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A 'Tron' User's Manual

23 Jul, 2010 By: John Latchem

Greetings programs! The annals of film lore have recorded 1982 as a landmark year for science-fiction. Blade Runner, Star Trek II and E.T. are among the beloved films to debut that year. Also on that list is the video game fantasy Tron (on DVD and soon to be Blu-ray from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment). An oft overlooked benchmark in visual effects wizardry, the film is a dizzying fairy tale for the digital age. In preparation for a highly anticipated sequel making its way to theaters later this year, here are just a few reasons Tron endures as sci-fi classic.

The Story

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) hacks into the Encom mainframe in search of proof he created a popular video game that was stolen from him, but comes across the powerful Master Control Program, which uses an experimental laser to send Flynn into the computer world, where the MCP sends enemy programs to die on the game grid (i.e. in video games). Flynn must team with a security program named Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) to stop the MCP and find the missing data.

The Technology

Just as Flynn is a user who becomes a program, the MCP is a program that would be a user. The MCP grows in power by assimilating other computer systems and taking over their functions. Without invoking the term Internet, MCP’s methods are evocative of its function. Ultimately, the film presents a message that the real world isn’t that different from the computer realm.

The Effects

To achieve the look of the computer world, director Steven Lisberger (pictured) and his team used groundbreaking new computer generated effects, which got them disqualified from the Oscars for “cheating.” Be on the lookout for hidden jokes, such as a cameo by Pac-Man or a Mickey Mouse head in a digital landscape.

The Parable

Religious themes abound. In the computer world, the users are considered gods. Flynn is a user who becomes a program and sacrifices himself to become a messiah, which evokes Jesus. Tron’s user gives him the code that will free his people, which parallels Moses’ experience with the Burning Bush and the 10 Commandments. Plus there’s the Tron vs. Giant Sark battle at the end, a la David and Goliath.

The Influence

Many of the film’s iconic images, such as the light cycles, have been referenced on shows such as “Family Guy.” “The Simpsons” made a memorable reference in the 1995 “Treehouse of Horror VI” segment “Homer3.” “South Park” has made numerous Tron jokes, most recently in “You Have 0 Friends,” in which Stan is sucked into the game grid by his Facebook profile, which has grown too large to allow itself to be deleted (“South Park” also likes to use the MCP as its representation of “Super Best Friends” member Moses). And let’s not forget Jay Maynard, otherwise known as Tron Guy, a computer programmer who parlayed his homemade Tron costume from Internet fame to appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

The Legacy

Jeff Bridges returns as Flynn in Tron Legacy, which Disney releases to theaters Dec. 17. Garrett Hedlund plays Flynn’s son, Sam, who enters the computer world in search of his father. The effects get a 21st century upgrade (for Imax 3D), but all the key elements are still there. Cyberspace will never be the same.




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