Tron (original)

I hate to admit it: but this movie sucks!

It grieves me to write this.

I saw Tron during its original theatrical release. Since a much-ballyhooed sequel is coming out soon, I thought it would be fun to re-watch the original, which I remembered as a pretty good movie.

Obviously, my memory isn’t what it used to be. Or maybe my memory isn’t what it used to be.

In cinematic parlance, this movie is awful! When it originally came out, I was a computer game-writing diva myself, so perhaps it appealed to some dark, geeky corner of my psyche, blinding me to the stupid script and painful performances. Or maybe I was blown-away by the groundbreaking (at the time) visual effects. Or maybe I was on some kind of medication.

Plot Summary: Game-writing master Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has been bilked out of his duly-earned fortune by evil entrepreneur Bill Gates…sorry, Ed Dillinger (perennial bad guy David Warner), CEO of computer company ENCOM. Bespectacled smart guy Allen Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) has written a new security program called “TRON” that can help Flynn regain his fortune by burrowing into the company’s network and recovering proof that Flynn wrote the computer games that catapulted Dillinger to CEOdom.

Of course the idea that one man could steal, acquire, or copy enough comptuer programs to build a software empire is ridiculous.

Isn’t it?

The Story: The movie opens in Flynn’s Video Arcade, where we discover computer programs are actually tiny little people standing under black lights and wearing uniforms left over from an Ed Wood movie. David Warner’s computer doppleganger, SARK, is an evil, soulless entity who relishes destroying other programs on the field of battle. Picture Ghengis Kahn in a stupid hat. Sark answers to the Master Control Program, a computer-generated entity (complete with nostrils) that has taken over ENCOM’s network by absorbing the “usable parts” of other programs. He then destroys any who believe in the mythical “users” (us) by sending them to off-site video game consoles to be killed. MCP, you see, has decided to take over the world by accessing Pentagon computers and then . . . well, I’m not sure what, but probably something bad.

“Meanwhile, in the real world” we find that Flynn is attempting to hack into ENCOM. Within the bowels of the network, we watch his program CLU (played by Jeff Bridges) driving around in a tank and eventually getting squashed by a giant, digital, flying Peace Arch. I know it sounds stupid, but trust me, it is.

Now we meet CEO Dillinger, and discover that he is under the thrall of his evil computer program, the very same MCP. Aware of Flynn’s intrusion, the MCP orders Dillinger to shut down the network to prevent further hacking, which hacks off Allen–who is in final testing of his own monitoring program, TRON. Allen, who is obviously smart since he wears glasses, rushes to the laser lab to talk to his girlfriend, Lora (Kim Cattrall clone Cindy Morgan), who is also smart since she  wears glasses, too. Here we learn that ENCOM chief scientist, Dr. Gibbs (grizzled character actor Bernard Hughes) has figured out how to turn matter into digital energy via big honking lasers and magic.

Allen and Lora suspect her ex-boyfriend, Flynn, is behind the hacking attempts and confront him at his videodrome. (Flynn, although smart, is too cool to wear glasses.) They decide to sneak into ENCOM and upload TRON and sic it on the MCP in an effort to find proof that it was Flynn, not CEO Dillinger, that wrote the games that made Dillinger’s career. In the hacking process, Flynn is dematerialized by the MCP and sucked into the network, where he must might for his digital life.

Well, the joke’s on the MCP! Flynn, you see, is a monster gamer! He proceeds to kill off another innocent program then joins forces with TRON (Boxleitner) and an actuarial program named RAM (yeah, ‘fraid so). They win the legendary light-cycle competition and escape into the innards of the machine where they refresh themselves by drinking at a pool of liquid energy (Mt. Dew, probably). Soon, however, the MCP’s minions find them and RAM is killed by a tank shell. Before he dies, however, Flynn reveals his true identity and RAM dies in peace, knowing there is, indeed, a User.


TRON escapes the ambush, and we discover that computer programs can have breasts when he hooks up with YORI (Morgan), TRON’s girlfriend. (Girlfriend?)  YORI then delivers one of the greatest lines in moviedom:

“I knew you’d escape. They haven’t built a circuit that could hold you!”

Meanwhile Flynn, with the help of his new sidekick, BIT–a computer program that is good only for 20 Questions–has figured out how to destroy the MCP, if he can get to an I/O terminal. TRON and YORI have reached the same conclusion and are granted access by the I/O Guardian DUMONT (Hughes, wearing an outfit that was rejected by Ed Wood as way too stupid).

Anyway, to cut a way-too-long story not-nearly-short-enough, they rejoin Flynn and make their way to the MCP, flying over the Computerland terrain, which is basically a big lava lamp. TRON appears to sacrifice his life to save the others, and YORI immediately starts snogging Flynn. I guess computer programs aren’t programmed for grief or loyalty.

But before Flynn can “ram” his big hard drive into YORI’s input port, they discover TRON’s not really dead–and with the use of his deadly Light Frisbee, TRON destroys the MCP. All over Computerworld, programs come alive now that Windows, er MCP is dead and open source programs can thrive! Flynn is re-materialized into the real world. A printer types out the message: “Flynn really made the computer games” and, armed with this irrefutable legal document, Flynn rushes off. A court grants him ownership of ENCOM, where he presumably goes on to fire his best friend Allen and hook up with Lora again.

Performances: There were no discernible performances in this movie. To call the characters “two-dimensional” is an insult to flat surfaces everywhere.

Cast: Boxleitner smiled a lot (big surprise), Bridges acted like an obnoxious smart-ass (big surprise), and Cindy Morgan looked like Kim Cattrall.

Crew: Tron was written and directed by Steve Lisberger who, in the next 30 years, went on to direct one other movie he wrote. Ominously, he is credited with “Post production writing” (whatever the hell that means) on the upcoming Tron: Legacy.

Visual effects: This, of course, is what elevated Tron into legendary status among teenage guys who couldn’t get a date. Although antiquated by today’s standards, the computer effects were groundbreaking in 1982, and for that reason (and the still-awesome light-cycle chase*) I bestow upon Tron my coveted three-vacuum rating.

But I won’t be first in line for Tron: Legacy.

*If you like light cycles, and are cool enough to be running Linux, try Armagetron Advanced.

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