Simply put: this movie rocks. The story is great, the actors are all very competent, and the visual effects were unprecedented for the time and still hold up when you consider them in the context of the movie.
Writer/Director: Steven Lisberger
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan, David Warner
I had never seen this movie before, but after seeing the fantastic footage for Tron: Legacy released at Comic-Con this year, I knew it deserved a viewing. Honestly, I was a little hesitant - I mean, this movie came out in 1982 and features heavy amounts of CGI/live action combined. How good could that possibly look in comparison with the powerhouse graphics of today? The answer: good enough. Yes, it's very dated, and yes, some of the stuff is almost laughable watching it now - but within the confines of the story, the computer generated world that the visual effects team created is not only valid, it's also pretty freakin' impressive.
TRON revolves around Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a young hotshot ex-computer programmer who is now relegated to working in a video arcade. Long story short, his programs were stolen by his co-worker Dillinger, who is now a senior executive (and ultimate bad guy) at ENCOM, the company where Flynn used to work. Dillinger has ushered in the use of a program called the Master Control Program, a cross between Skynet and the computer from War Games that thinks it can run things better than humans. When a couple of Flynn's friends (who still work at ENCOM) figure out what's going on with Dillinger and the MCP, Flynn decides to break into ENCOM and recover the evidence that will win him the respect he deserves. Lucky for us it's not that easy; when Flynn stumbles across the path of a digitally deconstructing laser beam, he gets zapped into the computer system and meets up with Tron, a program that one of the friends created to be a watchdog over the MCP. Joining forces with Tron, Flynn must put his video game skills to the test in a battle that has quickly turned into a game of survival.
If you haven't seen this, I would highly recommend it. This is a movie I think the 12-year-old me would have loved. Flynn goes through a series of Olympic quality tests to prove his worth, including a pong/Frisbee/target battle over a chasm and the sweetest part of the movie, a ride on some light cycles. I'm sure you've seen clips of this before - it's two motorcycles in a grid pattern that leave light trails behind them, and if anybody runs into one...game over for them. It's basically a huge game of Snake for your cell phone, circa the year 2000. There's a pretty epic final battle with the Master Control Program, but I won't dare spoil anything further for you.
Jeff Bridges acts in my second favorite role I've seen him in (come on, The Dude from The Big Lebowski is very hard to top), and is immensely likable as the charismatic Flynn. David Warner, who has played villains in everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze to "Batman: The Animated Series" (as my definitive Ra's al Ghul), adds a few more notches to his villain belt by playing triple roles in this movie. He expertly assumes the role of the conniving Dillinger, voices the Master Control Program, and portrays a character named Sark - a mini-boss who resides within the computer system. Cindy Morgan (Lacey Underall from Caddyshack) did a fine job: I honestly didn't think she had ever acted in anything aside from Caddyshack, but she proved she can play cute friend and sultry sexpot with equal gusto.
I loved the "evil corporation" aspect of this movie, especially considering it was made in the early part of the decade which brought "corrupt big businesses" back to the forefront of the public eye, mostly due to the abundance of cocaine brought into the country during those years (check out one of the best documentaries I've ever seen, Cocaine Cowboys, for more detail). But I think my favorite part is how much fun this whole movie is - every scene contains a level of curiosity or excitement that is rarely matched in today's films. And that innovative light cycle scene? So cool.
The fact that this movie was made at all is a technological feat, and, if you're a fan of the film, the story behind its creation is worth a read over at Wikipedia. Steven Lisberger, the writer/director, was clearly a Star Wars fan since there are two blatant homages to A New Hope found in TRON. He did a great job considering this was his directorial debut, dealing with new technology and commanding trust from his actors that the project would turn out as he envisioned. It's got to be hard, breaking new ground - but this guy stepped up to the plate and hit it out of the park. Lisberger is returning to co-produce the sequel Tron: Legacy, which follows Kevin Flynn's son Sam as he becomes embroiled in the same virtual reality construct in which his father once inhabited. I'm really looking forward to that movie's release date now (2010, in IMAX 3D), and am interested to see how first-time-director Joseph Kosinski updates the technology involved while still keeping the story in line with the first film. Until next time...