Tron: A (30 years late) Review

 

"Outdated effects? Well, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

Being a pop-culture junkie, a computer nerd, and a gamer, it’s quite odd that I have managed to go my 25 years without seeing Tron.  It’s a movie that seems to alienate a lot of people, while attaining some serious affection from an egghead few.  With the sequel fast approaching and, admittedly, looking pretty badass (Olivia Wilde in f-me boots doesn’t hurt), I decided to finally sit down and watch the thing.

and….

*nods head* Not bad. Not bad at all. It’s funny, I greatly enjoyed the movie, but I can’t imagine who the hell thought this would be a great success.  The movie is so steeped in a culture and vernacular that was nowhere near to being popular yet, I’m very surprised so much faith was put into it.  Granted, it didn’t exactly bomb (according to IMDB, it cost 17 mil, and made 23), I can completely understand why it didn’t click.

The story itself reminded me of a Labyrinth or Wizard of Oz type fantasy; the protagonist is pulled from the real world into an alternate world where they can save its people from a tyrant, then return home.  In this case, the fantasy world is the massive computer system of a corporation; there, the Master Control Program (MCP) has attained a Skynet-esque contempt for humans, and locks all of the users out of the system. It then starts gathering up smaller programs and determines if it can use them.

The way the movie presents all this is actually pretty creative.  The system is represented as a big CGI universe of various arenas and command centers.  The MCP is shown as a big Oz-like face commanding everybody, and the smaller programs just look like people in strange (cheesy as f*ck) neon outfits.  The programs all treat their users (aka, their creators) as Gods, and the whole thing has a very interesting religious-oppression vibe; they are forbidden from trying to contact their users (in towers that look like chapels), and are told the users aren’t there anymore.

 

"Bummer."

 

What makes all this work, is how surprisingly subtle it is.  At no point does the movie shove the religious underpinnings in your face or have any kind of half-assed dialog to point it out to the boneheads in the audience.  You just kind of pick up on it as the story goes. And this could be said about the whole movie (which is why I think it is considered a failure, which makes me want to punch a studio exec); it just kinda goes with the flow, casually referencing video game culture, hacking, and various other computer terminology, without really explaining any of it.

Remember, this was 1982. Video games were nowhere near a mainstream form of entertainment and computers were far from being in every home.  This flick was too ahead of its time for its own good.  It’s like they made a studio movie about the Beatles in 1957; who are these little shit-heads and why should we care? But looking back, it’s like, whoa… all of that stuff got very popular (on its own) over the last 3 decades.

Of course, I haven’t mentioned the best part: The Dude, man!  Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a genius hacker who used to work for the company at hand. He created some hit video games that someone else took credit for then muscled him out of the company.  Now he owns a kick-ass arcade and lives like a college student in the pad above it (uh, best life ever?). At the request of a colleague, he breaks into the company to try to disable the MCP; the MCP then uses some kind of experimental laser thingy to zap him into the computer system and onto the Game Grid. This is a gladiator-esque set of challenges that the programs face off in to prove their usefulness.

"Careful, man! There's a beverage here!"

Still with me? Good. Flynn is the one who helps the programs escape the grid and defeat the MCP, all while using Godlike powers (remember, he’s a User!).  The plot is basically The Matrix before there was The Matrix, only without all the pretense.  Again, what sounds like obvious Jesus parallels on paper is completely underplayed in the movie. It doesn’t overwhelm, which lets you just, you know, enjoy the movie.

Okay, enough of this deep stuff, man. Lets talk special effects. Here, the effects are special in the way that the Special Olympics are special.  The funny thing is, it must have taken whole rooms of supercomputers working their digital balls off to render this sh*t back in the early 80’s. In the 30 years since, they have completely lapped “cheesy” and circled back around to amusingly retro. There is a reason I call this site The 8 Bit Life; I find NES-style, pixellated artwork to be just as charming – if not more  so – as any polygonal character model (grr, gamer slang!).  Anyway, the effects here work on the same level. It’s impressive that I found myself completely enthralled by the Light Cycle scene.  After years of being jaded by bullet-time effects, and dime-store CGI, I’m glad I can still be entertained by such quaint graphics; this is because the scene is well paced, with a nice building tension.

At the end of the day, Tron is a very entertaining but easily misunderstood movie. It gives you kind of a nerd rush if you understand what the characters are talking about; it’s like being part of a secret club (hell, one of the characters is named “Bit” and can only answer yes or no questions; lol!).  All others: sorry, this ain’t the ride you’re looking for; I’m not surprised you are lost. Me, I’m happy to get lost in it.

Grade: B+

Side-Thoughts

  • To anyone who knows me, is this any surprise?
  • Holy hell, sorry for the long review.
  • Now I am genuinely excited for the sequel, and feel kinda spoiled that I didn’t have to wait 30 years.
  • Man, Jeff Bridges looks like he’s about 16 years old here.
  • It’s ironic that I recognized so many things here…from other things that have referenced it over the years (Family Guy, Simpsons, etc).
  • Obligatory mention of Tron guy. You magnificent bastard.

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