Saturday, April 26, 2014

Tron (1982) review

    Tron is a movie with a special place in my heart. I watched it when I was a young child and it captured my imagination. Now, in a very real way, the movie makes no damn sense. It's all about using virtual reality as a metaphor for our children, inadvertent consequences, sacrifice, religion, man's relationship to God, and stuff I have no real idea about. However, it's a movie which has an emotional core that transcends the plot holes.

    The idea behind the movie is, "What if computer programs were people?" Which is, when you think about it, a spectacularly strange idea. In relationship to movies like Toy Story, which have the same premise but different items, it looks normal but the heart of this movie isn't humanity creating a virtual reality on purpose. No, this is a movie based on the assumption we have created an entire new universe filled with sentient beings without us ever realizing it.

    Well, some of the programmers realize they've created AI, but most don't. Tron doesn't take place in the future or even near-future (of the time) but the early 1980s when it was filmed. Back before dial-up internet and the personal computer were a thing, Tron talked about a Gibsonian Matrix filled with oppressed digital people

The most subversive thing about this film is the Big Lewbowski is God.
    It's a good thing the relationship between Tron and the realities of computer programming are a distant memory because, like with Gibson, the story works better this way. Computers are magic in  Tron and the techno-sorcery flies off the screen into the minds of its viewers. To make another comparison to Toy Story, that's a tale about your dolls coming to life. This is a story about you entering into your favorite video game and seeing what life is like on the inside.

    Three years before William Gibson wrote Neuromancer, Tron created the lighter and softer cyberpunk. Technology advancing at a rapid pace which outstrips humanity's ability to use it, massive corporations built on fraud taking over scientific development, and a virtual world ruled by emotionless dictators trying to suppress individual freedom. About the only thing which is dissonant with that vision is the movie's fundamental mysticism. The Grid is saved by God (A computer programmer) coming to his creation as a mortal (a program) to save it from its version of the Devil/Big Brother/Hitler.

    Even the movie's heavy Christian symbolism, which (for once) isn't a distraction from the material (*cough* Superman's last six movies *cough*), is played with. The God stand-in is a goody arcade-owner played by Jeff Bridges. In the heavy-religious symbolism-filled world of Tron, the story dares to say God isn't perfect and may actually be a bit of a dumbass (albeit a well-intentioned one). That's perhaps the most cyberpunk element of it all.

Who knew the inside of your computer was so sleazy. Even before internet porn!
    The premise of the movie, if you haven't seen it, is Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a video game designer who's had his Space Invaders-esque game stolen by why-wouldn't-someone-trust-me-with-this-name corporate shark Ed Dillinger. Recruiting two of his former co-workers at Not-IBM, Kevin breaks into their R&D labs and accidentally gets digitized by a machine they're building capable of teleportation. No, seriously, I want to work at Not-IBM. They make video games and teleportation devices.

    Once inside, Kevin Flynn discovers the intranet of Encom (Not-IBM) is a full-fledged civilization controlled by an malevolent AI called Master Control. Master Control is about the nastiest artificial intelligence since Harlan Ellison's AM (Master Control predating Skynet by two years). It intends to take over the world through out computer systems and is well on its way to doing so by the time the movie starts.

    MC's also oppressing all of our computer programs, who are a plucky freedom-loving people defended by the titular Tron. Tron is like Luke Skywalker crossed with John Sheridan, doubly so since Bruce Boxleitner plays him.

    Tron is a religious bruiser and worships the Users, which is all sorts of awkward since the first User he meets is Kevin Flynn--who is no one's idea of God. There's some interesting stuff about religious oppression with the Master Control system wanting to stamp out User worship. I suspect a modern day Tron would show the Master Control system perverting the worship of locals. Which, when I get to Tron: Legacy, didn't happen but came close.

Everyone remembers the light cycles. Why? Because they're awesome.
    I won't spoil the rest of the movie but you'd have to be pretty slow on the uptake not to assume Tron and Flynn aren't going to team up to kick Master Control's ass. There's also a rather touching relationship between Tron's girlfriend Sori, Tron, and Flynn which (in the future) undoubtedly led to much fanfic.

    God, I love this movie. It's just so very-very fun. The computer generated art is massively dated, sadly, but I think it helps reflect the unreality of Flynn's new surroundings. Its a new sort of world and the dissonance between living actors as well as their 1980s CGI surroundings is evocative rather than distracting. If you haven't seen this movie, you should. You should also buy it for your kids if you have any. You should also feel ashamed every time you empty your Recycle Bin since you're committing genocide.


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