Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tron: The MCP is Kind of A Jerk

tron,movie poster

I have to admit, Tron is an important part of my cultural heritage. It was released the same year I was born (1982), and stars one of my current favorite actors, Jeff Bridges. It was also released by Disney, which was important growing up, and features a world starting to become obsessed with computers, which is an important part of my life (in terms of personal use as well as professionally). Also, it's a genuinely entertaining science-fiction film, featuring some truly ground-breaking effects and cinematography (especially considering when it was released; it looks like child's play compared to what we currently have).

Everyone should know what this movie's all about, so if you don't know, I'm going to tell you. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a young programmer and video game enthusiast. He used to work for a large software corporation, until the big boss stole his game ideas to increase their empire. Unbeknownst to the programmers, their programs live very real lives in the computer world, with personalities, desires, relationships, and feelings. Flynn's program, Clu, tries to hack into his former employer's system, but their Master Control Program (MCP) captures it. The MCP is represented as a megalomaniacal entity, trying to completely rule over the computer world with the help of Sark, the computer program created by Dr. Dillinger, the guy that stole Flynn's ideas. Trying to eliminate loose ends, the MCP digitizes Flynn while he's breaking into ENCOM, trying to help his friends and former colleagues Alan Bradley and Lora Baines. When he's in the computer world, he becomes his program Clu, and is captured by the MCP. The MCP likes to force programs to play vicious games with one another, where the winner survives, and the loser is "derezzed," or killed. Flynn/Clu teams up with Tron, the security program created by Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) to take down the MCP.

The truly remarkable thing about this film is that it's the first film to extensively use computer-generated imagery for the computer world. The real-world actors wander about in a simple but immersive computer world, with CG vehicles (including the ever-popular Light Cycles) and backgrounds. The actors themselves are also enhanced, with outfits that have glowing circuity-bits. This was achieved by filming in black and white, and then rotoscoping the enhanced colors and glowing lines.

Tron,Bruce Boxleitner

It's my opinion that this film is severely overrated, both as an important science fiction film, as well as starting up the relationship with computer animation that Disney has now come to rely upon more than traditional animation. I don't think we would have as much CG enhancements to contemporary films without the preliminary work of films like Tron and The Last Starfighter. It's very primitive, yes, but it's recognizably computer animation, and in many ways, it helps the movie maintain its 1980s time representation. Plus, how many movies do you know where the main villain is a giant, rainbow top?


Tron also has some interesting religious implications, where the computer world is analogous of the human world, and their human users as an unseen force that drives their actions. Many programs don't even believe in the users, having never seen any evidence of their existence, and despite being created by the users, they do seem to maintain individual identities and free will. Suddenly, Flynn appears in their world, as his program, Clu. In many ways, I'm glad that they didn't try to put a lot of messiah nonsense in the movie, trying to make Flynn/Clu out to be some sort of program messiah. In reality, Tron is the real hero of the film (obviously, hence the name), with Flynn serving as an outside observer, giving the audience an easy window into the computer world.

I highly recommend this film. I'm deeply afraid that younger viewers might find the "archaic" special effects laughable, but the film has a great spirit behind it, with some really interesting characters, and an extremely original story. However, fear now, younger viewers! There is a sequel coming out next year, titled Tron Legacy with Jeff Bridges reprising his role as Clu/Flynn, with the inclusion of Flynn's 20-something son (presumably born shortly after he takes over ENCOM after the destruction of the MCP and the revelation that Dillinger stole his game ideas). However, it seems that Flynn disappeared sometime in the late 1980s, and may be trapped in the computer world.

Check this out for an extremely awesome trailer for Tron Legacy. It has updated Light Cycles, and is immensely mind-boggling.

In summation, I give the original Tron four and a half flying discs out of five, or four and a half evil MCPs out of five. Go check it out!

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