Tron (1982) is a wonderful post modern movie. What does that mean? It does not really matter (and actually, that is not a bad definition of post-modernism, at least in terms of relativistic truth). But one aspect of the film that makes it a part of that school of thought is the suggestion that machines are not the benevolent servants of man for which we had taken them. Unlike the somewhat whimsically named Skynet from Terminator (1984) or Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Tron hits it on the nose more with the title of its murder computer: Master Control Program (MCP) (voiced by David Warner). But aside from its warning about relying too much on electronic gizmos, the movie was groundbreaking in its use of computer generated imagery (CGI). Additionally, it presages the use of the internet. There is a bit of irony to a film that tells its audience that humans trump machines while using machines to tell that story. Regardless, it is worth checking out.
We are introduced to the world of Tron straightaway with Clu (Jeff Bridges) attempting to break into the MCP through the use of a tank. To be clear, this is not a real tank, nor a real person. Instead, it is a sort of simulation. Ever wonder what life is like in the digital confines of a computer? The folks over at Disney imagined as cities of straight, neon lines, black walls punctuated with circuit board accents, and those accents incorporated into the costumes of the residents (or as they are referred to in the movie, programs). Further, we know the good guys from the bad because the good are blue and the bad are red. Convenient. Clu is trying to get into the MCP because its creator, Ed Dillinger (also David Warner) took control of his former employee’s, Kevin Flynn (also Jeff Bridges), video games that are worth a fortune. The company where this is all taking place is ENCOM, and the MCP is causing problems for other employees by taking over their work. Two of them, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora (Cindy Morgan) approach Flynn to ask for his help in taking down their rising computer overlord. After gaining access to the company building and system, Flynn gets sucked into the the digital world, where he is granted the special powers that a real human being has in that place, for some reason. He also encounters Tron (also Bruce Boxleitner), who is a program developed by Bradley to protect other programs and (as he says repeatedly) fight for the “users” (what programs call humans). Managing to survive a series of games (which, side note, if you find an arcade with classic games, you can still play them), they make their way to the MCP, destroy it, and free the system from its deadly influence.
In thinking about the MCP, Tron reminds me of when the Israelites made for themselves the golden calf to worship, thinking that God was no longer with them and feeling they needed something else to worship. I started off this review talking about how Tron is a post-modern film. One of the seminal moments in the second half of the twentieth century (in the United States anyway) was when Time magazine suggested that God was dead. It is untrue, of course, and I find it interesting that since that fateful time in 1966 Americans have been looking for something to replace God. In Tron, not only does the MCP seek to instill a divine rule over the digital world, but there is the suggestion that it seeks to conquer the human one as well. But like Moses coming down from the mountain, Flynn and his friends come back to set a better course for ENCOM.
Tron is a bit dated, but it is interesting to see a film use CGI so extensively in 1982. For better or worse, you can look at this film as where this trend for movie making started. It also fits into the cinematic innovation that Disney is known for, although they do not seem to like to celebrate it as much as their other animated fare (new Disney rides excepted). It is rated PG, and there really is nothing wrong with the whole family sitting down together to take this one in. I remember seeing it as a kid back in the 1980s and loving it. It is also available on Disney +, along with its sequel.