Tron is a light-hearted science-fiction film produced by Disney and released in 1982. The characters are human programmers and and executive at a large computer company, and their sentient programs inside the computer systems. This film is a very early example of extensive computer animation in a major feature filmm. I believe this film holds up today as a great classic, and quietly profound in its own way. This article does contain spoilers (plot information that will give away elements of the film's plot) but I tell you before I give anything away.
Tron was a theatrically released film, so presumably there are 35mm and 70mm prints around. However, if you're in the market for one of those, you already know about the film.
Tron has been released in at least two versions on laserdisc. The first is just a generic version of the film, laserdisc pan-and-scan.
There is also a CAV widescreen edition in a box with collector's material. This edition features a commentary track, a deleted scene, and making-of documentaries.
In video and audio transfer quality, the DVD is excellent. The sound is great to hear--when the MCP speaks, you get this wonderful bass sound rolling out of the front speakers. I've heard some people say that it's actually 4.1 sound not 5.1; that the rear is mono. This would make sense if the transfer was done from sound tapes originally mixed for a 6-track 70mm, which only has a mono rear channel.
The film itself is great, but unfortunately, that's all there is. There's the obligatory theatrical trailer, which is pretty grainy and was probably transferred from video. There's no other content on the disk at all. Why the commentary tracks and featurettes couldn't be transferred from the laserdisc (even at a loss of quality) I don't understand.
There may be light at the end of the tunnel, however. There have been rumors floating around about new activity on the Tron front in the year 2002 (the 20th anniversary of the theatrical release). There's been talk of another feature film, and I've also heard plans for a special edition of the DVD.
Tron is available on VHS, for people who've seen this film for the first time in the last 15 years, I would guess that was how they saw it.
The underlying idea of the film is that programs within a computer or computer system exist a sentient beings that live and interact analogously to the way that people live within a society. A part portion of the film takes place in this "computer world", where programs are represented on screen played by the same actors that wrote them. The "programs" wear somewhat silly looking clothes, sometimes armor, that's lit up with strange flourescent light (electricity-like).
From the point of view of the programs, humans are "users", mysterious beings that created them. A given program serves its user and tries to carry out its wishes. Programs interact with their users periodically, and give them information and instructions.
Kevin Flynn is played by Jeff Bridges. Flynn is a former computer programmer at the mega-corporation Encomm, and owner of a video arcade. Flynn is brilliant but somewhat naive. His program alter-ego is Clu, a program that he uses to try to hack into the Encomm system.
Ed Dillinger, president of Encomm, is played by David Warner. He's very much the one person, one vote type (he's the one person who has the one vote). In the computer world, Warner plays Sark, the head hench-program of the MCP, who is in charge of forcing recalcitrant programs to play gladiator-style video games.
The Master Control Program (MCP) is the meglomaniacal program that controls all computer operations at Encomm. The MCP's face, unlike all the other programs, is represented by a completely computer animated face in the computer world, and is also voiced by Warner. The MCP is Dillinger's counterpart in the computer world, ruling the computers from on high, although between The MCP and Dillinger, it's not necessarily clear who does the using and who's used.
Alan Bradley is a computer programmer and security expert at Encomm, played by Bruce Boxlightner. Alan is more seriously minded than Flynn, and doesn't trust him entirely. He has written a powerful security program called Tron (also played by Boxlightner) designed monitor traffic in and out of the system, including keeping tabs on the MCP itself.
Lora (Gibbs?) is a scientist at Encomm, performed by Cindy Morgan. She was once involved with Flynn, and is now involved with Alan. Her alter-ego is Yori, a technical program that knows Tron.
Dr. Walter Gibbs is also a Scientist, who also founded Encomm originally. (He has some possible undefined father/uncle type relationship with Lora, thus my speculated last name for Lora). Gibbs is played by Barnard Hughes, who also plays Dumont, a program that guards an IO tower (a device that programs use to contact their users). Dumont is nostalgic about the times before the MCP controlled the system.
RAM is an insurance program played by Dan Shor. Crom is an accounting program played by Peter Jurasik. One goofy thing about this film was they took random computer words, and used them as the names of some of the program characters (Tron,RAM, possibly Crom and Clu as well). Tron is probably even appropriate, but the idea of a program name Ram is a little distracting. One of my very small nit-picks about this otherwise extrordinary story.
The Plot (Spoilers begin here)
The film opens with Flynn using Clu to try to break into the Encomm computer system using a stolen password (a tank in the computer world). Clu is caught by the athorities in the computer, and the connection is severed. Clu is interrogated by the MCP, but won't talk, and is de-rezzed (how a program is "killed").
Dillinger is recalled on the MCP's request from an electronics show. They discuss the break-in, and since group-7 access was used to try to crack the system, that access is temporarily cancelled. Alan goes to Dillinger to ask what happened to his Tron program (Alan is group-7), and it's explained because it's for "security reasons", which Alan doesn't totally buy. Dillinger and the MCP discuss things, and it becomes apparent that between the two of them, the MCP is really in charge. It's asking for information that would be useful in taking control of governments.
Alan arrives at Encomm's experimental laser facility just in time to see their newest creation. A massive laser system is being tested by Lora and Dr. Gibbs. It dis-assembles the molecules of an orange into nothing, and then returns the orange to reality, unharmed. Alan tells them about the access restriction. Gibbs confronts Dillinger in his office, to no avail.
After work, Lora and Alan take a company van to Flynn's video arcade, and ask him if he's been trying to hack into Encomm, which he admits. Flynn tells them that while a programmer for Encomm, he wrote a bunch of video games on the company's system, that were then stolen by Dillinger, and used by him to gain status with the company. They come up with the plan that if Flynn can break Tron out of the system, then Tron can be used to curtail the MCP and re-take some control of the system. This can be best done using an onsite terminal, and so the three of them head back to Encomm.
Back at the lab, Flynn uses a device to open the outside door of the laser room, and then three of them sneak in. Lora sets up Flynn at her terminal in the laser bay, and Alan heads up to his own cubicle to await a connection to Tron. As soon as Flynn enters the system using a forged group-6 access, the MCP knows who he is, and starts talking to him. He feeds the MCP some unsolvable problems to distract it, but unfortunately, it doesn't work entirely. To keep Flynn from getting any farther into the system, the MCP fires up the matter dis-assembling laser, and turns it on Flynn, dis-assembling him. Flynn's conciousness gets sucked into the computer world, where he appears looking just like a program.
Flynn is forced, as are other programs who fail to denounce their belief in the users, to play video games. He's very good at it though, and he survives his first round with Crom. Flynn, Ram, and Tron are next put into the light cycle arena against three of the MCPs warriors. They manage to smash one of the warriors into the wall, creating an excape path. After defeating their opponents, they leave the game grid and become fugitives. After some heavy combat, they manage to get away from their pursuers.
After re-charging their energies, our three heroes get chaced by tanks again, and this time get separated. Tron, thinking the other two are dead, heads off by himself. Flynn carries Ram away, and by being a user, manages to get a "Recogniser" patrol vehicle activated. Ram fades away despite everything that Flynn can do, after discovering the truth of what Flynn really is.
Tron hooks up with Yori, and they go to an IO tower so that Tron can contact Alan. The two of them have to convince Dumont, the tower guardian, that helping them agains Sark's wishes is better than the alternative. Finally, Dumont gives in, shutting out the guards searching for Tron, and allows Tron to use the tower. Tron contacts Alan, and receives information that if introduced directly into the MCP, will destroy it.
The two of them steal a "Simulation", a sailboat sailboat-like vessel that they use to travel across the computer system toward the MCP. Flynn manages to sneak on board behind some guards before they leave, and he and Tron are re-united. Sark pursues the stolen simulation in his military carrier.
The simulation is hung up on a power surge in the beam, and they're almost caught, but Flynn diverts the transport beam, allowing them to hop over to another beam and continue the journey. Flynn admits to them that he's not a real program, that he's actually a user.
Where the transport beam crosses through some canyons, Sark's carrier surprises them around a corner, and the simulation is smashed. Flynn and Yori get pulled inside; unknown to them, Tron manages to hang on to the outside of the carrier. Flynn and Yori are put in a cell in the carrier with Dumont, who is soon taken away for questioning by Sark.
When the carrier arrives at the MCP's fortress, Sark disembarks on a shuttle with the programs (including Dumont) that are to be absorbed into the MCP. Flynn and Yori are left in their cell on board, and the carrier is set to de-rez. As the carrier is dissolving, they escape from their cell and get to the carrier's bridge, and between the two of them, manage to keep the carrier from destroying itself. They continue on toward the MCP.
This page still under construction...
Credits for this entry
I pulled several names of characters and actors that I coun't remember from the
Internet Movie DataBase web site.