Tron (1982)

I always liked the video game of Tron more than the movie, even though I wasn’t very good at it. I could never finish the third level. Do you remember the game? The cabinet was all black light and faux neon, and you had to clear four sub-games on each level: the tanks, the light cycles, the grid spiders, and the breakout. It got exponentially more difficult with each clear of the four and I don’t know I ever completed even one of the sub-games on level three, but it was incredibly fun and I didn’t mind spending all those quarters trying.

I also liked the toys a lot, and have been chuckling over this one little kid freaking out in the action figure aisle of our local Lionel Play World for almost forty years now. The light cycles used zip-cords and would be really perfect for our place now, with our hardwood floors. The package read “the futuristic light cycle,” and some small boy didn’t know that word and thought it said “fantastic.” So the child flipped out and started screaming “Mom! Mom! It’s the fantastic light cycle! The fantastic light cycle!” Mom said “That’s nice, dear,” and wasn’t about to spend seven or eight dollars on a piece of plastic, leaving the kid desolately crying and choking out between sobs “fantastic light cycle, faaaaaaantastic liiiiiiight cycle…” for what I remember as just short of forever.

I remember the game and that kid much better than I remember the movie. I know I saw it in theaters once as well as a few times on HBO, but the details were all gone before this morning.

Don’t try that on the Helicarrier, David Warner. Tony Stark’ll bust you.

Our son wasn’t completely blown away, but it certainly entertained him. He said that he loved the look of the film, which is what most people remember more than the story, which is really by-the-numbers. Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, and David Warner are the stars, with smaller roles for Barnard Hughes, Peter Jurasik, and former Shazam! star Jackson Bostwick as one of the henchmen. It was the music, which was written by Wendy Carlos, that stood out most to me this morning. During the solar-sailed ship sequence, I was thinking that having a soundtrack of this would not be a bad idea at all, which I never think, even when I’m watching something Bernard Herrmann scored.

It’s impossible for a kid born in the 21st century to see this movie’s animation with the same perspective we had then. It remains really interesting to watch – the front-seat view from the cycles during the race is quite exciting – but, much like the video for the Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing,” animation has progressed so far that we just don’t “see” the 3D that we did the first time around. Even though the spectacle has been blunted by time, it’s not a bad flick for what it is: the rebels escape and move from A to B to destroy the enemy complex, a perfectly engaging plot for kids. Wikipedia suggests that some critics from the day thought it was “incoherent,” which means they must have had a very long nap in the middle of the press screening.

Of course, the biggest element that’s been blunted by time is the idea that we need to fear an evil supercomputer like the Master Control Program taking control of the Pentagon and the Kremlin. No, these days we’re more aware that human garbage can disrupt the hell out of our world using much smaller systems. I wish the Master Control Program would zap Zuckerberg into a video game and de-res him in a round of electronic jai-alai.