Lowdown: The fight for controlling high tech corporations takes place inside the virtual world as well as the physical one.
I first heard of 1982’s Tron while reading an article in Byte magazine, which my uncle subscribed me to as a child in order to help improve my English by exposing me to my favorite subject matter at the time (and probably today, too): computers. The article was raving about the advanced technology utilized by this film, the pinnacle of which has been the large number of scenes that used a computer graphics generated world. When Tron hit Israeli cinemas it got the full on science fiction treatment, which meant I went to see it in the company of both my uncle and my father. We all greatly enjoyed it.
Roll back to the present, and Tron's sequel, Tron Legacy, happens to be my four year old's favorite film at the moment. As Tron Legacy proves, we treat computer graphics differently today; they're no longer a novelty. Our expectations of cinematic special effects are totally different, too. However, having watched Tron again I can venture my opinion there: although Tron is heavily outgunned by its contemporary sequel in the looks department, it is in no way outdated. Its depiction of the world inside a computer is still stimulating even if it is not as rich in style as more modern films. However, by the same token Tron is still a compromised film, a film where so much effort was put into the looks that other, more conventional aspects of a movie, were left neglected.
Tron has us following events in two parallel worlds. In our physical world, we have Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a brilliant computer programmer whose work was “borrowed” by a lesser programmer with better cunning skills, Dillinger (David Warner). With the help of two of his friends, Flynn infiltrates his former company’s offices to look for evidence showing he’s been wronged.
Meanwhile, inside the computer, the program created/borrowed/developed by Dillinger to maintain tight control over things and prevent leaks is running things like a dictatorship. Hungry for power, it takes control over every program it can put its hands own and then pits the renegades in gladiator like video games to the death. Renegade status is determined by programs' refusal to subdue themselves to the control program, the result of their belief in ultimate power lying at the hands of “users”. In the eyes of the computer programs, users are gods.
Things turn complicated when the evil computer system manages to get Flynn inside the computer world. There Flynn meets the alter egos of his real world friends, including Tron – a security program doing its best to obey its user and establish communication with the outside world. Will it manage that? And will Flynn be able to go back to the real world and claim what is rightfully is?
When considering the state of computers at the time Tron was released, and the non existence of the Internet, one has to credit Tron for its visionary qualities. The idea behind Tron is still original today. Further, the metaphor provided by the virtual world works quite effectively, too. I did have a problem with the analogy made between faith in the “users” and real world religion: I would argue that in both cases faith has nothing to do with anything; it’s evidence that matters. In the virtual world there is plenty of evidence for the users but also a tyrant that’s trying to hide these; in the real world, however, religion has no evidence to make a stand with.
Where Tron trips a bit is in the conventional side of movie making: it feels a bit clunky, it’s rather predictable, and its characters are too black and white. In this day and age where Tron’s special effects are less than dazzling, those deficiencies are much more noticeable.
Best scene: The cycle race / video game, of course. It’s still exciting, still original, and still brilliantly executed.
Overall: Tron is a 3 star film that’s worthy of more attention than its score would normally suggest.