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I just watched this film for the first time in several years. It was my favourite film when I was five, and was probably the reason that I became a computer programmer. I feared it may not stand up to adult scrutiny, or the effects may look dated, or the pacing may be too slow by modern standards.
I'm pleased to report this is not the case. It's a very simple story, but then so are all Hollywood movies, and can still be enjoyed by adults.
The hand drawn effects still look amazing. The computer generated ones are not so good. Mostly it works because this is supposed to be a world based on computer games so it's logical it would look like 1980s games, i.e. wireframe 3d, solid colours and glow effects. One thing that annoyed me was the shading effect on Sark's carrier. If they hadn't shaded it at all, it would have been fine, but instead they shaded it using only about five shades of grey.
The pacing is fine. I remember getting bored during the talking bits as a kid but as an adult it's fine; in fact it feels rushed.
Interesting things I noticed:
* Bruce Boxleiter has "klaatu barada nikto" on his cubicle wall.
* The map on Sark's wall shows Pacman is in the system.
* The lightcycles turn at 90 degree angles on the gamegrid, and produce solid trails, but as soon as they leave the grid the trails stop and they handle like real motorcycles. Is the handling a user configurable option, or enforced by the environment? Also the riders seem able to summon and dismiss the cycles at will for the first part of the movie, but then they don't do it anymore. Is that because they didn't want to, or did they lose the ability?
* The 'bit' has three states, not two. Maybe he is really a nibble or something?
Regardless of whether the film is actually good or not, there is something amazing about the concept that I find hard to explain. In some ways it could be seen as the first film to feature virtual reality; but the whole point is that it *isnt* a simulated reality. The computers are not drawing 3D humanoid representations of programs. We, the viewers, are being given this view of the insides of a computer. Everything that happens in the film is completely logical (allowing a little dramatic license) and could have happened on a 1982 mainframe computer. A security program (Tron) is assigned the task of deleting a virus (MCP). The MCP quarantines Tron to protect itself. Tron unquarantines itself but is unable to delete the MCP and so requests user input. The user supplies additional code needed to delete the MCP. In the movie we see Tron spend hours travelling to the I/O tower to request input. In reality it would be a fraction of a second and we'd just see a query prompt on the terminal. It's just two alternate views of the same reality.
The interesting thing is that it's not just the viewers who see the 'alternate' reality - one of the characters, Flynn, sees it and enters it. But he's the only one. So we could actually look at everything that happens in the computer world as being Flynn's hallucination - the way his brain visualises the mundane data processing as an exciting 3d battle. In that respect it's more like fantasy films where the characters hallucinate their internal psychological dramas, such as the Wizard of Oz.
I'm sure that the sequel will have better effects and action sequences. It may have a better story, or a worse one. But what I really worry about is that the writers will miss this fundamental point - that the computer world is *not* another world, it's just an alternate way of viewing what really does happen inside a computer - and instead start treating it like a Matrix-esque virtual reality world.
Possibly one of the weirdest movies that I've ever seen, yet it works. I bet it must've been mindblowing in 1982 to see those kinds of visual effects in a movie! Good one.
Still awesome 31 years later !
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In 5 official lists
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This movie ranks #22 in Total Sci-Fi's The 100 Greatest Sci-Fi Movies
This movie ranks #87 in BFI's 100 Science Fiction Films
This movie ranks #225 in Jennifer Eiss's 500 Essential Cult Movies
This movie ranks #329 in Emma Beare's 501 Must-See Movies
This movie ranks #929 in The Guardian's 1000 Films to See Before You Die