I’m not even gonna pretend to be objective about TRON. I love TRON – its aesthetic, its effects, its sincerity, its silliness, its abundance of cute people in skin-tight clothing, everything. It’s one of my top three favorite movies ever, a movie that I watch to cheer myself up whenever I’m feeling down.
Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges always helps.
Besides, why bother to be objective about TRON? It’s been out for more than thirty years now and there’s very little to say about it that hasn’t already been said. But since not everyone will be familiar with it, I’ll include a plot summary along with an explanation of its place in the greater TRONiverse and an examination of what makes it special. So let’s get started, programs.
So what’s it about?
While working for computer company ENCOM, programmer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) designed a handful of video games which were then stolen by co-worker Edward Dillinger (David Warner), who later rises through the ranks of the company while Flynn is fired and has to resort to running an arcade. In an attempt to recover proof he designed the games, Flynn and his friends/former co-workers Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) sneak into the ENCOM building after-hours and get onto different computers to hack into the system.
But then the evil Master Control Program – which runs the ENCOM computer system – uses the fancy laser Baines has been working on (which is set up directly behind her computer with no safety barrier whatsoever for reasons I still don’t understand) to suck Flynn into the ENCOM computer system and force him to compete in deadly video games. Flynn then teams up with the anthropomorphized computer programs Tron (Boxleitner again) and Ram (Dan Shor) to take down the MCP and his second-in-command, Sark (both played by Warner). Action sequences ensue, Ram dies, Tron saves his girlfriend Yori (Morgan), Flynn introduces kissing to computer programs, and they defeat the MCP and save the day. Flynn returns to the real world and, armed with proof he designed the games, ruins Dillinger’s career and returns to ENCOM where he eventually becomes a high-ranking executive. Hooray!
How does it fit in with everything else?
Not to state the obvious, but it all started here, folks. The whole TRON concept, the aesthetic, the characters, the story, it all goes back to this. And many of the ideas that were explored, elaborated upon, or turned on their heads in the rest of the TRON series first appeared in this film: the relationship between man and technology, a creator’s relationship to their creations (and all the religious connotations that go with it), the possibilities of the digital world, how much fanservice and Ho Yay you can get away with in a Disney film, etc.
Why should I care?
All right, so TRON isn’t the greatest sci-fi film ever made. (I said it was a favorite film, not that it was one of the best.) But there’s no denying that it was massively influential on the sci-fi genre and on computer-generated film animation and effects, among other things. In a way it shares a lot in common with one of my other favorite movies, Metropolis, a silent film which shaped the way we imagined the future (and the techniques used to depict it on film) for decades – yet is often derided for its silly plot and idealistic message of reconciliation between the classes instead of violent revolution.
“This is the key to a new order. This code disc means freedom.”
TRON, too, is idealistic, dreaming that humans and technology can work together to make a better world, instead of attacking technology as a faceless threat against all mankind. While the MCP is much like every other fictional evil AI, it is ultimately taken down by cooperation between humanity (Flynn, and arguably Alan) and technology (Tron); neither can succeed without the help of the other. Its optimism is refreshing in a genre which too often emphasizes the negative – and, as much as I love a good anti-utopia, it’s kind of sad that this imagined harmony between the physical and digital worlds is so brutally inverted in TRON: Legacy.
In spite of becoming such an iconic film, TRON initially didn’t do well at the box office, and the franchise didn’t return to cinemas for another 28 years. But that’s a story for next week.
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