Written and Directed by Steven Lisberger
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a disgraced programmer for ENCOM and has been attempting to hack into their computers in an effort to uncover information that will restore his reputation. While sneaking into their headquarters with some friends he gets sucked into a computer world and must fight for his survival.
You can draw many real-world parallels with what happens in this movie and the concerns of the 80s. This was after all a product of its time and intentionally or not reflected it. Hear me out on this.
For me the character of Master Control (David Warner) always represented an authoritarian government seeking to destroy the people’s belief in religion in order to become the highest authority in the lives of the citizens. It is a common tactic among oppressive governments to do so. It makes the populace easier for them to control. Their primary fear is no longer of a supernatural higher power but rather in a very mortal power.
Think about it. Many of the programs seen in the film profess a belief in the Users whom they believe have some master plan and are all powerful entities. They believe that Users wrote them, and Users give them their purpose. The Users created all and know all. Sounds like the human belief in God to me.
And the plot to get to Master Control is basically a plot to overthrow the oppressive government (here in the form of the MCP) which has been seizing more and more authority from the people and detaining/conscripting random citizens. The people are without their gods and seek to reconnect with them. In science-fiction humans are usually worshiped either by idiotic accident or because they tricked the population into a false religious belief. Here humans are actual gods because humans built the world the programs inhabit and created each program. Those are very substantive concepts for a family friendly Disney film. I have always been curious if anyone else has seen these things in the movie.
Each program is an individual. An accounting program is its own being as is a security program and so on. But somehow the tank video game programs are actual tanks and the light cycle video game is a light cycle. I kind a get it but it does seem to break the film’s logic.
It is obvious that the central human characters have program counterparts. Flynn (briefly) had CLU. Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) had Tron. Ed Dillinger (David Warner) also had Sark. Dr. Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) had Yori and so forth but even minor human characters who briefly were on screen had a program counterpart.
Dr. Walter Gibbs (Barnard Hughes) also as Dumont. Roy Kleinberg (Dan Shor), an ENCOM employee, is also an actuarial program named Ram. Another God inference? After all it is clear the programs were quite literally made in the image of their creator.
One thing people seem to forget is that this movie is not named after the world in which the digital characters exist but rather it is named after the program Tron that Flynn joined forces with in order to not only escape from the computer but to end the MCP’s reign. Tron was the main character of the movie and not Kevin Flynn. If this was otherwise then the movie would have a completely different name.
I applaud the cast for playing it straight the whole time. Given everything it would have been very easy for the actors to play it silly, but the dialogue is delivered seriously and the scenes are played straight. Flynn is flippant. Alan is serious and maybe a little dense. And Lora is the sensible one. And they do that all in a serious manner.
Tron was definitely ahead of its time in the use of computer imagery. So ahead of its time that even back then it looked a little clunky. Computer graphics were still very much in their infancy when this movie came out. As minimal as the scale was in comparison to today, nothing close to it had really been attempted as far as I am aware. It would be another two or so years with the arrival of The Last Starfighter in 1984 that something of this scale would be tried again. The most they were used for was for creating displays on computer screens in science fiction movies. What Tron did here was revolutionary. They rendered vehicles and buildings and even creatures in extremely early CGI.
Yes, what they tried to do was hindered by the reality of the technical limitations of the time, but it was a step towards something done quite regularly in modern films. That includes non-science fiction stuff. Many movies use CGI to a varying degree. Some you would not even think of do it.
The story in Tron is basically a new twist on the idea of falling into a parallel reality. It used computers which were only then beginning to become common as that parallel reality. Nobody then had much of a grasp on them. All they knew was that these things were futuristic so storytellers could get away with some very improbable stuff when it came to them. For me it was cool that this different world was in objects that were only then beginning to surround us.
It was a science fiction film that went to a strange new world yet never left Planet Earth and was set in the present day. That alone makes it stand out in science fiction cinema. Very few movies have done anything close to that.
This is a great 80s film. It was a time when special effects were coming into their own and movie studios still were not afraid to try something that was a little weird. On paper the concept is pretty straightforward. In execution it was kind of awkward. Look at the costumes if you are not sure why.
In the end Tron is a fun movie with a few deep concepts in it. Even if you do not see those deep concepts, you will still enjoy yourself. This film deserves its cult status. I revisit it often and you should too.