Almost two years in the making, Walt Disneys
Tron (1982) was a bona fide media event, complete with Disneys usual
array of commemorative posters, lunch boxes, action figures, T-shirts, and a promise
that you would be transported to a world unlike any youd ever seen.
difference this time around was that the promise was true Tron WAS
different. The only problem was that nobody seemed to care. Tron jumped
out of the gate and landed with a thud. For the first time, Disney found themselves
on the difficult "avant-guard" side of the coin as they watched Steven Spielbergs
cuddly, Disney-esque E.T. The Extra Terrestrial rake in the money. Even
Trons hope for Oscar vindication was denied when the confused Academy
said that Tron "cheated" by using computers to achieve their special effects.
It was only years later that the film began to attain cult status, with young
people asking each other, "Remember Tron? Wasnt that COOL?"
was indeed "cool," which is why Disney gambled on it in the first place. In the
early 80s, Disney was in a major rut. This was before their renaissance
with films like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, and Disney was
simply recycling their old cartoons and releasing half-hearted Herbie films.
when young computer animator Steve Lisberger pitched them the idea for Tron,
complete with full storyboards and vivid airbrush paintings done on black paper,
they were interested enough to let Lisberger shoot some test footage. The result
was something intensely weird but also completely different, so Disney decided
to roll the dice.
Part of Trons
problem was that, although "computer" had become a buzzword due to the Atari game
system craze, people still had very sketchy ideas about how computers worked.
The entire plot of Tron balanced on the bold idea of taking non-tangible
concepts (like "programs" and "on-line/off-line") and turning them into physical
and geographical realities.
(Jeff Bridges) is a computer genius who designed several great video games, only
to be fired from his company, Encom, and watch the evil senior VP Dillinger (David
Warner) make millions off of his programs. With the help of employees Alan (Bruce
Boxleitner) and Lora (Cindy Morgan), Flynn breaks into Encom and hacks into their
computer to try and retrieve evidence that the original designs were his.
rotten luck would have it, an experimental matter disintegrator ray is pointed
right at Flynn and the evil Master Control Program (MCP) zaps Flynn, sending him
inside the world of the computer, where he is merely a "program." The MCP utilizes
the "game grid" (a digital gladiator arena) to force programs to battle each other
to the death. Flynn finds himself fighting for his life inside of the games that
he himself created.
The Wizard of Oz, Tron featured two separate but interconnected
realities, utilizing its principle actors in dual roles. Instead of Alan, we had
Tron (Alans new "security program"). Instead of Dillinger, we had Sark (the
MCPs main enforcer). And instead of Lora, we had Yori (who was basically
just an attractive female program, but nobody said Trons analogies
Tron was the
perfect film for the emerging geek set, for it envisioned computer programmers
as sorts of deities, shaping their own worlds and deleting them just as easily.
Lisberger latched onto the growing knowledge/fear that each American was being
divided into two selves. For each social security number, drivers license,
doctors visit, and paycheck paid, an alternate persona for each of us was
growing up somewhere out there in cyberspace.
this "alternate self" lived in a new kind of space that wasnt Earth, the
sea, the sky, the cosmos, or even the mind. It was the uncharted, theoretical
realm of energy. When we turned on computers, information was exchanged, received,
and stored. But how? And when we turned those computers off, where did it all
Tron (which is merely a
truncation of the word "electronic") bravely set out to answer those questions,
and in a fun, physical way. Tron was a live-action film that nonetheless
was more animated than not. The actors shot their scenes on a black stage onto
black-and-white film. Then each frame of film was blown up, given color, highlights,
and a CGI background. The result featured colors more vivid than anything since
the heyday of Technicolor. A side effect of the process was that the actors
faces were not only black-and-white, but also grainy and spotty, which made them
look like silent film actors. This worked well with Tron, which divided
its good and evil as clearly as those early melodramasonly now, the good
guys wore electric blue instead of white, and the bad guys wore hot pink.
the most interesting analogy in Tron is the religious one. Stuck inside
the hellish world of the computer, the brave programs maintain a desperate faith
in "The Users," who they believe "wrote" all the programs. In light of the dire
situation brought on by the all-powerful MCP, many programs are losing faith.
Then, suddenly, Flynna Useris sent down from above to live among the
programs, preaching to his followers that the Users do exist.
Jesus analogy reaches its peak as Flynn sacrifices himself to save the system,
turning the computer universe into a bright world of hope. If Flynn is Jesus,
then he is telling his followers that, although God exists, it is up to each person
to struggle to do what is right. In short, we are each in control of our own destinies.
ideas are even more impressive today. The "MCP vs. Individual Programs" seemed
to mirror the Mainframe vs. Personal Computer battle that has since occurred in
real life. And concepts of the Internet were already in place, including the moral
implications of the sharing of information between all Users. Its no wonder
that Lisberger is finally working on Tron 2.0.
this day, no feature film has dared to be as visually unconventional as Tron.
Unfortunately, Tron loses all narrative coherence in its final half-hour,
and the action becomes increasingly difficult to follow. Therefore, despite being
an impressive and daring motion picture experiment, watching Tron was like
looking at a computer screen all dayafter a while, you almost have to look