Then & Now: TRON

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Geoff Harris

Hear me now, oh Children of the Invisible Web! Long before the Electric Eye gleamed bright and we knew the names of the ones that done it. Before the static cleared and the HD broadened our vision. There was a time…a time when wonder was more than a bread and the dreams of angels flew over our heads. A time when a thing called film brought the big big smiles. And such I speak now, my little sparks, of such a thing called TRON!

 

 

 

Then:

Flynn, a lackluster computer programmer and video game designer, gets digitized and brought into the world within his computer in search of TRON,a  freedom fighter whose mission is to free the other “programs” from the evil tyrannical Master Control Program. I was in at the first time I saw the trailer. This is what I love the most. When science fiction goes left of center and brings something new and different into my life. Yes, the costumes were a bit off-putting but I really didn’t care. This movie had a video game tie-in that could eat more quarters than I can remember and I was addicted. Video arcades were the coffee shops of their day where nerd and mundane alike could converge and waste hours blasting away at eight bit insanity. Now before you start writing that “by the way” email, hear me out. I am fully aware arcades still exist. Any given movie theater has one. There is something special about those old places. They were loud and crowed. Sometimes music, usually something Top 40, would be playing under the sound cloud of beeps, bleeps, buzzes, explosions, and general cacophony of a new age being born. The place near my house was called Bittersweets. It had a snack bar, which also sold the latest edition of Electronic Gaming Monthly. It was a place of refuge for a budding geek to exercise his hand-eye coordination and be among peers. Here was a movie taking things a step further and saying maybe those little colored blobs of light had actual lives inside their machines. (Wreck it Ralph is the bastard child of this idea.)

The world Flynn finds himself in is a tricked out landscape of neon and gray populated by anthropomorphic representations which make up the data of the hard drive. The MCP,  which had achieved a human-like sentience and declared a type of martial law wherein all programs must abide by its directives only. Rogue programs were conscripted to play in gladiator style games. Note that the games in question were the basis for games we humans were spending our money playing in the Real World. Everything has to start somewhere. Flynn adjusts quickly to this new world and excels at the games until ultimately meeting and befriending TRON. Together, with a rather underdeveloped program named RAM, escape the Game Grid and head off in search of an I/O tower through which TRON can “contact” Alan One, his “user.” Big chase. RAM dies. (Spoilers.) Flynn and TRON get separated. TRON meets up with an old acquaintance, Yori, who is coincidentally the avatar of Alan’s girlfriend.  Together they make a connection to TRON’s user and with new orders head off to face Master Control once and for all. Flynn finds his way back after having a misadventure of his own. Big fight. Happy ending. Good guys win.  Another brick is laid in the foundation of the person I will eventually become.

Now:

Boy…hindsight ain’t just 20/20, it can also take a huge chunk out of your happy place. TRON is still a favorite but it has not aged well. The special effects are pretty but I have been spoiled by modern technology. Although it is worth noting that TRON Legacy was a over-produced pile of monkey crap disguised as a sequel in comparison to the original film. I’m not sorry saying this. It took a really awesome concept and basically remade the first movie over and tried to pas itself off as a continuation. It’s difficult for me not to talk about the one without referring to the other. Okay, I could but I choose not to do so. Sometimes having something worse to compare to a thing helps make the first thing look better. In this case, Legacy is getting the blunt of my venom so TRON can stand as a cherished jewel of my younger days that has lost some of its luster.  However, aside from the obviously lack of FX magic, TRON, as a whole, is boring! There is too much dead air between scenes and when something does happen it fails to grab the attention beyond a few scant seconds. Here’s the rub: when you’re a kid, flashy lights and bright colors excited you. When you’re an adult, it’s annoying and then you notice when there aren’t any. The characters aren’t very engaging. We only care about Flynn because the movie compells us to care but doesn’t enforce as to why we should give a flying burrito until the very end and at that point the story ends.

The idea that programs can have thoughts and feelings intrigues me. Many cultures have beliefs about spirits inhabiting inanimate objects. Why not computers? The matrix goes further with the idea that we are the ghosts in the machine. What is reality anyway? Perception filtered through reason. Flynn adjusts so quickly because he’s a computer programmer. To him these are projected images of concepts representing electric signals until he, himself, is physically assaulted and then the actuality of his new existence becomes clear. He’s as vulnerable as they are. With the very pointed exception that he can absorb another programs essence and even overcome the MCP by merging his will and body with it. I am not a religious man but this feels awfully familiar. A bit divinest. (Maybe I’m reading way too much into this but take a good hard stare at the pose Flynn assumes when he gets zapped by the MCP before being drawn into the Grid. Extending the metaphor, TRON, as reformer would be akin to Martin Luther. He is a very task- orientated fellow after all. Sark=Satan?  Yeah, we’re going to get mail over this. I respect all systems of belief and faith. If it makes you feel good in these dark times, I can’t fault that. We all need some light in our lives.)

On a final note, this movie introduced me to the music of Wendy (formerly Walter) Carlos. It wouldn’t be until I saw A Clockwork Orange that the connection would be made stronger.  I had some working idea of what “transsexual” meant. (Now known as transgender.) I really couldn’t give two shits and wet fart about the subject at the time. Awesome music is awesome music!! The theme to TRON is still amazing to listen to and it brings me back to better days. I have to dash now. Got to fight off those grid spiders to clear a path to an open I/O and contact my user. Maybe he’ll have some new directives for me. Maybe a pizza. Who can say? Life’s fun down here in the Bunker.

—End of Line—

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