Tron (1982)

April 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Tron has a curious place in science-fiction film history — some of the visuals make it feel like the grandson of Metropolis (1927), even as some of the themes and ideas make it feel like the grandfather of The Matrix (1999). The film is anchored by a remarkably relaxed and charming performance from a young Jeff Bridges, who does a great job considering he probably acted the part with no surroundings, and they were all added later in an early production to make use of computerized effects.

In a nutshell, the plot has programs running around in a digital world de-rezzing when killed, and vying for power despite the autocratic control of a master control program. All the lesser programs are played by the same actors that create the programs in the “real” world, and at times the programs sit around musing about the possibility of a creator, known as a User. Do User-Creators exist or not? Jeff Bridges is somehow scanned and deposited into the computer world, and as a User begins to find he has the ability to manipulate it. The idea of a creation meeting its God isn’t played out to great effect, though there’s a good scene where a program assumes Bridges has been doing everything according to a greater plan, and the Bridges character just laughs. I was a little surprised by this. I expected an entertaining film I vaguely remembered from my childhood, not a film that manages to imply life is an impressive-looking accident and you’re a bit naive to believe anything else.

All the anthropomorphism in the film leaves me with mixed feelings, and it’s also something Disney tends to do a lot (yes, this is a Disney film). It’s thanks to this kind of thing we can feel more empathy for a program, but also thanks to this we don’t even begin to see it for what it actually is.  A donkey with a Texas accent might be lovable, but it certainly isn’t a donkey. And the language the programs use only goes part-way to producing the feeling they actually live in a different world. In fact, I think it’s fair to say the script needed a little work, overall. The central program / villain speaks like a parody of a gangster (“Somebody pushes me, I push back!”) and David Warner as the henchman serving the program is possibly the best actor in the film, but he’s reduced to lines like “Get them,” a lot of the time. Still, this is nit-picking, and was undoubtedly easy to overlook when the filmmakers were juggling so much, and paving new ground at the same time. Tron might be a little clunky in parts, and the effects certainly don’t compare to what can be done decades later, but that’s all fairly standard for science-fiction. It’s impressive because it breaks new ground visually and creatively, and new storytelling ground as a film about the marriage of organic life and technology. One of the filmmakers has commented that the film should remind the viewer of something they’ve never seen before, and I think that works for me. The creations that both break new ground and enter the popular consciousness have one foot in this world and one in a more innovative one, as a way to allow viewer to relate and connect but also lead them somewhere new. Tron follows film conventions a little too closely to feel shockingly new, but it does have a lot of originality on display.

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