In preparation for the sequels release I obtained a copy of the original Tron and gave it a rewatch. It had been years since I had seen it, and little remained in my memories except for the fact that there were computer people running around and they looked cool.
Tron is a pretty ambitious movie, one that broke new and innovative ground. Obviously because of this it was dismissed and fared poorly in theatres. It concerns two worlds; the first is our world in which a shady business man has constructed a powerful computer program that now seeks to control the world, and the second is the computer world in which captured programs are fighting to stop the evil dictator program from being a dick. On the outside world is Flynn, a man betrayed by the corrupt businessman. Flynn ends up being digitized and put into the computer world where he helps Tron, hero of the programs, on his quest to destroy the evil program.
It actually ends up being pretty easy to follow with the tech speak being pretty limited in scope, which might have just been a product of the times, and that helps keep the dialogue easy to comprehend. It also ends up being a simple plot, with the real world effects being minimalised in comparison to the epic nature of the computer world. This is neat too as you realize that everything the heroes did was essentially C:/Tron/savetheday.exe which would make for a boring movie. The only part that didn’t really work for me here is that the programs look like their users. I can’t see any real reason for it to happen unless they are meant to be avatars, but this movie predates that and it doesn’t seem to be the intent. It also has the effect of attaching the human characteristics onto the computer programs; this in turn ends up confusing the character of Flynn resulting in a bit of a stilted and non-defined subplot. Without spoiling things I will simply say that there needed to be slightly less drama and plot.
One aspect I like that is touched upon but not brought forth is that of religion. The programs being locked up are those who believe in ‘users’; the users are of course divine beings that control the world. When Flynn arrives he is basically a fallen god walking the world he helped create. It really helps make the story more epic, especially when Tron finds out that his new partner is a user. Consider the exchange:
Tron: If you are a User then everything you have done is according to a plan.
Flynn: Ha! You wish.
Tron’s belief that the higher beings are infallible and in control, but then the god simply rebukes that showing himself to be no better. Rather you agree with the viewpoint it still strikes a powerful cord. But then it is gone and the fallibility of gods is not touched upon again; which is fine, because this movie seems to be primarily about style, which is what it has in spades.
I honestly felt that going back into this I was going to be disappointed. After all it has been almost thirty years between films, and the effects in the new movie look so very good. But I have to say the original holds up pretty well. It obviously dated, but it is only the major outdoor scenes that look bad, causing the eye to glaze across surfaces and get lost in some incomprehensible detail. When we are more focused on characters the environments around them come across better and more believable. Also, I think I like the outfits from the original better. The black rubber with running lights in the new film does look cool, but the original had the intricate circuit board designs and still carries a lot of charm. The only failing on those would be how easy it is to see that the costumes are made of foam. Still, design wise the original Tron holds up well. It helps that it can be hand waved away by declaring it to be a world inside a computer; I imagine a scene explain g how the world has evolved as technology has…not so different from modern architecture.
All in all the original film is still a fun ride, it plays it simple and most of the action pieces are still fun to watch today. Everything looks cool and it’s a marvel of filmmaking. Tron gets a 4/5.