When you think of Disney, everyone will always think of their animated features first and foremost, although recently some people might say that the MCU and Star Wars movies might be more prominent. However, even before they bought those franchises, Disney would occasionally make their own foray into the realm of science fiction. Today’s movie is probably Disney’s biggest cult classic film as I don’t think I have met too many people who have seen it that have not enjoyed this movie. I remember watching this on VHS years ago and 5 year old me thought that it was absolutely fantastic. To this day, I still enjoy it and as soon as it was available on DVD, I would buy a copy of it. So now let’s have some 80’s retro enjoyment with today’s movie, TRON.
The plot: At Flynns, a popular video arcade, people line up to play a series of popular games. Inside one of the games, a program called Sark is racing a light cycle against the player and ends up winning the race by crashing his opponent into the light wall. LAter, Sark returns to his control ship and speaks with Master Control, the main system program for Encom’s computers, tells him that he absorbed some military software and wants Sark to battle their programs and defeat them in order to fully integrate them into himself. Elsewhere, a banking program is placed into a cell, where he meets Ram, another program, and Ram explains that they are there for believing in the Users, the people that programmed them. Back in the real world, Kevin Flynn, a former programmer for Encom, sends his hacking program Clu into Encom’s systems looking for some files he needs. In the system, Clu, accompanied by his data sprite Bit, is riding in a tank into the high clearance memory when he is confronted by a squad of Recognizers. Clu attempts to fight his way through them but ends up crashing his tank, then yells at Bit to get out of there before he is captured. Clu is taken to see Master Control, who tortures Clu to find out who programmed him but when Clu refuses to talk, Master Control has him erased and then contacts Ed Dillinger, the Senior Executive Vice President of Encom. Dillinger returns to the home office and access his computer to talk with Master Control, who tells him that Flynn has been snooping around the system looking for the files and Dillinger suggest suspending the higher level access to try and keep Flynn out. In his cubicle, Alan Bradley finds his access has been suspended and goes to see Dillinger, who tells him the issue and says it will only be for a few days. He then asks what Alan is working on and Alan tells him his program is called Tron; a watchdog/security program that will ensure that systems are not accessing files they are not supposed to. After Alan leaves, Master Control contacts Dillinger and tells him that he doesn’t like the idea of an independent program running around in his system, as he has appropriated countless outside programs. Alan heads down to the research lab to see his girlfriend Lora, who is working on a project with her mentor Dr. Walter Gibbs that consists of a laser and program that will digitize solid matter and reconstruct it into the computer. Alan tells Lora about level 7 access being suspended because someone was hacking the system and she says that Flynn had mentioned trying to get into the system and had the proper access. The two head to Flynn’s arcade and talk to him and he admits that he had been trying to hack into the system. He explains that he had invented the video game Space Paranoid and several others while he was working at Encom but one day he found his files missing and 3 months later, Dillinger presents the games to the board and advances up the ranks. Flynn has been trying to find the files in the Master Control Program’s memory to show as proof but with level 7 access suspended, he won’t be able to do so. When Alan mentions his Tron program, Flynn says he could forge a level 6 access if he had physical access to the system and Lora says they should go right now. Heading back to Encom, Flynn hacks the security door so they can get into the building unannounced then separate, with Alan heading to his terminal to get ready to activate Tron while Lora taking Flynn to her station so he can hack into the system. Meanwhile, Dillinger is meeting with Gibbs, who is arguing about cutting the programmers access and complains about how the company has changed since he first helped found it. Afterwards, Dillinger is talking to Master Control, who says he plans on hacking the Pentagon and Kremlin, threatening to release the file about Dillinger’s theft of Flynn’s intellectual property to the Times if Dillinger tries to stop him. Lora shows Flynn her terminal then heads up to meet with Alan, leaving Flynn to try to get into the system. As Flynn starts working at the terminal, Master Control speaks out to him and warns him to stop but when Flynn continues on his task, Master Control activates the laser and blasts Flynn, transporting him into the computer system, where he is captured by Sark’s men. Master Control contacts Sark and tells him he wants Flynn placed in the games so he can be killed and when Sark balks upon hearing that Flynn is a user, Master Control threatens to shut him down unless he does as instructed. Flynn is taken out of his cell along with the other newly captured programs, and Sark addresses them and says they will all be competing in the games for the chance to join his men in service to the MCP. As they are walking back to their cells, Flynn sees a program fighting against 4 of Sark’s men and asks Ram who he is and Ram tells him that it is Tron. Later, Flynn is forced to compete in a game against another free program, playing a form of paddle ball on a series of rings, which disappear when the ball hits them. Flynn manages to get the upper hand on his opponent but when Sark orders him to finish the game and kill his opponent, Flynn refuses. Sark then kills Flynn’s opponent and considers killing Flynn but recalls Master Control’s orders and has him escorted to the next game. Flynn meets up with Ram and Tron, who Flynn is surprised to see looks like Alan. When Flynn calls him Alan, Tron remarks that that is his user and Flynn lies, telling him that his user sent him here to help him take out the MCP. Flynn, Tron, and Ram are sent into the light cycle grid and compete in a team battle against 3 of Sark’s men in a 3 on 3 match. During the course of the match, one of Sark’s men crashes into the wall and causes an opening, which Flynn escapes through, following by Tron and Ram. The three manage to avoid the Recognizers and tanks that Sark sends after them and then look around the area. Seeing an input/output tower in the distance, Tron says he has to head there and make contact with Alan or else they won’t be able to get close the the MCP. As the three head out, they are attacked by a group of tanks and Flynn and Ram’s light cycles are destroyed while Tron, thinking they are dead, continues to escape, pursued by Sark and his men. Flynn and Ram survived, though Ram is seriously injured, and Flynn carries him into the wreckage of a Recognizer and lays him down before passing out himself. After resting for a bit, Flynn notices that some of the Recognizer’s systems have come online and he discovers he is able to rebuild it, using his knowledge as a User, to do so. Flying off to meet with Tron, Flynn tells Ram that he will get him some help but Ram motions for him to come closer. Stopping the Recognizer, Flynn approaches Ram, who recognizes him as a User and begs him to help Tron and as Flynn promises, Ram smiles before he derezzes. Meanwhile, Tron has reached the tower and contacts Yori, a program that looks like Lora in the real world, and when she recognizes him, she embraces Tron then leads him to Dumont, who can help him contact Alan. Back in the Recognizer, Flynn finds himself struggling to control it due to damage it had previously sustained, while a Bit begins floating around his head and commenting on his driving. Flynn eventually crashes into the outskirts of the tower and goes looking for Tron but is forced to hide when Sark and some of his men walk by. Noticing a straggler, Flynn knocks him out but as he goes to move the body, Flynn realizes that his circuitry has instinctively changed colors to mimic one of Sark’s men. Meanwhile, Tron and Yori manage to sneak into Dumont’s chamber and convince Dumont to help Tron contact Alan. With Dumont locking Sark’s forces out of the tower, Tron is able to contact Alan, who places the information needed to shut down the MCP onto Tron’s identity disk. Tron and Yori leave the chamber just as Sark and his men manage to break through and capture Dumont for helping Tron. Tron and Yori board a solar-sailer simulation to make their way to the MCP’s core and Tron fights off Sark’s men who try to stop him, unintentionally knocking Flynn off the ship, though he manages to cling to the simulation’s side. As they sail along the information beam, Sark’s control ship attempts to catch up to them but Lori is able to speed up the simulation and escape. As he heads back to Yori, Tron notices Flynn, who calls out to stop Tron from attacking him, and Tron helps him aboard and smiles to see his friend still alive but is saddened to learn of Ram’s death. Tron introduces Flynn to Yori and Flynn tells them that he is a User, which surprises Tron and Yori. When they find their progress stopped by a power surge from the MCP, Flynn uses his body as a gateway to link the simulation to another data stream, allowing the power surge to destroy the two Recognizers that were following them. Tron and Yori are surprised to find that Flynn isn’t derezzing and believe that he is a user but as they continue towards the MCP, Sark’s ship broadsides them and destroys the simulation, seemingly killing Tron while Flynn and Yori are captured. The two are placed in a cell with Dumont and when Sark enters, he is shocked to see Flynn is still alive. Sark orders Dumont taken to his landing shuttle, and tells Flynn that after he leaves, the ship will derezz, along with everyone left on board but unknown to Sark, Tron is still alive and clings to the outside of the shuttle. Sark leaves and the ship begins to derezz but Flynn is able to keep it from completely being destroyed, and saves Yori so she can help him. At the MCP, Sark has the religious zealots taken into the MCP, where Master Control begins to absorb them into himself. Tron shows up and begins fighting with Sark, eventually dealing him a fatal blow but when he goes to attack Master Control, the MCP brings up a shield, then uses his power to resurrect Sark into a giant. When Flynn and Yori arrive, Flynn has Yori steer the ship close to the information beam, then jumps into it, distracting the MCP long enough to expose an opening in the shield. Tron throws his disk through the opening and into the MCP, where it is eventually destroyed. As Tron, Yori, Dumont, and the others watch, the I/O Towers change colors, showing that they are no longer under the control of the MCP. Meanwhile, Flynn is blasted back into the real world and as he gets his bearings, a printer begins printing out the information Flynn had been looking for and he cheers at the success. The next day, Dillinger walks into his office and accesses his computer only to see the information about his stealing Flynn’s games has been displayed to every computer in the building and he sits down, realizing his career is ruined. Some time later, Alan and Lora are on the roof of Encom tower waiting for their new boss to arrive and as the helicopter lands, Flynn gets out and hugs his two friends, saying “Greetings programs”, referencing his time in The Grid.
TRON met with mostly praise from the critics, holding a 70% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “Though perhaps not as strong dramatically as it is technologically, TRON is an original and visually stunning piece of science fiction that represents a landmark work in the history of computer animation.” The movie was considered a failure, despite earning $33 million off of a $17 million budget, but the video games developed based on the movie would prove to be a major hit and would actually out-gross the movie. Tron was actually disqualified from receiving an Oscar nomination for special effects because at the time, the Academy felt that using computers was “cheating”. TRON would develop a cult following and aside from various video games, it would get a film sequel almost 30 years later, as well as an animated TV series that would bridge somewhat bridge the gap and lead into the sequel.
Yes, this movie is somewhat dated but I still love this movie. The acting was great, with Jeff Bridges (Flynn/Clu), David Warner (Dillinger/Sark. Master Control), and Bruce Boxleitner (Alan/Tron) doing great jobs in their roles. I also thought that Condy Morgan (Lora/Yori) and Barnard Hughes (Gibbs/Dumont) were equally good, though they unfortunately seemed to come across more as supporting characters. The story was a pretty good action/sci-fi movie as a whole, while also doing a good job of showcasing the fears that some people felt in the 80’s, and still do today, about computers starting to gain more control and self autonomy, to the point where they could eventually replace people. The special effects for the time were incredible and considered groundbreaking, especially the blend of computer animation with human actors. I loved the color scheme used in The Grid, with the bright colors mixed with the bland backgrounds making for some vivid imagery during some scenes. Yes, there might be some nostalgia involved but this is still a movie that is well worth watching.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5