28 years ago I got my dad to take me to see the new Disney movie, Tron, with my older brother when it first came out in theaters. 7 year-old me was bored shitless with it. Oh, yeah, I remember thinking the computer realm was nice and pretty and all, but the strange techie terminology, the weird quest that Jeff Bridges' character, Flynn, was on, and, well, pretty much everything else confused the hell out of me. I knew he was inside the computer, but I couldn't figure out what the hell everybody was trying to do inside the computer... I was 7. Fuck you.
Flash forward a few years later. I had taken a few basic computer classes at my grade school (very basic — we did computer art with ASCII... I shit you not), and so I wanted to give Tron another try (figuring I was now a computer programmer, so I would now fully appreciate movies about computer programmers, or some such shit). My father (who hated the movie) reluctantly rented it for me, and I was the only one in my family who watched it that weekend. THEN I got it. Maybe it was the 5 or so more years of maturity, maybe it was actually knowing what a computer and data were at that point, I don't know, but I loved it then.
Still, I realized that Tron was probably a one-up movie (the movie kind of tanked at the box office, and 5 years after it came out the only people who even remembered it were geeky nerds like me). So I let my mini-obsession with it die down. Yeah, years later I got the Cinematic Arts group at my university to show it in the campus theater during my junior year, but that was the last time I had seen it until last week.
To back up a bit, it was with incredible surprise that I found out back in 2005 (2006?) that Disney was actually investigating if it was worthwhile to sink some more money into another Tron movie. Then came the early test footage from ComiCon. Then came the actual trailer for the real fucking movie (which was of course to be named Tron Legacy). I honestly still didn't believe that any of this was true until I saw that really real trailer... But here we are, in mid December 2010, with another Tron movie actually completed and in theaters for us geeks to get excited about. But was it worth a 28 year wait? Does Tron Legacy even come close to making us feel as giggly and pants-gizzingly euphoric as the first one did (when we were old enough to "get it")? Hell, for that matter, does Tron '82 actually stand up to our memories of it? Well, I figured it was time to find out.
Before I bought my ticket for Tron Legacy I decided to rewatch Tron '82. I wanted to not only be in the right zone for the 3D sequel, but I thought if it truly was a direct sequel I'd have to remind myself who everybody was, what the rules of the Grid were, and see how well they really did tie the sequel into the story of the first flick. Of course I couldn't find it anywhere (Tron '82 isn't out on Blu-ray, and all the video stores around me are either closed or had the old DVD already rented out). So I just downloaded an HD recording of it from a torrent site (first broadcast on HDNet, according to the icon in the lower right hand of the screen, meaning it was probably the best it had ever looked since it was actually in theaters). Then I popped up some popcorn, invited some friends over, and we got busy with Flynn, Alan, that hot chick from Caddyshack, Tron, Clu, Sark, MCP, and Yori.
Well... Tron is a strange, strange movie. I simply cannot believe that the filmmakers actually convinced Disney to make this flick back in the early 80s. It was so expensive, and so.... weird. Computers were relatively new technology back then, and nobody seemed to know what they were capable of. But all in all Tron holds up (especially for a close to 30 year-old technology-based flick), and it is easily one of the most fun Jesus allegory movies (the son of God, not the guy who mows your lawn) I've ever seen. So much better than the Jesus Lion in the Narnia movies. But I digress. The movie plot. Let me talk of it.
Okay, so Kevin Flynn is a very talented computer programmer who used to work for the Apple/Microsoft hybrid giant known as ENCOM. He was writing a bunch of video game programs on his work computer at night, but one day discovered that a coworker (a dick named Dillinger) had found his files on the company server, stole them, and presented them to the big wigs as his own. Dillinger's quickly shuffled to the top of the deck and is soon a Senior VP of something something, while Flynn is unceremoniously canned in order to keep him quiet.
Flynn gets all pissy over his termination (and his games being Shanghaied), opens up Flynn's Arcade, and spends all his time playing his own repackaged ENCOM video games with a ton of awfully dressed, awkward 80s teens. Well, that and using his personal hacking program (Clu) to try and break into ENCOM's new Master Control Program (aka the MCP) in order to find the proof that he needs that Dillinger is a lying poopy head, and Space Paranoids and his other quarter-munching programs are really his.
It turns out that Dillinger actually is a pretty damn good code monkey himself though, seeing as he created the MCP, and it is now a sentient AI that can hack the Kremlin's and the Pentagon's servers like they were butter, and it starts bossing Dillinger around like he was some sort of naughty child who needs a 'panking. Amazing what was accomplished on a system that probably had 10MB of RAM and maybe 500 megs of hard drive space at most.
Anyway, soon Dillinger starts pissing off some of his other programmers (the goofy but lovable Alan, and Alan's hot nerdy girlfriend Lora), and they seek out Lora's old flame (Flynn) in order to find out just what Dillinger's up to/why he's such a douche. Flynn tells them his story, and then they all agree to sneak the Dude-in-training back into ENCOM so that he can crack the shit out of the system without having to hack it from the outside. That's when the powerless-before-Flynn's-mad-computer-skillz MCP gets serious and (using a prototype digitizing laser) zaps our reluctant hero into the Grid (i.e. the computer world) in order for its army of bitch programs to terminate the once flesh and blood Flynn in some sadistic techie gladiator-like games.
Needless to say, Flynn survives the games (with the help of Alan's security program, Tron), and together they travel to the hub of the ENCOM Grid (the MCP's fortress), and install one of Alan's quickly thrown together viruses in order to fuck shit up for realz, and to get Flynn undigitized and back into the real world. Big American party!
At the end of it all, Dillinger finds that his secret is out and he's boned, his MCP is deleted, Flynn is brought back into ENCOM as the CEO (as wonky 80s' corporate politics were wont to allow), and all is right with the world... Until the sequel.
Tron Legacy picks up 7 years after the original movie ended. Flynn now runs ENCOM, and is promising some big news very soon that will not only revolutionize the tech industry, but philosophy, and possibly even religion the world over... Then he just vanishes, leaving his young son Sam alone in the world. But fear not, for 20 years later Sam has grown up to be a hacker extraordinaire himself, and he likes to play pranks on his father's old company (that he owns controlling shares of, but doesn't want to ever use his power to ever do anything constructive in life, like get laid). But then one day his father's old friend, Alan, tells him that he got a message from Flynn's old arcade, and that Sam should be the one to check it out. So Sam does, and upon discovering his father's secret hacking lair in the sub basement, gets laser zapped into the Grid world. This time though, the Grid is not a bright and computer-looking world of straight lines and vector art, but instead a dreary world of sleek black steel and glass, ruled by the tyrannical Clu (who looks like a young Kevin Flynn in some passable FX shots).
As you've probably already guessed, Flynn has been trapped in his own programmed world for the past 20-odd years, by his own creation (Clu). Things went wrong in his personal (and not hooked into the Net) digital utopia when in the middle of creating "the perfect system," Flynn, a copy of Alan's Tron, and Clu bore witness to a new group of life forms that apparently were born by themselves and existed inside the electronic wavelengths of the Grid: "isomorphic algorithms," or ISOs.
The ISOs were imperfect beings, but their very existence held with them the possibilities of reinventing science, art, and theology. Flynn became infatuated with them, but Clu (whose primary purpose was to create a perfect world) found them to be the ants in his pic-a-nic basket, so he pretty much created a bunch of digital ovens and had all the ISOs thrown in. Well, he did this after turning on Tron and Flynn and fuckin' their buckets but good.
Flynn went into hiding, and Clu was freed to continue building his non-imperfect world... But the Grid that they had created had severe space limitations, and soon Clu found himself bored with a wanderlust that would put to shame that of an invalid who lived in a snowed-in cabin in the woods with only Kathy Bates to keep him company.... And that's how Sam came to be in the computer realm.
Soon Sam escapes Clu's taunting gladiator games and meets up with his dad (with the help of the gorgeous Olivia Wilde's Quorra), and together they try to find a way out of the Grid and back into their own world, without letting Clu hitch a ride with them in order to try and "perfect" our really real universe in his own twisted image. Then typical Hollywood chase, and ending with a twist that you can see a mile away.
What I Thought
I still like Tron '82. It's a very strange film that doesn't take itself seriously at all, and honest to God the computer effects still hold up after all these years. No, I don't mean they look as good as the stuff we're getting in today's films, but that the primitive vector graphics actually LOOK more a part of the Grid's world than the sleek glassy textures that we get in Tron Legacy. The dorky light costumes of Tron '82 actually LOOK like circuits and electric pulses too, and don't just appear to be an S&M madame's fancy leather and rubber collection, like Legacy's Grid wear.
The synth background soundtrack of the original Tron is just ear-bleedingly hideous though, and it did hurt my enjoyment of the story as I watched it. Yes, it is very "1980s video game-esque," but that really wasn't necessary to pull the viewer into the tale more. It hurts to think about it even now. I think my ears are bleeding. Legacy was only slightly better, music-wise, though. I'm not really a Daft Punk fan, but there were a few instances of background music that actually felt right for the scenes they were in. Usually bad music can utterly destroy a movie for me, but that wasn't the case here, for either flick. Meh, whatever, let me dive in deeper to all things Tron, beyond the appearances and sounds of both movies. Because that stuff bores me.
Tron '82, as I kind of said earlier, is a hippie vs. the establishment Jesus story. Flynn creates a bunch of programs who worship him, they're taken from him by a giant red creation who cuts off the programs from their gods (who now can't answer their prayers) and wants to spread its evil across the world. Flynn miraculously descends into his created universe (where he's able to make miracles happen and show the programs who worship him what [physical] love is), and then in the end he sacrifices himself and ascends into the next world through another miracle, after he helps vanquish evil and allows the programs to talk to their gods again in harmony and peace. Amen.
It's fairly cheezy, but my God is it fun. If you're even the slightest bit of a geek or nerd you'll appreciate and love the quirky strangeness of it all. And Jeff Bridges as Flynn at the beginning of his career (when he was skinny and just in awe of the fact that they were paying him for this crap) is a sight to behold.
Then (28 years later) came Tron Legacy. From what I can tell, the reason so many geeks are pissed off about this sequel is because it's NOT the same movie as Tron '82. It's not the same feel or mood, it's not the same happy-go-lucky atmosphere, it's Tron in name only. Oh, and Flynn only. I was able to see past that, and I think that it's just as good as the original (which isn't really a work of art or anything)... Only in a different way.
Legacy is much darker (tone as well as palette) seeing as it's all about hubris, and what an overabundance of it can do to a proud and powerful person. And even though Clu is the unarguable bad guy in this thing, you have to feel some sympathy for him/it seeing as he's only doing what he was programmed to do. He can't help that shit. It'd be like raising a girl from birth to be a dominatrix, and when she's 30 — and knee-deep in whips and chains and melted wax — trying to get her to stop by simply saying "You know, pumpkin... Maybe we should try something different with your wardrobe and your lifestyle choice. 6-inch heels are out of fashion and all." See how far that gets you.
Though in the world of Tron, all Flynn had to do to avoid this holocaust of the ISOs (and his own captivity) was to just change Clu's programming as soon as the new beings started to show up, and as soon as he realized that they were not "perfect." At least not in the sense of what he told Clu perfection actually was. Flynn brought all this shit upon himself like a giant god of retardation's fist upon his own soft skull. Honestly, that's my biggest gripe with this movie: it was all so easily avoidable. All Flynn had to do was to take a step back and realize "Oh shit! I almost forgot! I told Clu to build this world with me and make it perfect — not a hair out of place — and now all these kind of IMperfect ISO entities are flooding in. I like these new ISO program beings, and don't want them to be erased... I think I should change Clu's programming to bring them each an electric puppy or something. NOW I won't witness an entire species' genocide and be stuck in this dark and dismal hellhole until my idiot son finally gets off his ass and busts me out. The Dude abides."
All this can be forgiven though for the main reason that I can actually see Kevin Flynn doing this. It's in his character. He's so full of himself and impulsive that he would never look far enough into the future to see that there could be a species-ending problem ahead if he doesn't make a small tweak or two. Remember who he was in the first movie? He was a hippie programmer who'd rather hack into the ENCOM system illegally to look for any evidence of Dillinger's wacky shenanigans that he could find (wherein any evidence he gathered would be laughed at by any lawyer and inadmissible in any court) instead of hiring a lawyer and sueing ENCOM based on his knowledge of the software or something. That's just how he thinks: his choices are always the right ones, and should never be questioned, especially by himself. After all that he then spent so much time in his own Grid, before Legacy even began, that he seems to have forgotten that Clu is not a thinking individual. He's a program who can only do what he was programmed to do. Flynn may have thought of him as a person capable of rational thought, but that arrogance melted the wax off his wings but good.
Once you see that though, there's no reason you shouldn't like Legacy (if you already liked Tron '82). Neither movies are really that deep (despite them seemingly wanting to be), but they're both fun ways to spend an evening. And my GOD is Olivia Wilde hot as hell. I love her wide-eyed expression of wonder. And her outfit? She really wouldn't have looked half as good in that white bodysuit of the first movie. Well, no, that's not true. She would have... just that brunettes look better in black leather.
TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON! TRON!
He saved every one of us!
This is BULLSHIT, Holmes! BULLSHIT! This Tron shit ain't nothin' but a fairy tale made for dumb-ass mo'fo' computer nerd wannabees, righ'? I mean, I took all my mothafuckin' mothaboards apart when I was a teeny tiny gansta in my lil' gangsta hood, and I'm here to tell you that there just ain't no mothafuckin' Tron in that damn thing. There ain't no MCP, ain't no fuckin' Sark, ain't no hottie Olivia Wilde, ain't no Big fuckin' Lebowski... Goddamn movie owes me $2,500 in 1984 dollars for a new Macintosh 128K. That's like twenty goddamn thousand today, foo'! Plus emotional distress and shit, let's just make it a round $500,000, Disney. Yeah, your gay Tron Legacy b-b-b-b-b-b-bombed in the box office, but I knows you can still afford that shit. You owe me, Mouse... You OWE me!