Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Movie Review: "Tron" by David Pretty

Personal computers came of age in the 1980's and with these wondrous, new-fangled devices infiltrating our homes it was just a matter of time before we began to speculate about what was going on amidst those micro-chip-studded motherboard landscapes.  

Since Tron, at face value, appeared to be the geekiest movie ever made, I felt compelled to see it in the theater as a twelve-year-old kid.  Unfortunately it was also one the first times I can distinctly remember saying "M'eh" when someone asked me what I thought of it.  After re-visiting Tron again recently, I've come to realize that the film feels half-baked mainly because the technology of the time just couldn't do justice to its ambitious premise.

Jeff Bridges is Flynn, a brilliant computer programmer who's ideas have been pilfered by the unscrupulous tech czar Ed Dillinger (David Warner).  This blatant thievery has allowed Dillinger to climb to the highest rung of ENCOM's corporate ladder and have Flynn purged from the payroll.  To vindicate himself, Flynn hacks into the company's mainframe and tries to dig up some evidence of Dillinger's duplicity but his avatar is captured and de-rezzed by the now-sentient Master Control Program.

The resulting security lockdown effects two other ENCOM employees: Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Dr. Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan).  They conspire with Flynn to activate "TRON", Alan's security program in an effort to destroy the MCP's stranglehold on their virtual world.  In doing so, Flynn is digitized and electronically transplanted onto the grid where he's forced to participate in various gladiatorial-style video games.  With the aid of Alan's Tron and Lora's virtual identity Yori, they break free of the game world and trek across the electronic landscape to confront the MCP and Dillinger's codified doppelganger Sark.  

If all of this sounds dense, impenetrable and, to a certain extent, pointless, I'm afraid you've stumbled upon Tron's greatest weakness.  With only a few "blink and you'll miss it" scenes with the MCP asking Dillinger for real-world financial data (with the inference that it has it's eye on global domination), the threat is low and the stakes feel minimal.  And let's face it, movies like this are only as good as its villain.  

Jeff Bridges is a delight to watch.  Even when his face is rendered into a monochromatic haze, he's still animated and charismatic.  Bruce Boxleitner's Alan is meant to be a bit staid, but there's a huge difference between reserved and wooden.  It's also inconceivable to me that Cindy Morgan didn't become the penultimate 80's geek pinup girl, since her brainy beauty as Lora/Yori rivals that of Jan Smithers' Bailey Quarters or Erin Gray's Wilma Deering.  Regrettably she doesn't get a lot to do here except look fetching, which she easily accomplishes.  Finally, the always-awesome David Warner is coolly threatening, or as threatening as a heel can be while wearing day-glo red pajamas.

Large stretches of the film look pitifully dated.  The computer imagery is often well-designed but rendered based on the obvious limitations of the day.  Often it feels as if you're watching someone else play a bad video game and you're not allowed to push any of the buttons.  To top it off, the music is a major liability.  It's obvious that director Steven Lisberger wanted an electronic soundtrack to jibe with the film's mise-en-scene but to me it sounds like a keyboard stuck on "DEMO".

I'm actually looking forward to seeing Tron: Legacy sometime soon, mainly because contemporary visual effects and computer animation technology have finally caught up to the concept.  In theory, the 2010 sequel is a perfect film for today's tech-savvy audiences.  The original Tron, however, is mainly a cinematic oddity with an overly-ambitious concept hanging around its neck like an albatross.  It's  another film that often gets a free pass due to the sanguine effects of nostalgia.

   Tilt: down.

1 comment:

  1. "Where love and escape do not compute."
    This was one of my favourite films for a LONG time. It takes itself way too seriously, but it's still fun.

    I feel like the new film is harder to forgive, and is still a mixed bag.

    The TV Series, Tron: Revolution is awesome, however, and makes the new movie a prerequisite.