|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 12 December 2000|
Remember what computer technology was like back in 1992? How about 1982? Watching 'Tron' in 1998 (now sixteen years after its original theatrical release) affords a pleasure that writer/director Steven Lisberger probably never intended. As far as the world of cinematic effects (and the real world as well for that matter) we've come a long way, baby.
Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is an embittered video game designer who's been thrown out on his ear after his evil boss (David Warner) passed Flynn's work off as his own. When Flynn tries to hack into the computer system at his old company, he is literally sucked into an electronic world, where the programs all have human faces and video games are as real and lethal as medieval gladiator combat. The computer world is under the domination of the evil Master Control Program (Warner, again--all the programs look like their human designers), who wants to take over both its own universe and ours. Meanwhile, Flynn falls in with the heroic program Tron (Bruce Boxleitner, these days of TV's "Babylon 5"), who has been designed to overthrow the Master Control Program or be deleted trying.
As the first major studio feature film to use computer-generated imagery on such a scale, 'Tron' rates as a collector's item. Though dated, the CGI looks striking, but becomes a bit monotonous after awhile: in the computer world, nearly everything is in shades of washed-out bluish gray, including character faces. The lone exception being the wardrobe stripes that glow red for the bad guys and blue for the good--an almost literal shade of 'Star Wars'' light-saber duel.
One of Lisberger's visual grace notes is the way the programs and landscape light up, deliberately suggesting computer-generated flowers 'blooming' (Chapter 26). He also has a lot of fun creating echoes with his images: check out the way the view of the computer interior landscape in Chapter 1 is copied in the human cityscape seen from Dillinger's window in Chapter 4 and in the climactic shot at the end of Chapter 28. His plot, however, tries to be so kid-friendly (after all, this was made by Disney in the early '80s) that even the more intriguing story elements come off bland and generic, not helped by dialogue like, "The system's got more bugs than a bait store." Ultimately, whether you see Tron as a keeper or just a bemusing bit of '80s nostalgia depends a lot on how curious you are about the infancy of computer-generated special effects--and whether you like to imagine that each of your computer programs has its own identity.