There are a few movies that I remember well from when I was a kid. Transformers: The Movie (1986), Conan the Destroyer (1984), Labyrinth (1986), and Top Gun (1986) are a few of those that make up huge portions of the nerd soup flowing through my brain. No matter how badly these films are panned by critics, they really colored my perception of the world.
Tron (1982) was a little before my time, but I remember watching it when my parents let me stay up late. It combined so many of the things that I loved as a kid. Science fiction, video games, Saturday morning cartoons, girls in tight clothing… I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. It was a hodgepodge that was tailor-made for young nerds to geek out on; a veritable nerdgasm.
Unfortunately, despite having taped a butt-load of things off the television as a kid, I never once caught Tron from the beginning or found a copy in the yard sales I always frequented on weekends (having grown up with thrifty Filipino parents, I never bought luxury items like original VHS tapes retail).
When the DVD format started, I was old enough to begin my own collection of films, but by this time, we had already moved back to the PI. Though I’ve been looking for an original copy of Tron at the local stores, I never was able to find it, and I wasn’t about to spend a couple of thousand to get it imported (believe it or not, I’m usually thrifty with everything BUT toys).
Last week though, I was able to borrow a copy of the film (with commentary!) and finally watch this cult classic again. It holds up surprisingly well.
If you’re not familiar with the film, it’s about a computer programmer named Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) whose work is stolen by a corporate stooge, Ed Dillinger (David Warner). Using Flynn’s work, Dillinger becomes Senior Vice President of ENRON, the company that employed them both. Flynn, in an effort to get evidence necessary to bring down Dillinger and his Big Brother Master Control Program (the MCP), tries to hack into the ENRON system with the help of two other employees, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan). While attempting to break into the intranet, Flynn is detected by the MCP which decides to stop Flynn from jeopardizing its plans for world domination.
The MCP zaps Flynn with a laser that digitizes him and drops him into the digital world (just go with it). In cyberspace he meets digital versions of Lori and Alan, anthropomorphic visualizations of programs that his friends wrote in the real world, programs who are trying to defeat the MCP and free the system from its tyrannical rule.
BLAH BLAH BLAH.
All you really need to know is this was the Jurassic Park of the 80’s, The Matrix, the Avatar of its time. It was a milestone in special effects history, taking a never before seen (and never seen again) method of film-making and coming out with a really amazing movie. Because of Tron, Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) became what it is today.
The film was a mix of back-lit and hand-drawn animation, and CGI graphics paired with live-action bookends to frame the adventure. And what ad adventure! Once Flynn is dropped into cyberspace, things go pear-shaped and he’s facing people (programs) in gladiatorial combat with Frisbees, racing around in motorcycles that leave a trail of solid light, and flying around in derelict futuristic tanks.
That’s what I remember about the film; the roaring action and the gorgeous eye candy. The imagery may seem dated now, but imagining yourself in this bio-digital world, wielding light as a weapon, feeding on pure energy… to paraphrase The Dude, “That’s cool, man”. There’s an undercurrent about the freedom of information to the film (something that would play much better now than it did back in the less tech-savvy 80’s) that weaves through it, but thankfully, it’s left for the hard core fans to mull over.
And ultimately, I think that’s where Tron: Legacy got it wrong. At some point, the filmmakers forgot that the reason why nerds loved the first one wasn’t because of the deep, philosophical views it unlocked and the debates it started in scholarly circles. It was because nerds loved the idea of being in cyberspace; being in a video game. We love playing roles and the concept of creating a surrogate who is harder, better, faster, stronger than you is something that turned us on.
Well, that and the fact that Cindy Morgan spends half the movie in a white spandex suit.
Can you say camel toe?