Sunday, 8 August 2010

TRON (1982)

Bow down and worship. That's about all you can do with TRON. The original movie may have bombed when it came out, but it has become truly iconic over the years since then. Its mix of ingenious visuals, a story blending SF and fantasy, a superb cast and an amazing soundtrack still floors me every time I watch it. Not seen it? How dare you! get out of my sight! Ahem. The film follows the adventures of Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a computer genius who gets sucked into the world of a video game he has created, and his battle to stay alive in the violent and bizarre world of TRON. Now there is the long-awaited sequel, TRON LEGACY, the time is right to take another look at the original.

When this film was released, it bombed. Now this wasn't due to it being a bad film- not at all. This was due to the fact that the story and the concept were both so far ahead of their time that it would take a little while for the world to catch up with it. Here was a virtual reality film released a decade before anyone was using the VR term. Here was a film for the internet generation before the internet had left the back rooms of universities. Here was a science fiction film filled with CG set pieces long before anyone was really using CGI at all in any impressive way (The Last Starfighter notwithstanding...heh). In short, it was as though something had been dropped from here and now into the early eighties, and audiences really weren't sure what to make of it.

Tron gave us some incredibly iconic visuals, such as the thrilling lightcycle races, the disc battles, the landscape, the vehicles and pretty much everything else in the TRON universe once Bridges is flung into it. The story nestles somewhere between science fiction and fantasy IMHO, as the concept is very SF, but its execution in the digital world feels somewhat like a fantasy story in the same way that STAR WARS always did. It's a Disney film, but it's far from fluffy and cute. People are offed in an astonishing number of ways, all rendered acceptable due to the fact that it's programs dying rather than humans.

The violence is extremely stylized, removing the horror of the deaths and adding an almost cartoonish quality, but it still has a massive amount of impact. Even now, the film looks brilliant. The unique look of the characters and the minimalist designs of the Tron universe held it back from dating much, and while there are some very noticeable matte lines around some of the cast in some scenes, it still has the ability to drop your jaw.

It is those minimal lines of colour against a background of solid black that amazes me still, as those simple wireframe models do look like they have mass and weight. Now there's something that most CGI still can't do, and yet this film was made in an age when digital visuals were at pretty much a primitive state. Back in '82 it had a cultural resonance as the home computer and video games were a brand new idea that was starting to sweep the world, and once again here and now it has possibly an even more profound significance in our age of dependence on computers. That stuff aside, TRON is an unforgettable film experience, and an absolute essential for the collection of anyone with even a passing interest in genre cinema.

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