Retro Review: ‘Tron’
In the early 80’s technology was changing and advancing rapidly. Filmmaker Steven Lisberger saw this and knew he wanted to get it on this but on a cinematic front. Hoping for a science fiction blockbuster on par with Star Wars, Disney produced a film which I have best heard affectionately described as the “dorkiest film of all time”. While it may not have conquered the box office, this 1982 film found a small and devoted audience who immediately fell in love with it and have kept the memory alive ever since. This has led to Tron becoming a cult classic most known for it’s groundbreaking visual fx which changed the game in Hollywood.
The plot of Tron is simple; Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a computer expert who along with associates; Alan and Barbara break into a technology firm utilizing Alan’s creation “Tron”. The three end up sucked into the digital world where they must compete in a series games, outwitting the Master Control Program (MCP) who rules this world. They must navigate a neon geometrical computer-created environment in order to escape.
The bread and butter of Tron’s reputation is of course the visuals, and in that respect this movie was years ahead of it’s time. A massive amount of then-revolutionary computer fx were utilize to create or enhance everything from; sets to props to costumes in the digital world. That being said, there were also a host of talented people to actually create much of what we see onscreen to be enhanced by the computer graphics. As the director Steven Lisberger had to find the perfect way to blend the digital world and the real world together to perfection. While it does not have the slick look of modern CGI based movies, it was an incredibly ambitious move for 1982. While he should be applauded for this to no end, Lisberger’s script is one that is very shallow and basic, so one wishes he had put a little more time into that. Especially considering the fact that the storyline tends to take a backseat to the adventure at hand.
For a movie which not many people saw upon it’s release, Tron has become part of the pop culture lexicon. In the ensuing years, this cult classic has spawned: a sequel in Tron: Legacy, an animated series, and an incredibly popular attraction at Disney’s Shanghai theme park which will soon be replicated at the Magic Kingdom. What it is best remembered for is the special fx which at the time broke new ground, however because they used new-fangled “computers” to create them the Academy felt they cheated so Tron’s claim to fame was not acknowledged by the Oscars upon it’s release. I recall a recent interview with Steven Lisberger, and he said that if given the chance for time travel he would tell the early 80’s version of himself to give it time, because the audiences Tron would be introduced to would not be ready for it. The heavy reliance on computer science was something alien to the masses of the era. While it may seem dated now, much of the visual fx still look rather sharp and if nothing else it is fun.