I’m a first-generation “Tron” fan, and saying that, I will be the first one to admit that the thing I like the least about “Tron” is the movie itself.
When it came out in 1982, I was dizzy from the amazing summer that Hollywood had accidentally unleashed on a nascent film nerd like myself. Today, I think most genre fans would agree that 1982 was a very special year full of very good movies in American theaters. “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.” “Conan The Barbarian.” “E.T.” “John Carpenter’s The Thing.” “Blade Runner.” “The Road Warrior.” I was starting to feel spoiled by the end of that summer, by that glut of amazing films that absolutely cemented my love of the fantastic on film.
And right in the middle of all of that, Disney promised to change the world with “Tron.”
I was already such a film nerd that I had my subscriptions to Fantastic Films and Cinefantastique and Starlog, and they’d been talking about what a revolution “Tron” was because it was going to be animated… BY COMPUTERS! There was much talk of the fearsome Cray Supercomputer that was being used for the task, a beast that made HAL 9000 look like an iPod Nano. This wasn’t just a revolution… it was a shock considering Walt Disney was the studio behind the film, a studio that had been built on the type of animation done by HAND. By REAL PEOPLE. Not by computers.
And then there was that game. The arcade stand-up game version of “Tron” was a thing of beauty, featuring one of the most pure and beautiful video game ideas ever… the lightcycle. Great game. Endlessly playable. I dropped so many quarters into that “Tron” game that year that Disney didn’t need to ever bother releasing a film. I love the look of the “Tron” world, all the hot bright colors built into the characters and the architecture of everything. Gorgeous. Dreamy.
The movie? Kind of a drag. I don’t think it’s very good during the real world sequences, and there’s a sort of stiff sterility to all the stuff staged inside the world. The only times that “Tron” really comes alive are during the gaming sequences. Every second of lightcycle stuff is genius. All the gaming stuff feels visceral and cool, and it’s the best designed material in the film.
I absolutely consider myself a “Tron” fan because of how much I love the imagery and the aesthetic, and the idea of a sequel makes me happy in the sense that it’ll be fun to look at. There’s a chance that if this is even a solid piece of entertainment, it will be a better film than the original, which is a good position for the film to be in.
More than that, though, what excites me about this sequel is that technology has caught up to the ambitions of “Tron.” The dirty secret of the 1982 film is that most of what you see in that film was animated… BY HAND! Because computers couldn’t do it yet. There’s a whole lot of conventional old-school rotoscope trickery to the groundbreaking visual style of that film. Now we’re capable of doing what Disney claimed they were doing in 1982, and more than that, the games that exist are able to put you into the game in a way that “Tron” only imagined.
When I look at the trailer for “Tron: Evolution” and I think about getting a group of friends to sign on for online lightcycle racing, that justifies this new film’s existence even if I hate every second of the running time. For someone who was there in 1982, this doesn’t even seem real. It’s outrageous to think that this actually exists now, and I’ll be able to buy it.
I have a feeling a lot of “Tron” fans like everything about “Tron” more than they like the movie, and that the thing that excites them this time out isn’t narrative or the return of this character or that one, but just the opportunity for another go-round with lightcycles and game discs. When people debate what is or isn’t a good video game film, they miss “Tron” almost every time, which is weird, because there’s never been a film that has gaming built into its DNA with quite the same degree of charm and success as “Tron.”
Can’t wait to play this. Can’t wait to see the movie. Can’t wait for Comic-Con and whatever madness Disney has planned down there.
It’s the year of “Tron,” and as long as that includes me getting a chance to do this…
… that’s fine by me.
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