Thursday, October 6, 2016

Retro Review: TRON (1982)

Welcome to another installment of RETRO REVIEW, where we take a look at films made before the year 2000. Today we review a film from 1982, one of the most groundbreaking special effects movies ever made...TRON.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. Tron is one of those rare movies that can't be easily compared. Sure it's a sci-fi movie, and yes, it's from Disney; both of these categories carry with them certain expectations and standards that can prepare you for the movie you're about to see. But getting to the question of what Tron is "like", if you find yourself talking to someone who has never seen it, and you're suddenly at a loss, Tron isn't quite like anything else. it certainly stands apart from its contemporaries, and even today there's a shortage of acceptable allegories, 2010's Tron Legacy notwithstanding. You can make loose comparisons to more recent movies, The Matrix trilogy for example, and not be wrong, exactly, but you'd still be selling this movie short.

It's story is the usual "adventure beyond imagination" that movies of this type were so fond of in those days. Kevin Flynn (a very pre-Dude Jeff Bridges) was once a programmer at Encom, until he was betrayed by his colleague, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), who stole several of Flynn's projects. Now running an arcade by day, Flynn spends his nights trying to hack into the Encom mainfame to find evidence of Dillinger's theft. He's not having much luck until his two friends and former coworkers, Alan and Laura, sneak him into the Encom building to try and hack the mainframe directly. These two have their own beefs with the way Dillinger has been running things since Flynn left, and so they have their own interests in seeing Dillinger brought down a peg. It's while Flynn is getting set to do this dirty work that he runs afoul of the Master Control Program (MCP), the program that governs the entire Encom system. In an attempt to stop Flynn's meddling, the MCP (voiced by David Warner) traps Flynn inside the system by using a matter-digitizing laser. And so the adventure begins.

It isn't lost on me how silly this story seems today. You may even be laughing right now, and I honestly can't blame you. The great risk of sci-fi, when it isn't afraid to push the boundaries of imagination, is that it may come up with something that doesn't strain credulity so much as quietly remove it from the equation altogether. But that's what makes the sci-fi of the mid-to-late twentieth century so great: it wasn't afraid to think big. Tron gains even more respect from me because it was dealing with a topic that, at the time, most people were only barely aware of, and few understood: computers and computer programming.

It's not uncommon to see movies gloss over the finer details of computer technology, even today, but Tron wears its technological ignorance on its sleeve. Only two accurate references to computers are made in the course of this film: the terms "program" and "bit" are used more or less correctly. The rest of the time the characters are spouting cool-sounding techno-gibberish: "Thirty fifty-six; ninety-nine are correct. Limited four and eight are missing,", the status report given by the program Yori at one point in the film, is still my all-time favorite mike-droppingly ballsy fake-technical line of dialogue. Tron is full of stuff like this: "logic probe", "null unit", "recognizer", "inoperative data pusher" and on, and on. You could make a drinking game out of it. But again, this was 1982, well before computers became omnipresent in our lives. Steven Lisberger, who wrote the screenplay for this movie as well directing, was plainly fascinated by this burgeoning new technology, and the wonder he must have felt at the possibilities presented by computers is obvious throughout this project.

The visuals are, necessarily, dated. CGI technology has advanced by lightyears since Tron was released, with the actors filmed in a grainy black and white for the scenes inside the computer, and a neon-glow effect painted onto the film in post production. But the story behind the movie's visuals just makes it amazing all over again. To appreciate Tron today requires a sense of history. This movie comes from a time when the things we take for granted in movies today weren't just rare, they hadn't been invented yet. Tron was the very first movie to use computer-generated imagery, and while that proto-CGI doesn't hold a candle to what special effects artists are capable of today, consider what the people behind Tron had to work with. Computers of the day could render simple geometric images, but couldn't put them into motion. Animators had to hand-code the coordinates for each frame of the imagery, with 600 separate sets of coordinates needed to generate four seconds of animation (source). There's no question that animators and special effects artists have it much easier today.

It may be tempting to mock Tron for its dated look, its pseudo-technical jargon, or the fact that it was a box office failure. Disney lost so much money on this movie and its predecessor, 1979's The Black Hole, that it wouldn't invest directly in another live action project again until 1993's The Adventures of Huck Finn. But then, if box office take were a reliable measure of a movie's quality, we'd all be praising Suicide Squad or the Transformers franchise with one voice. I like Tron because this is what original filmmaking looks like, when love of subject, passion for the project, and the skill of the people involved combine to create something truly special. Tron may be relegated to the status of a largely forgotten cult film today, but that's alright; it started something that can't be ignored.

Tron is rated PG.

Robert's Score: 9.5/10

Make sure to check us out and like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram for all of our reviews, news, trailers, and much, much more!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment