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  Tron Does Not Compute
Year: 1982
Director: Steven Lisberger
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes, Dan Shor, Peter Jurasik, Tony Stephano
Genre: Animated, Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 4 votes)
Review: Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a computer programmer who left his job at the Encom organisation after the games he designed were stolen by the Senior Executive Dillinger (David Warner). With the help of two ex colleagues, Flynn breaks into Encom one night and attempts to hack into the main computer - but suddenly he finds himself processed by a laser beam into the supercomputer itself and has to battle its denizens, not only to escape, but to prevent it taking over the world...

There is no other film that illustrates the eighties love affair with computers better than Tron, which was written by director Steve Lisberger, with help from Bonnie MacBird. The technological landscape is rendered using computer and rotoscoped animation, giving the film a striking look. Unfortunately, in 1982 more people wanted to play Pac Man themselves than actually watch actors playing games for them, and the film was another expensive disappointment for Walt Disney's live action studios, after The Black Hole and Watcher in the Woods.

Tron's unique selling point is its magnificent appearance, all shaded in greys and bright primary colours, but the film falls down almost everywhere else. Its plotline is the basic goodies versus baddies showdown, but the details are poorly conveyed, leading to some amount of confusion as to what the characters are doing and why. In trying to make solid an essentially abstract world, it offers us little programs being terrorised by big programs, and there's even a cute Disney sidekick in the shape of a "bit" which, being binary, only says "yes" or "no". If they hoped this would humanise the computer world, then they reckoned without the surroundings overwhelming everything else.

The film is more against the exploitation of innocent programmers than the hackneyed science fiction threat that computers hold over the real world, which leaves a curious anti-totalitarian state tone to the proceedings. Let's face it, this was an essentially anti-Communist movie, being made during the last gasp of the Cold War, so not only are the Master Computer Program villain's primary colours of identification garish reds, but there's heavy emphasis on its rejection of anything religious as well. The Users, that is the programmers who designed the world we spend most of the movie in, are awarded a Godlike, creationist status that MCP wants its minions to deny, you know, just like Soviet Russia would do!

If the politics were far less sophisticated than the intricate visuals, where they do score is in casting Bridges, always a likeable presence who here goes some way to humanising the main character and making Flynn someone to cheer for. The other actors don't fare as well, with Warner reduced to pacing around the control room hissing "Get them!" and Bruce Boxleitner the bland titular hero - it's a real cliché to see most of the real world equivalent wearing glasses to illustrate their boffin status. But it's those graphics you'll want to see, and it's the light cycles and laser frisbees you'll remember, acknowledging to the audience, what little there was in 1982 for this entertainment, that the coolest thing you could do with computers was not to run spreadsheets or the whole world for that matter, but to play games upon - they were ahead of their time in that way. The electronic music is unmistakably by Wendy Carlos.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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