STARRING: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes, Dan Shor

1982, 96 Minutes, Directed by: Steven Lisberger

Ever wondered what it would be like to be actually physically inside a computer game? We're not just talking some virtual reality headsets here, but to be actually inside them?

Sure, you have.

Ever wondered what it would be like to be inside those first computer games like Asteroids and Space Invaders back in the 1980s? Well, okay, maybe you didn't - but people back then did.

In Tron a young computer programmer (played by an equally young Jeff Bridges) is physically transported to the insides of a computer system where he is forced to play all kinds of computer games to survive. In the outside, real world you lose a few quarters if you lose. In this computer world, game over is really game over.

Tron, in case you didn't know it, was a hugely expensive Walt Disney (yup, that's right) sci-fi movie made back in 1982 that employed state-of-art computer graphics to create its virtual reality world in which most of the movie plays off.

After Star Wars, the Disney studios were baffled.

The type of movie that on the surface appeared to be a kid's movie became the biggest box office hit of all time, while the more traditional stuff Disney did no longer appealed to kids it would seem. After the box office failure of The Black Hole one would suppose that Disney would think twice before making another special effects-laden epic, but alas. To put it mildly, the hugely expensive Tron didn't perform as well at the box office as Disney had hoped.

In the process they did however create one of the most hugely influential science fiction movies of recent years. Along with Blade Runner (also released in 1982), Tron provided the visual iconography for many sci-fi movies to come. Some movies, such as the inferior Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace, would steal from it whole-scale (the exciting motorcycle race) in the years to come.

"Tron has dated badly - and we're not just talking about those early 'Eighties hairstyles and fashions here!"

Obviously the best time and place to have seen Tron for the first time was on the big screen when it came out back then.

Watching it today, years later on DVD, confined to the small screen of a television, one's appreciation of the film is reduced to a sort of academic admiration.

Yes, the film was pretty radical for its time. In a time when Atari games such as Space Invaders represented the state-of-the-art in computing, its special effects were mind-boggingly well done and original. Long before anyone so much as uttered the word "cyberspace" and "virtual reality", the universe Tron depicted was a basic prototype of both.

The computer graphics in Tron pre-empted and inspired all the clichés of the cyberpunk genre on celluloid, from Lawnmower Man to Johnny Mnemonic and Hackers.

Tron has dated badly - and we're not just talking about those early 'Eighties hairstyles and fashions (a very young Bruce Boxleitner, the commander of Babylon 5, looks like a very young Bill Gates or Steve Jobs!). Those same effects that wow-ed audiences back then (most of the people I spoke to who saw the movie back then recall it fondly) looks dated and old. Kids today will no doubt pull their noses up at Tron: your average Playstation game today no doubt boasts better computer graphics. And are probably more exciting.

Watching Tron today is a curious out-of-body experience. I can't remember the last movie I have watched feeling so emotionally detached from on-screen events, probably Wing Commander (ironically based on a computer game!). It is very difficult to become emotionally involved with Tron: the characters in it are nonentities and one doesn't much care what happens to them. Also, the story is extremely muddled and confusing at times. It's as if one is watching someone else play a computer game, but you don't know what the ground rules are.

"Maybe it'll be more exciting if we pretended we knew what was going on," someone of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew once remarked of another movie. The same is applicable here. Tron actually showed the hazards of letting one's movie depend completely on special effects: one day they simply won't look as good anymore and all you'll be left with is an academic exercise in which you're trying to imagine how fantastic the effects must have been way back then . . .

Okay, Tron is not all that bad as you might have gathered from my rating: there are some stolid sci-fi elements in it and some neat one-liners that'll appeal to computer users. My favorite right now? "I remember when the Master Control Program [the chief baddy computer program] was just a chess program." Heh-heh . . .

  • Read the script.
  • Read more about the Tron Legacy sequel (plot synopsis, photos, trailers, etc.).


# 59
of the
Top 100 Sci-Fi Movies
of all time




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