Friday, December 17, 2010


Although Tron Legacy, the sequel/remake/re-imagining of Tron comes out today, this week I hunkered down in a secret screening bunker in the heart of a cold Lowell December night to gather with dozens of like-minded lovers of movie cheese to watch an invitation-only showing of the original Tron.

Set the way-back machine for 1982, and all things Disney. At the time, Disney was trying to compete with the popular and lucrative sci-fi market but had only come up with The Black Hole, a static, woefully unsuccessful space-opera snoozefest, and The Cat From Outer Space. Dragonslayer, from 1981, was a step in the right direction. Then along comes Tron. As an almost thirty-year-old time-stamp, it’s pretty entertaining. As a movie that makes sense and uses good actors well, it's not so successful.

Jeff Bridges stars as Kevin Flynn, a curly-haired carefree software engineer who looks and talks a lot like Mathew McConaughey. Flynn runs a successful video arcade but holds a grudge against the computer company where he used to work. The company, Encom, canned him, and since then he’s been hacking their Master Control Program to find evidence that evil software engineer Ed Dillinger, stole his lucrative video game ideas. Dillinger's played with a torpid evil by David Warner. He’s a bad guy that doesn't have any fun at all—Come on Disney! Didn’t you learn anything from your lengthy history of great animated villains?

That’s the real world. The conceit of the movie is that whenever a character logs into this Master Control Program, the story moves to a world inside the program. Matrix/Avatar-like character doubles run around in tight, colorful body suits (lots of man buns), with black and white, or tinted skin. The Master Control Program was written by Ed Dillinger, but it's becoming sentient, and prefers to run things like the Roman Empire where little programs who never caused anyone any harm are forced to duel it out with one another on the grid.

The Master Control Program laser beams (seriously!) Flynn into the digital world where he ends up fighting for his life. He also helps security program Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) and resident Master Control Program hottie Yori (Cindy Morgan: Caddyshack's Lacey Underall!), do, um, something to get the mainframe to kick out the evil totalitarian program…Or something like that. Here's how IMDB describes it: "A hacker is literally abducted into the world of a computer and forced to participate in gladiatorial games where his only chance of escape is with the help of a heroic security program."

Before the screening, I couldn’t remember if I’d seen Tron. I knew I hadn’t seen it in the theater when it came out, but I was sure I caught it on VHS sometime in the ‘80s. The iconic image of the cyber bikes zipping across the grid were still so vivid. But as soon as Jeff Bridges appeared, with his McConaughey curls, I knew I was in a very special Disney world I'd never been to before.

As dull, lifeless, and Disneyfied as the real-world scenes are, all the scenes inside the Master Control Program make up for it. Well, just about. There’s still the bad acting, goofy dialogue, and an animated sidekick (Bit, the animated polyhedron!) all drizzled over one chase or battle sequence after another.

The set design incorporates grids, blocks, spheres, and lots of neon. Throughout are whispers of other sci-fi movies. The chases through a landscape of grooves and columns remind one of Star Wars, specifically the scenes of X-Wing fighters flying through canyons along the surface of the Death Star. The costumes look leftover from Buck Rogers, although these glow, change color, and have circuitry-like detail. The monochrome look of the character's faces hark back to Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

There are also a couple drug references which amazed me considering this is PG-rated stuff: In the Master Control Program the programs refer to the developers who created them as users. Also there is a scene whose placement in the plot defies logical explanation. It concerns a pool of liquid the characters drink from because it gives them the feeling they can accomplish anything.

Your enjoyment of Tron depends on your fondness for its elements. For me, it was entertaining to watch the animators and filmmakers struggle to forge the future of computer graphics. And chuckle at the storyline. And wonder why they cast poor David Warner in this thankless role. Tron Legacy looks like Tron remade with more money and a better graphics program. For all those big budget effects, my money's on the original Tron still standing in another thirty years.


Theater location: Super Secret Underground Bunker. Price: Free, but donations accepted. Viewed with Liz and Amanda.
Snacks—A stick of sugarless Non Stop Mint Stride gum.

Coming Attractions:



Cynthia Sherrick said...

Sugarless gum for a snack?

Great review. I always thought I had seen this movie but I don't think I have. I'll have to check it out!

Dell Smith said...

I had the same reaction: I must have seen Tron. But it's definitely an experience you don't forget.