The movie, Tron, produced by Disney in 1982, has had a small, but loyal, cult following. It even spawned a video game, Tron 2.0. Hoping to capitalize on that, and a new generation of movie-goers, Disney is launching Tron- Legacy (and the game Tron Evolution). But, what was Tron all about in the first place?
In some ways, the original story is so simple that the plot has even been criticized for having no substance. However, it can also be confusing as it seems to flit between science fiction and fantasy (not holding to at least potentially possibilities of physics). It’s filled with symbolism, but leads to bad conclusions if you try to make it become an allegory.
Technically, the film was a marvel. It was nominated for Oscars in Best Costume Design and Best Sound. Years later it was noted by the Academy for Technical Achievement.
In 1982, phrases like Master Control Program, power surge, de-resolution (de-rezz- eg. death), input-output tower, even “digital, ” were not jaded, but mysterious. The use of all these terms lent mystique to the film.
The basic plot is a classic one of computer intelligence vs. human intelligence. Kevin Flynn is a champion player of video games at the arcade he owns, however he had been a software engineer for ENCOM, before being fired. He and his buddy Alan Bradley, along with Lora Baines, are young techies, who wrote many programs for ENCOM. The CEO of ENCOM, Dillinger, wants to dominate the financial world and has programmed the computer to work toward this end. Of course the Master Control Program begins thinking on its own and works to take over the world for itself. It locks out anyone with a high security clearance.
But Flynn thinks of a way to get clearance on a lower level, that will still give them a way to prove Dillinger’s malfeasance. While he’s doing this, he is digitized by the MCP and beamed into the world of circuitry.
There he becomes a program he wrote called CLU. He finds Alan there as his program TRON, and Lora as YORI. Together, with a new friend named (appropriately) RAM, they work against Sark (who is also the MCP and Dillinger in the “real” world.
The friends battle to shut down the MCP and re-establish communication between users and their rogue programs.
It is this battle that has created the film’s reputation. The battle consists of various games and video game elements, done in a technically startling fashion that captures the imagination of almost any computer lover who watches the film. The characters are more or less grayed to monochrome, with vibrant, backlit circuitry printed on their space-age style suits. The MCP has decreed that Flynn is to play the games until he dies. But he wins at the disc challenge, sort of a combination of jai alai, and Pong. He’s also a whiz at riding the lightcycles along a grid, trying to box in an opponent.
Flynn manages to crash out of the grid with a light cycle, followed by his friends. They encounter elements of other programmed games, such as tanks and the “recognizer, ” a sort of gate that hovers and captures programs by stomping on them. Finally, they reach the evil MCP, and attempt to defeat it.
There are a lot of inconsistencies in the logic of the plot, but somehow, it’s a great movie anyway. For example, how did the Master Control Program (MCP) get control of the experiment to tele-transport matter and beam Flynn into the computer world? Why would it want to? If the MCP wants to take over the world, why is it trying to block access to the outside world through the I-O tower?
From the standpoint of realism in the world of circuitry, you have to just use your imagination. This is not like Fantastic Voyage, where miniature humans find themselves inside an accurately reproduced human body. This leads a viewer to want to find symbolism, if they can’t find a type of reality in the miniature world.
The most obvious symbolic element is that the programs may or may not believe in the “users.” Those who do are called religious. Thus we are led to think about how we may or may not believe in God or gods.
This leads to the concept of a user god (Flynn) becoming a program- perhaps a nod to the Incarnation. However, you can’t carry this far enough to make it an allegory. There isn’t “salvation” for the programs other than to reopen the gates of communication with their users.
You might also consider the Dillinger/ Sark/ MCP a sort of unholy trinity.
They drink from a pool of energy to revitalize themselves- very much like the concept of “living water.” And Tron receives instructions from his user to use in defeating the MCP, possibly symbolic of prayer and empowerment.
So, I would have to say that this movie can make you think about familiar concepts in new ways, but I don’t think it goes far enough to be a life-lesson type of movie beyond the idea of good vs. evil. Mostly, it’s a lot of fun, with great graphics. Who hasn’t thought about being actually inside a video game?
Flynn/ CLU is played by Jeff Bridges, and Bruce Boxleitner is Alan/ Tron. Both return in Tron Legacy. Cindy Morgan is Lora/ Yori David Warner played Dillinger/ Sark/ the MCP.
Tron was written and directed by Steven Lisberger. He took the concept to a number of studios before Disney agreed to produce the film.
This DVD (2000 release) comes in wide-screen format. Run time for the feature is 96 minutes. There are very few extra features.
You can change the language to French or Spanish. The original trailer is provided, and an ad for other Disney movies. Standard chapter search is available.
When I bought this several years ago, it only cost about $20. Apparently, it is no longer available, and copies are selling for up to $200. Who knew?
If you are tech junkie, like movies that broke new visual barriers, etc, then this is a must-own. I believe it’s the first movie that pictured humans entering the world “inside” a computer.