Tron (1982)

Old Enough to Remember When the MCP Was Just a Chess Program

Fabio recommended that I review two movies today at work.  The first movie (today’s movie) is a science fiction classic from the early 80’s that I had never bothered to see until they released a sequel in 2010.  I felt like it was necessary to see the original before watching the sequel that had piqued my interest with its cool, stylish graphics.  And, since the first movie was known for its own cool, stylish graphics, I figured I’d be right on board with it.  As with most movies, before I review the sequel, I feel it’s necessary to review the original.  So here comes my review of the first Tron, written and directed by Steven Lisberger, and starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan, Dan Shor, Barnard Hughes, and Peter Jurasik.

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has been repeatedly trying to hack into the software of his former employer, ENCOM, looking for files that would prove that the current chairman of ENCOM, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), plagiarized several video games that Flynn created in order to rise to power in the company.  Flynn’s numerous attempts have failed so far, having been prevented by the artificial intelligence program that controls ENCOM’s mainframes, the Master Control Program.  Hearing about the attempted hacks, ENCOM employees Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) go and see what Flynn is up to and agree to help him get what he needs.  Alan tells Flynn he needs to get his security program, Tron, away from the MCP and allow him to do his job.  While trying to forge higher clearance for himself, the MCP activates an experimental laser that turns Flynn into data and puts him into the ENCOM mainframe.  Now inside, he must meet up with the manifestation of Tron (Boxleitner) and take down the MCP so that he can make lots and lots of money.

It’s a little sad to say this, but this movie is more than a little overrated.  My opinion is not hindered by nostalgia as I didn’t see this movie in its entirety until 2010, but I feel sad about not liking it because it seems exactly like the type of movie I should like.  It’s science fiction and it’s set inside a video game.  What’s not to like?  The lackluster story, that’s what.  It’s just not very interesting.  The story has an interesting premise, but not an interesting story.  I like the idea of someone being turned into a computer program, but you then should have something happen.  You get a couple repeated scenes of a tank shooting at a flying upper-case M, then some people play Jai Alai to the death, some light cycle chasing, but none of it is particularly gripping.  I can’t really recall a time in the movie when I felt like Flynn was in danger, and without that it’s just a process of waiting for the hero to inevitably win.  The biggest issue with pacing I had was the moment when Yori, the female program, died … for 2 seconds.  What the hell is that, man?  She’s just standing in a room, the lights turn off, she swoons, but then Flynn catches her and she’s alive again.  My brain didn’t even have time to say, “What the hell just killed her?” before she was alive again.  The outcome of the movie also didn’t make any sense to me.  ::SPOILER ALERT::  Once the MCP is destroyed, Flynn returns to the real world and gets a printout that says Dillinger stole the program to the video games from Flynn, which he apparently uses to take control of the company again.  The problem with this is that I don’t know how a couple of words printed out on a dot matrix printer is proof.  I could print out a statement on a piece of paper that would look way more professional that could say, “Idea for the iPod.  Created by Robert Bicket.  Appropriated by Steve Jobs.  Give Robert lots and lots of money.”  I don’t feel entirely confident that this would convince anyone.  I’ll let you know what the outcome is.  After that, the full ending of the movie is completely lackluster as well.  Alan and Lora are waiting on the top of the ENCOM tower, Flynn arrives in a helicopter showing that he’s in control of the company (the piece of paper works!), and that’s it.  I suppose it’s a happy ending, but it’s entirely blasé.  ::END SPOILERS::

Some people actually find the story of this movie super amazing, but to me the only thing noteworthy about this movie is the look, and it is still very noteworthy.  By today’s standards, it’s not the most impressive thing in the world, but this movie was made in 1982.  At the time, this movie would’ve been mind-blowing.  I respect the movie for its visual accomplishments.  Though it’s something that I’m sure would not be hard to accomplish with today’s technology, it’s still awesome to look at and very stylized.  I’m sure the younger audience wouldn’t understand it, but I remember full well when video games looked like this, and they captured the video game feel very well.  I’ve played those little tank games, and I’ve played games like the light cycle battle, where you created a wall and tried to make your opponent crash into it before you did.  I remember it as a snake that kept getting larger, but it’s the same principle.

All of the performances in the movie were fine, but none of them really impressed either.  As it seems like the movie was more geared towards the younger audiences (and because it was a Disney movie) they never went for anything super heavy in the story, so the characters never really required any stretching of their acting chops.  Because of this, the only thing I could think to say about anyone in the cast was that Cindy Morgan looks like a nerdy Michelle Pfeiffer.  …That is all.

I found myself somewhat disappointed by the original Tron movie.  The premise of the movie is great, but problems with pacing and a misunderstanding of how to make scenes have impact made the movie somewhat boring and monotonous.  I would definitely agree that the look of the movie deserves all the praise in the world, pulling off a very cool and very stylish look with technology far inferior to that which is available today.  It’s cool enough, but nothing special beyond something cool to look at.  It’s a movie worth seeing once, but not worthy of that much acclaim.  Tron gets “If the Users can no longer help us, we’re lost” out of “End of line.”

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