Movie Review – TRON (1982)

In 1982, Disney released a live-action movie that was ahead of its time.

This wasn’t the first time Disney has released such a film.  A similar event happened back in 1940 when Disney released the film Fantasia, a collection of animated sequences set to pieces of classical music.  Although Fantasia received top awards and praise from critics for what it achieved, the movie failed to connect with the audience of that time period.

TRON (1982) - movie poster

1982′s TRON goes inside the world of (what was then) modern computer programming and arcade gaming.  These were still the early days of arcade games where simple polygons and basic controls provided not only escapism and inspiration but also hours of entertainment.  And of course bragging rights when you beat the previously high score.

Using a blend of live-action combined with cutting-edge computer animation, TRON takes an alternate look at the world of computers and computer programming.  The success of TRON‘s digital world helped pave the way for the future of computer animation.

TRON (1982) - Kevin Flynn - a disgruntled computer programmer.

TRON (1982) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

TRON beings with Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges), a former software programmer for ENCOM, as he’s attempting to access ENCOM’s mainframe and seek information.  We see a visual representation of Flynn’s program as it enters the mainframe.  His program is spotted and attacked by the Master Control Program (MCP), an artificial intelligence that controls ENCOM’s mainframe.  Flynn’s program knows tricks and tries to fight back and escape, but it’s ultimately captured by the MCP.  The MCP later interrogates and destroys Flynn’s program.

TRON (1982) - Meet Ed Dillinger, the evil senior executive at ENCOM.

TRON (1982) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Next we meet Ed Dillinger (played by David Warner), a senior executive at the software company ENCOM.  He accesses the MCP and learns that Flynn was snooping around the mainframe again, presumably looking for a file.  The MCP informs Dillinger that Flynn’s tactics are becoming more sneaky.

TRON (1982) - Bradley and Baines convincing Flynn to infiltrate ENCOM's mainframe.

TRON (1982) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

ENCOM programmer Alan Bradley (played by Bruce Boxleitner) notices that his access to the MCP has been suspended.  After meeting with Dillinger, Bradley learns that his TRON security program has been disabled.  The MCP expresses its displeasure at Dillinger after Bradley leaves the meeting.  Apparently it doesn’t like other programmers keeping track of what it’s doing.  Bradley meets with Lora Baines (played by Cindy Morgan of Caddyshack), and she convinces Bradley to meet with Flynn and warn him of Dillinger’s recent actions.  Bradley and Baines meet Flynn at an arcade, and they warn him that Dillinger is aware of Flynn’s recent infiltrations into ENCOM’s mainframe.  We learn that Flynn wrote many of ENCOM’s popular games, but Dillinger stole credit for it, was promoted, and then fired Flynn to silence him.  Flynn agrees to sneak into ENCOM with Bradley and Baines so that he can directly access the mainframe himself and prove that Dillinger is a fraud.

TRON (1982) - Flynn being zapped into ENCOM's computer mainframe.

TRON (1982) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Dillinger has a conversation with MCP, and the MCP tells Dillinger that it’s getting bored with corporations.  We see that the artificial intelligence has not only infiltrated the Kremlin in Russia, but it’s also grown substantially smarter since its creation.  MCP blackmails Dillinger and threatens to expose his plagiarism, showing him as a fraud.  Meanwhile, Bradley, Baines and Flynn infiltrate ENCOM, and Kevin Flynn accesses one of the computer terminals.  The MCP recognizes Flynn, and while he’s sitting at the computer, a special laser fires.  This laser essentially zaps Flynn into the world of the mainframe.

TRON (1982) - The impressive Light Cycle match.

TRON (1982) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Inside the ENCOM mainframe, computer programs have human form with the likeliness of the programmers who created them.  In this world, the MCP and its second-in-command, Sark (also played by David Warner), seek total control over input/output of the computer system.  Programs that resist their rule are forced to play in gladiator-style games where the losers are destroyed.

TRON (1982) - The MCP using tanks to hunt and kill Flynn, Tron and Ram.

TRON (1982) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

After entering the mainframe, Flynn is captured and placed in a prison cell along with other programs deemed dangerous by the Master Control Program.  After receiving a greeting from Sark, Flynn sees an advanced program called Tron (also played by Bruce Boxleitner).  Tron uses his special identity disc and defeats several “users.”  It’s then Flynn’s turn to do battle.  He fights against another program and wins, but doesn’t kill his opponent.  Sark presses a button and kills Flynn’s opponent.  Flynn is then taken to the Light Cycle holding area where he meets Tron.  Flynn, Tron, and another program called Ram use their special Light Cycles and defeat their opponents.  Part of the wall is destroyed, and the three of them escape from the combat arena.

TRON (1982) - Flynn taking control of the MCU's flying machine.

TRON (1982) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

MCP sends out a few tanks to hunt and kill Flynn, Tron and Ram.  The tanks attack and destroy Flynn and Ram’s Light Cycles.  Ram is mortally wounded in the encounter with the tanks, and Flynn pulls him into what turns out to be a control room for one of the MCP’s flying machines.  Flynn discovers that he has the power to manipulate his surroundings while in the mainframe (after all, his character in the mainframe is CLU, a hacking program), and he takes control of the flying machine.

TRON (1982) - Tron and Yori using a solar sailer to reach the MCP's core.

TRON (1982) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Meanwhile, Tron meets with a program called Yori (also played by Cindy Morgan), and Tron discovers a way to communicate with his programmer, Alan Bradley.  Bradley downloads data into Tron’s “identity disc” and instructs Tron to get the disc into the base of the MCP.  Doing so will destroy the MCP, giving freedom to the other programs in the computer’s mainframe.  Tron and Yori steal a “solar sailer” simulation program and use it to flee from Sark and reach the MCP’s core.  While sailing, Tron discovers Flynn onboard the ship, disguised as the dead program Ram.  The three of them continue sailing to the MCP’s core.

TRON (1982) - Captured again by Sark.

TRON (1982) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sark’s command ship ultimately beats the solar sailer to the core and destroys the sailer, capturing Flynn and Yori.  Sark takes a bunch of captured programs and flees with them on a shuttle to the MCP’s core, leaving behind Flynn and Yori and ordering the destruction of his command ship.  Flynn is able to use his powers to prevent the destruction of the ship, and he and Yori fly to the MCP’s core.

TRON (1982) - Meet the MCP.

TRON (1982) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

At the MCP’s core, the programs that Sark brought are being consumed by the MCP.  Tron appears and defeats Sark with his identity disc.  The MCP revives Sark, transferring his powers to him.  Tron attacks the MCP while he’s reviving Sark, but the MCP enables a shield and blocks Tron’s attacks.  From the command ship, Flynn jumps into MCP from the top and distracts it.  This exposes a gap in the MCP’s shields and Tron attacks, throwing his identity disc at the base of the MCP.  This destroys the MCP, thus restoring “freedom” for other programs throughout the computer’s mainframe.

TRON (1982) - Kevin Flynn is now in charge at ENCOM.

TRON (1982) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Kevin Flynn’s body is reconstructed at the computer terminal at ENCOM.  He discovers a printout showing proof of Dillinger stealing one of his top programs.  Dillinger later enters his office and finds proof of the fraud broadcast to the world and his beloved MCP inactive.  TRON ends with Flynn now the senior executive at ENCOM.

As a whole, TRON is a fantastic and innovative movie that takes an alternate look into the world of computers and computer programming.

TRON is a movie where you probably need to watch the movie twice to get the most out of it.  I’ll admit that I was kinda thrown off the first time I saw it.  But after reading about the movie and seeing it again a second time, I was hooked.  It was the same initial and follow-up reaction after watching The Matrix.  From the overall plot to the computer world of ENCOM’s mainframe, TRON is a terrific science-fiction movie.

The segment where Flynn battles the other program in the combat game, and then he, Tron and Ram use the Light Cycles was just plain awesome.  Whoever thought of the concept of the Light Cycles is a genius.

There’s no question that the special effects in TRON look vastly outdated by today’s standards.  Those identity discs are clearly glorified flying discs.  Despite looking outdated, the computer world of the mainframe still looks pretty neat.  Those flying machines used by the MCP were especially cool.

I think that one of the reasons I like the computer world so much is between the look and feel of the world, combined with some of the music, it reminded me a lot of the older days of Disney’s EPCOT Center theme park in Orlando.  Epcot opened in 1982, and a few scenes in a couple of the rides had that same futuristic look and feel to them.

Ah, the memories.

TRON (1982) – movie trailer

three-and-a-half stars

Sark – “There’s nothing special about you.  You’re just an ordinary person.”

Kevin Flynn – “So are you, one that should have been erased.”