Tron, then and Now

If you watch the movie “Tron”, not the new one, but the old one,  and you didn’t grow up in the eighties, your reaction will probably waver between “What the Hell is this?” and uncontrollable gales of laughter. I made the mistake recently of watching the original, something I hadn’t done since I was about seven, and my wife and I tried to make sense of the whole thing.

Basically, in “Tron”, Jeff Bridges plays a game designer that experiments with virtual reality, and somehow gets trapped inside his own simulation. The simulations AI, Tron, turns out to be a murderous dictator who runs around destroying corrupted data (people, to us) whenever he is not making them play a game that involves bouncing a frisbee at your opponent. Tron is kind of like the Emporer Marcus Aurelius, but without all of the angst. Anyway, the first movie involved Jeff Bridges and a couple of friends attempts to get out of the simulation by uploading a virus through the mainframe that destroys Tron. To make a long story short, they succeed.

Watching “Tron” now is kind of painful. It is kind of like when you think about your first love and what she ended up like, then at a high school reunion she turns out to be overweight, moody, and boring. If you didn’t grow up in the eighties you just can’t really appreciate “Tron”, and how cool it was. It was like” Star Wars”, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or even the first cordless phone. There was nothing like it.

Kids didn’t watch “Tron” and wonder if any of this stuff was possible, Kids in the eighties didn’t even understand computers, because we didn’t really have them. Asteroids was considered high-tech when “Tron” came out. But watching the movie at a friends house when I was a boy (yes, it was on VHS) was like stepping into a whole new world, a world where everything was black with neon lights, and you could ride a bike or a tank, or a plain that came out of thin air. Tron was a world like no other, where everything was possible, and that was what made the movie so ground-breaking, so unique, even if it doesn’t hold up so well today.

Last week I finally got around to watching the new Tron, “Tron: Legacy”, and I was equally impressed. “Legacy” sort of piggy-backs the first film, and is not exactly a sequal, but sort of a re-imagining with Jeff Bridges playing an older version of himself. In this version he plays himself as a younger man through the use of some great digital mapping, and he has a son, who he tells a little about Tron, but keeps him in the dark. Just like in the original Jeff Bridges gets sucked into the machine (somebody ought to tell him to put that damn laser cannon away, at least cover it up) but in this one his son comes after him to rescue him, almost twenty years later.

In this version Tron is an ally, sort of a protector for the sim, and the bad guy is a version of Flynn,(Jeff Bridges) that he created of himself to run the system while he is away. The new Flynn called Klue’ like the original Tron is obsessed with perfection and quickly resorts to gladiatorial type games to kill off programs, all the while seeking out the old Flynn who is trapped inside the grid, but remains secluded in his own little house. Klue’s plan goes beyound simply ruling the computer world. He wants to use the old Flynn’s memory disk to get out of the grid and bring his minions to earth. Think Hitler here.

Story-wise neither Tron really made a lot of sense to people. I suppose the first film released in 1982 hints at a future where machines can become corrupted and have too much power at their disposal, but frankly this was done much better in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Oddysey”. The new film deals with the idea the humans are flawed by nature, but that this is okay, and it is only in seeking perfection that we fail ourselves. Pretty heady stuff, but the theme has been explored before in films like “The Stepford Wives”, and “Gattaca”. In reality, I doubt many kids that saw either film will care too much about the plot.

What is remarkably simmilar about both films is how they completely immerse you in a world not like anything we have ever seen. “Tron: Legacy” takes awhile to get going but once you get into it you will completely forget you are even in the theatre. Iwas reminded of the first time I saw “AI”, or “The Matrix”. The groud-breaking effects and imagery so completely take over that you are lost for a moment, the film almost becomes reality.

I have often harped about new technology in film. I am not a big fan of CGI and I prefer traditional methods of animation, and traditional effects. but sometimes films need new technology to become fully realized, and “Tron: Legacy” is a prime example of this. This film could not have been made five years ago, and it is a better film because of it. The 3-d effects are not as spectacular as I thought they would be, and honestly if you can see it in 2-d you should save yourself the two extra dollars, but the imagery, effects, and awesome sound-track are truly revolutionary. Sometimes as a critic I get too wrapped up in story and acting in movies and lose sight of the over-all experience. With “Tron: Legacy” I did not have that problem. Just sit back and enjoy. For about two hours I felt like I was seven years old again, and that is what a good movie experience should be about.


Jack B.

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