Now that’s how you marry movies with video games. Suck it, Doom.
TRON is about a brilliant computer programmer/video gamer who gets canned from his job after unsuccessfully hacking into the company’s mainframe one too many times in the hopes of finding proof that one of his old co-workers stole his ideas in order to climb up the corporate ladder. So with the help of a couple former co-workers, he successfully hacks into the mainframe but ends up getting physically sucked into the system he invented in the process. Decked out in some pimpin’ new neon duds, he navigates his way through this digital fortress along with a couple other heroic programs to take down the evil Master Control Program, restore his good name and restore order to the world before it gets all Skynet on the bitch.
Folks, when I was growing up – the Game Boy junkie that I was – it simply didn’t get any better than TRON. If there were two things in life that I dug more than Ninja Turtles and Happy Meals, they were video games and movies, and even though I wasn’t born enough yet to see it in theaters, I was on board like a mofo thanks to the high-tech milestone that was the VCR.
Granted, I didn’t understand the story whatsoever until I saw it again this past week, and even then it was a bit on the confusing side, but talk about some kickass eye candy that would make any budding geek go gaga. Sure, you compare it to Avatar or any worthwhile video game that’s come out over the past decade and the difference is chalk and cheese. But despite how far CG and special effects have come over the years, the great thing about the way its used here is that it really doesn’t feel dated, it’s still pretty damn cool.
I mean, come on, the original Nintendo didn’t come out until a year later and T2 – the next certifiable “holy shit” moment in movie technology – wasn’t for another nine. I don’t know much, but I’m thinking this was some pretty advanced shit back in the day. But what’s great about it is that it’s working off a blank slate, it doesn’t have any Atari source material to live up to and the world that ends up being created is totally fresh as a result. All that blue and red neon, all the 23rd Century American Gladiators challenges from the light cycles (so, so cool) to the vertical jai alai match to Sark getting his dome cracked open with an identity disc, it’s what you’d imagine a computerized dystopia would look like if one actually existed. It’s a fully realized, wildly original world, the interaction between the cast and their green screen surroundings is surprisingly seamless, and it was way ahead of its time.
And all that jazz really is the best part about TRON.
When it comes to the story, well, it’s got its ups and downs. It’s a funky spin on The Hero’s Journey, I can’t think of any other way to make a compelling, legitimate movie about video games without adapting Metal Gear Solid or taking the same put-them-in-the-game direction that this does (believe me, I think about it often), and it’s pretty darn entertaining for something that could have been stupid as all hell. But as strong as the premise is, it’s kind of hard to get invested in the characters, the plot starts to slip towards the final Act and culminates in a pretty anticlimactic final shot, and the cast of heroes definitely could have been chopped down from three to two.
The main character here is Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn – our hacker who unwittingly gets lasered into becoming Player 1. Then there’s Bruce Boxleitner as Tron – the program designed by Flynn’s former co-worker to destroy the Master Control. And then there’s Cindy Morgan as Yori, but she’s fine, she can stay where she is. The thing is, Flynn is a fine character and Tron is a fine character, but I really don’t know why they weren’t just combined into one. Always find it weird when a movie is named after someone other than the main character (Zelda anyone?) and since Flynn is such a boss when it comes to taking names behind a joystick, seems like he would be the chosen one instead of playing second fiddle to a data file.
But for a cast that has to wear Memory Foam jumpsuits with matching swim caps/hockey helmets the whole time, they’re actually pretty solid. Bridges brings a lot of much-needed human emotion to the scene; who knows what happened to Boxleitner, but he gets it done; David Warner sure knows how to get angry as the MCP’s right-hand virus, Sark; and Morgan is a-okay even if she is the most robotic of the bunch. Really like how the programs are played by the users who created them, too. Nice little touch.
I can see how someone could watch this and file it under the “novelty” section when all is said and done, but when you consider what a travesty the relationship between movies and video games has devolved into since ’82, when you consider that this came out at a time when people were still shitting themselves over Pac-Man, and when you consider that it still holds up a hell of a lot better than it probably should nearly three decades later, I think TRON holds its weight as an under-appreciated classic. I love that Hollywood finally listened and have given us loyal fans a fancy schmancy sequel to gush over, but even if Legacy sucks (which it might), topping the original is a mighty tall order in my book. It ain’t perfect, but it sure is fun.
At the very least, it did give us this guy, and he is my hero: