TRON. Now here's a film that seems to generate a wide spectrum of reviews.
As for my take on this landmark motion picture, I have to admit that I will always be able to reflect on it in its original context.
In 1982, TRON (along with Blade Runner) was nothing short of breathtaking. And, although it was originally panned by critics, those who have taken the time to look closer, have noticed that there is more to this film than there first seems to be.
One of TRON's greatest strengths lies in its extensive use of parallelism. There is the world of the user (almost a god or demigod motif), contrasted with the world of the programs (very much a metaphor for our world). And, just to enhance this metaphor, Dillinger's helicopter is shown with neon-red lines, and the final fade to black is preceded with a time-lapse of the city suggesting data running along traces.
The obvious parallels are with the use of the same actor for each character's counterparts in the digital world. Flynn and Clu, Alan and Tron, Laura and Yori, Gibbs and Dumont, Dillinger and Sark.
However, we see a number of other characters show up here and there, in more subtle form: For example, there's Sark's second in command on the bridge of the carrier. He shows up earlier in the film as Peter the suit who was watching Dillinger's office. Then there's RAM's human counterpart asking Alan if he can have some of his popcorn.
I find it surprising that many are critical of the 'unbelievable' aspect of this film. However, never is the audience expected to believe that this is the way the computer world really works or that a person could ever be zapped into a computer. In fact, to allude to the type of story that the audience is being presented with, TRON does a near-quote of Alice In Wonderland, with 'Stranger and stranger.' Perhaps Kevin Flynn fell down the rabbit hole
. And for those who think TRON is a Disney film watch the production notes and you'll discover that this is not a Disney film (although they did fund it).
Of most obvious interest is the fact that TRON pushed the computer graphics technology of the time to its limits and beyond. And despite many who have said that its graphics are primitive, they're confusing resolution with texture-mapping. The truth is, the number of colours displayed and the resolution shown in the computer-generated components in TRON is higher than most desktop displays even today. To output to film with the level of sharpness and smooth gradients seen in TRON, you'd need at least 24 or 32-bit colour, with a horizontal resolution of approximately 3000 to 4000 pixels. On top of that, it was the first film to use transparency in 3D CGI (the solar-sailor simulation). To my knowledge, texture-mapping didn't exist in 1982. Fortunately, the lack of texture mapping works well with the stylized look of the film's 'world inside the machine.'
As a film, TRON is definitely both unique and entertaining. And, for those who are visual in nature, it's full of splendid eye-candy. The design work is top-rate, and is best appreciated when viewed on film. I recall watching this movie when it first came out in 1982, and have to say that it was nothing short of total immersion. Unfortunately, most of the modern transfers of this film have been pretty rough (with the exception of the out-of-print Laserdisc box-set).
The plot for TRON is actually quite simple. Despite this simplicity, it is cleverly used for the purpose of -- hopefully making the audience think about our world, and how it may relate to some 'higher world.' If we are programs, then who are our users? Is there a level up from us, and do they know all the answers? There is certainly a metaphysical angle to TRON, which the audience can ether pay attention to, or disregard in favour of the simple thrill of watching Light Cycles square off against each other on the Game Grid.
Many elements are combined in this film: the gladiatorial film, the exodus, the revolution, the sentient AI, the battle of good vs. evil, and of course the almost prophetic depiction of the computer industry. Encom and Ed Dillinger are very much parallels to real themes that took place in the computer industry in the years that followed the release of TRON. These themes are very much repeated in more recent trilogy of films. I think the actual name for the Light Cycle game that Flynn mentions will give you a clue as to which trilogy I'm referring to.
Finally, there's Kevin Flynn. Some may be surprised that I left this one to the end. However, I thought I'd leave the best for last. Fact is, Jeff Bridges did a brilliant job with this character. Over the years, I have actually known computer-industry hot-shots who are remarkably similar to Flynn. He made the character believable. And, this carries over to the film itself. No matter how much of a leap you're expected to make when approached with a script or screenplay, be compelling. Jeff Bridges and David Warner do exactly this.
TRON is a movie that really entertains. I like to think of it as a big small movie. One that was definitely ambitious and is presented in 'glossy' and vivid wide-screen, yet has a sort of nice-light-snack kind of feel to it. It's a movie with a great deal of replay value, and one with compelling characters.
In short, TRON like its video game counterpart is fun.
And for that, and a host of other reasons, it will remain on my list of favourite films.
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