Monday, December 19, 2011

Tron - An Instant Sc-Fi Classic

In honor of this blog's 1st Anniversary on December 18, I have decided that it would be appropriate to try and review the original Tron, since the site's very first review was for Tron: Legacy. Tron was one of the very first feature films to integrate computer graphics with live action, helping to pave the way for feature length CG films like Pixar's Toy Story. While Tron, released in 1982, did initially fail at the box office, it gradually became a cult classic, spawning a franchise that has birthed numerous video games, comic books, and even the aforementioned sequel released 28 years later. After re-watching this movie again, I think I can see why it became such a hit later on.

For anyone who doesn't already know, the story is about a software engineer named Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who attempts to hack into ENCOM in order to locate evidence that the company's Senior Executive, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), had plagiarized several of his video games in order to get where he is today. When he is thwarted by the Master Control Program (MCP), and with Dillinger tightening security as a result, he manages to sneak his way into the company building using lower level access, joined by Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan). When he tries to locate his evidence on a company computer, the MCP takes control of a digital laser to digitize Flynn and punish him in the ENCOM mainframe. The rest of the plot unfolds within the mainframe, bringing to life countless visuals, such as the Light Cycle and Identity Disk, that would later become staples of pop culture and parody.

While the story does actually get easier to follow each time I view it, there are still some small things about it that bug me. Early on they establish the main characters and use the time to add some sense of depth to them, but in the last third they introduce two characters that we are suddenly supposed to care about, with no real indication of who they are outside of their server function. Without taking that into account, the story is very slow paced throughout, leaving me more tired than involved as it went on. However, it does manage to keep a mostly consistent narrative and stay within its own confines by establishing the main aspects of the digital world and sticking with them, making the events more plausible in return.

Even with the iffy story, the actors play out their parts very well. David Warner and Jeff Bridges help to let the audience know that there is definitely some history between them, with Ed Dillinger portrayed as a cautious and worried individual in contrast with the confident and more laid back Flynn. Even Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan show off some acting skill in their parts, although even the titular Tron is more of a minor character behind Jeff Bridges' Kevin Flynn.

Of course, the most recognizable and memorable aspect of the film is in its visuals. While the CG may look very primitive by today's standards, what they were able to accomplish with it is actually pretty impressive for what they had back then. The methods of transportation are very recognizable now, mainly the curvature of the Light Cycles and Solar Sailer, and the angular Recognizers and ships also help to create some visual variety. The backgrounds are also very believable as computer space given how they might have envisioned it at the time. However, there sometimes seemed to be too much going on when many intricate patterns were onscreen at once, and some of what was shown seemed to be thrown in simply because they could do it, like a brief scene where spider-like programs appear from the ground for no apparent reason. In any case, what we are presented with now seems to give off a distinct charm that makes the look of the cyber world more intriguing decades later.

As a last note, the score by Wendy Carlos is good on its own as well. While we can do more with synthesizer technology these days, what had been done at the time in combination with the London Philharmonic Orchestra goes well with the events taking place, creating the appropriate mood and maintaining the right atmosphere. It's hard to ignore how impressive Tron's music is, especially since it would later inspire Daft Punk's take on the music of Tron: Legacy.

While Tron may be limited in some ways by what was available in 1982, and very dated as well, it is by no means a bad film. It's not my favorite, but its relevance in pop culture today would make it hard not to recommend at least one viewing to see what it is. When you do get to see it, I guarantee that you'll be impressed one way or another, and likely gain the urge to play a video game version of the Light Cycles.

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog about one of my old-time favorites.
    Funny enough, I blogged about the use of mainframes in popular (or cult) movies recently here: For those interested in other uses of mainframes in Movies...