Get swept up in the trash you know you shouldn’t love. But somehow these cinematic wretches, warts and all, still warm our hearts.
About a year ago, I wrote a short piece explaining why 1982’s science fiction action film Tron is not a good movie. I maintain that opinion: it’s a silly, ridiculous movie with over-the-top acting, a premise that doesn’t fully work under even its own terms, incredibly dated special effects and a good vs. evil dichotomy that is overly simplistic even for its targeted audience, children who like flashy colors. The funny thing is, the exact same things that make Tron a not particularly good movie make it an AWESOME movie.
There’s a difference between being good and being awesome, and Tron fully steps over the banality of quality and into sheer bravado. From the opening scene, in which Jeff Bridges guides a glowing avatar of himself through a CG maze which culminates the most ridiculous screech of terror ever emitted to the beloved nerd-games of light bike races and future jai alai (remember jai alai? It was a thing!), Tron never once falters in its determination to be as boldly stupid as it is. Many filmmakers might pause at times and wonder about the concept of a world in which “video games” are a fierce gladiatorial experience, the ’80s version of QuickBooks is a pudgy guy in a semi-toga and David Warner flies around in an airship that looks kind of like a sleek piece from the board game Battleship. Not director Steven Lisberger, who attempts to maintain a tone of deadly seriousness to a film in which an advanced chess program secretly plots to take over the world. Next time, it should try hooking up with that supercomputer from WarGames.
And maybe it sounds like I’m harshing on Tron. After all, the operative word in this feature is “Pleasure.” I’ve watched Tron countless times since childhood and can state that I love it with every fiber of my being. The plot is as familiar to me as the Bible (more so, even): Kevin Flynn (Bridges), a renegade software engineer, spends his nights hacking into the mainframe of a giant corporation, attempting to find evidence that he’s the creator of the wildly popular video games he spends his days playing. Meanwhile, his nemesis Ed Dillinger (Warner) ousts kindly old men from their jobs and gets blackmailed by said chess program, the Master Control Program (helpfully nicknamed MCP) into assisting world domination. An employee, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), develops a security program named Tron to monitor the MCP and worries his girlfriend is still in love with her old flame, Flynn, because really, who’s more virile and desirable than a 33-year-old arcade game expert? It turns out that computer programs have their own world, a bewildering dark landscape full of glowing constructs and walls, digital concepts have a physical reality and the MCP is a dictator who absorbs programs into himself. Also, every program looks like the person who created it and reveres them as a kind of gods. Flynn becomes trapped in the world and fights to take down the evil empire (well, it was the ’80s…) alongside the grim Tron, who comes off as much a humorless dick as his programmer.
If that seems convoluted for a Disney movie aimed towards a franchise of videogames and a forthcoming sequel, well, it is. But more than that, it’s a delivery service for a nearly nonstop barrage of weirdly stilted digital effects, legitimately gripping race scenes and Jeff Bridges clowning as he rarely gets the chance to these days. Tron is a film that can never be described as good, but still manages to be groundbreaking, entertaining and just plain awesome.
by Nathan Kamal