After and before Tron, the attraction for cyberpunk movies lies in the intriguing fusion of human vulnerability and extraordinary technological innovation.
The coexistence of human and android, microchip and blood, organic and synthetic brains establishes a disturbing and enduring interplay while exploring the endless possibilities and potential conflicts between flesh and machine.
To this day, it remains a strange experiment in Disney‘s family-friendly landscape, an example of boundless daring and innovation that is more than just an homage to video games.
With a $17 million budget, Tron did not achieve the box office success desired. Yet, critics and audiences both caught a glimpse of the dawn of a new way of filmmaking, something radically different from what had been seen until then.
Indeed, the advancement of the computer business did its part (not coincidentally, TRON is actually a shortening of a debug command, TRACE ON), and even its release year marked a significant juncture in technology’s evolution, with the rollout of IBM’s first personal computer.
Over time, everything progressed at a furious pace, with the birth of the World Wide Web in 1989 and the subsequent arrival of mobile devices such as the iPhone, making us increasingly dependent on computers and the network.
What seemed like science fiction a few decades ago, such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, is becoming an integral part of our daily lives, and the future of technology will be even more radical, shaping our bodies and minds in ways we cannot yet imagine.
So precisely who is Tron and what was this 1980s sci-fi adventure movie about? And then, is the subsequent 2010 sequel, so hated and derided by the general public, really that bad?
Let’s all find out together.
It all begins with a bright young guy, Kevin Flynn (the great Jeff Bridges), a master programmer working for software giant ENCOM.
The boy loved to fiddle with video games in his spare time, creating several new and intriguing ones, until sneaky colleague Ed Dillinger (David Warner) steals his ideas and sells them as his own, making millions and taking control of the company.
Three years later, Dillinger runs his business with artificial intelligence, the Master Control Program, a ruthless digital entity intolerant of the continuous meddling of the programmers, whom he calls Users.
Flynn, fired immediately after Dillinger’s rise, tries to infiltrate the ENCOM system with a program named CLU, seeking proof that he is the creator of the popular video games, but the system notices and blocks access.
Meanwhile, his friend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner), still working at ENCOM, designs a security program called TRON to watch Dillinger’s moves, discovering that MCP is now prey to an omnipotent delusion and intends to take control of everything, including the Pentagon, also blackmailing Dillinger to shut him up.
Alan and his girlfriend, Lora, go to Flynn, and together, they plot a way to bring TRON online. Yet, MCP exploits a new laser technology to capture and transport Flynn to the digital realm, where the programs have human likenesses.
Imprisoned, Flynn is forced to participate in ENCOM’s videogame arena, only in this case, any challenge can be deadly for him, such as disk fights or ruthless races in the motor maze.
Fortunately, he meets TRON, who recognizes him as a USER. Together they escape starting the long journey to the system’s core to stop MCP from completing his plan and successfully absorbing all the other programs into himself.
Tron: Legacy (2010)
The story continues with Flynn having now become the head of ENCOM, rid of the evil influence of the hateful Dillinger.
However, Flynn disappears without a trace amid the laser technology experiments with which he had entered the computer world.
Twenty years later, we follow the life of his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund), who receives a mysterious message from his father’s now-abandoned old arcade.
Intrigued, he goes to the place in the middle of the night and is hit by the laser that transports him to the virtual world his father was working on, called GRID.
As his father once was, the boy must play the system’s deadly games before he meets the resurrected CLU, Flynn’s digital alter ego, who rules with an iron hand demanding perfection from every program.
Amid glowing motorcycle duels and challenges inside variable-gravity arenas, Sam, fortunately, crosses the path of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), a skillful girl and warrior who helps him escape the games by fleeing outside the system into the no man’s land of the GRID.
Quorra reveals that she is the sole survivor of a group of new programs, the ISO, digital entities developed independently without any human having programmed them, later mercilessly exterminated by the inflexible CLU.
In the desolation of what was once a wonderful world, they advance into nothingness until Sam can re-encounter his father, Kevin.
Trapped 20 years earlier with no chance of a return, Kevin tried unsuccessfully to protect the ISOs from CLU’s wrath, struggling with his old friend TRON to keep the GRID out of becoming a new dictatorship as in the days of the Master Control Program.
However, CLU has quite other plans in mind, intending to cross over into the real world along with his army to purge all of humanity.
Better the original or the sequel?
I want to make it clear right away that I prefer the 1984 Tron, a movie much more innovative and creative in situations, ideas, and dialogues than the sequel.
On the other hand, I also want to mitigate some overly excessive criticisms towards Tron: Legacy, which remains a wonderful movie that captivates the eyes and (especially) the ears.
Indeed, Daft Punk‘s resounding soundtrack alone is enough reason to watch the movie; its unique style blends electronic music with traditional orchestral elements and perfectly reflects the futuristic/digital atmosphere of the story.
Even fans of the original Tron, however, will find something to rejoice about with the wonderful motion duels revamped in the 3d style that would later become popular in the 1990s, as far as video games are concerned, at the dawn of the birth of the first PlayStation console.
In 2010, the style is unimpeachable, relying on the now-solid CGI that brings to life the scenarios created by Joseph Kosinski, who, however, needs something of the narrative timing and character sense that Steven Lisberger had.
Similarly, both directors did not pursue great film careers after Tron. However, Kosinski is behind Top Gun: Maverick, which I didn’t like at all, as did Tony Scott‘s 1986 Top Gun, even though they are undeniably two successful movies.
Now we have to wait for the third installment of the saga, already announced as Tron: Ares, by the young director Garth Davis and starring the famous star Jared Leto.
In the meantime, perhaps to rekindle interest in the franchise, this spring, Disney unveiled a roller coaster called “Tron Lightcycle Power Run,” a new attraction in its theme parks where we will race on the movie’s famous light cycles.