There is something very likable about this film. It inspired so many different genres and sub genres (one can picture William Gibson’s brain firing upon viewing this film) but doesn’t seem to ever realize it. It is as inspirational as Star Wars, while being just as lighthearted. A lot of thought went into the script, but that does not hurt it from being accessible to all.
Tron takes place in the early 1980s, when one hacker runs an arcade. This hacker, Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges…yes, really) used to work for Encom, the biggest software company of the day. It is currently being run by Ed Dillinger (David Warner) who wrote the Master Control Program. This program is the closest thing to AI that could possibly exist. It breaks into other companies and assimilates their software, making itself much smarter. That’s just in the real world. In the computer world, the MCP acts as a dictator who prosecutes religious zealots who still believe in users. They are made to play arcade games until they die. Sark (again Warner) acts as the MCP’s voice. Flynn is accidently sucked into this computer world and joins forces with Tron to destroy the MCP.
Yes, the plot is a sort of cheesy space opera. So what? For the material and what the makers hoped to convey, it works. Their idea was to convey the growing dominance of computers in the world. They even predicted the rise of certain trends (what is the MCP if not a prototype version of the internet that has gained sentience?) Also, the idea of video games being a large industry…well, take a look around. At the time though, most video game companies were in garages. The true founder of Encom even says as much (“Sometimes I wish I could back to the garage.”) And the sheer amount of computing jokes was revolutionary (wasn’t CLU an old programming language?) This predicted the rise of cyberpunk before there really was a cyberpunk.
Even more revolutionary was the use of computers in animation. At the time, the Academy refused to give the film recognition, feeling that the use of computers in special effects was cheating. Well now, let’s step back a minute and see what Tron unleashed. Pixar, every single summer blockbuster in existence, and the modern use of digital cameras. But most of those do not hold up to the world Tron creates. So much care went into the creation of Tron’s computing world that it stimulates the imagination in the same way, yes, Star Wars did. Every single choice the film made seems appropriate, from the electronic score to the simplistic digital vehicles. This is not a world of flesh and blood. There is no real event here that actually takes place. But the film does an astounding job in making think it’s all happening. When a film is wondrous just to look at, a filmmaker should know he is on the right track.
But is this a mere cinematic curiosity, a piece of a timeline? Or is this actually one of the best animated films ever created? The latter. The characters and performances are among the best I’ve seen in a Disney film. Each one produced sympathy on a most basic level. There was joy when villains were defeated, rather than the usual Hayes Code mentality of “he had it coming.” Bridges gives the usual performance and Warner’s wouldn’t be out of place in, say, a production of Othello as Iago. Besides, when special effects still look just as fresh as they did twenty seven years ago, that deserves praise. This was not made in the traditional Disney mindset-make and, put it in the vault, and let nostalgia keep it alive rather than actual quality. Tron is not that. It was virtually ignored upon release and has only grown in stature. Good thing to. It was not just a good film, but a necessary one.
How did I know this was a good film? The same day that I returned it to Netflix, I went out and bought the DVD just so I could have unlimited access to it. That’s the sort of film that does not come often.