1982 Movie Tron A Flop At First But Eventually Became A Cult Classic
Reviewed by Glenn Cutforth
- Director: Steven Lisberger
- Writers: Steven Lisberger(screenplay), Steven Lisberger (story), Bonnie MacBird (story)
- Stars: Jeff Bridges, David Warner Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan
In 1982 two ground-breaking films, Blade Runner and Gandhi, were released. Blade Runner was a flop in its initial release, but over time became a cult classic as more people discovered the film on video.
The visuals were dazzling and the story was gripping and the Vangelis soundtrack made the film a special experience.
Gandhi was the story about one of the most iconic historical figures, starring Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. Kingsley won an Academy Award as Best Actor, and the film won Best Picture.
And then there was Tron, a small Disney film that grossed $33,000,000 domestically and $17,000,000, on a $17,000,000 budget. Although a moderate success, it was a financial disappointment since Disney wrote off part of its budget.
Just a few years before the film’s release, on a family trip to Niagara Falls, we played our first video game, Pong. That primitive, uncomplicated, simulated tennis game was simple in its gameplay, but at the time, quite amazing in how challenging and fun it was to play. Video games have come a long way since then.
It was also the year I bought my first computer, a new and demanding environment that took me a year to figure out, but has become a major part of my everyday life, as it has for millions of people around the world.
In Tron, computer programmer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is swindled as an employee of the ENCOM Corporation by his former colleague Ed Dillinger (David Warner). Dillinger stole the ideas for several popular arcade games that Flynn had written and Flynn is sure that if he can get inside ENCOM, he can successfully crack the system and find the stolen code — proving that the program Dillinger stole is in fact his.
The film then creates a challenging environment for Flynn, who gets sucked into a computer and becomes a character named Clu (Codified Likeness Utility). Flynn, a hacker/arcade owner, is digitally broken down into a data stream by an evil software pirate known as Master Control and reconstituted into the 3-D graphical world of computers.
In the intense landscapes of cyberspace, Flynn joins forces with Alan Bradley/Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora Baines/Yori (Cindy Morgan), to overcome the Master Control Program that holds them captive in a gigantic, considerably challenging computer game.
I think part of the problem with the film at the time was that few computer geeks were around in those early days of personal computers. Thus, much of the potential audience really didn’t understand what was going on.
In addition, the story is a bit thin and somewhat confusing, especially if one had little experience with computers in 1982. Of course, that has changed, as we now have dazzling CGI in movies and video games that are almost as realistic as real life.
Since half the film is colorized — from its original black and white — the film’s special effects feel dated by current standards. Although the film’s concept and ideas were interesting, the execution was somewhat lacking in emotional connections.
Jeff Bridges is one of my all-time favorite actors and he plays the part with serious-minded determination. And the great David Warner (Ed Dillinger/Sark/Master Control Program) is always a great villain.
But mostly, the characters are secondary to the concept and the idea that a human could get sucked into a computer and become a simulated computer program.
It’s interesting to note that the inspiration for Tron came in 1976 when director/screenwriter Steven Lisberger saw the primitive, unpretentious video game Pong. He was fascinated by video games and wanted to do a film incorporating them.
His inspiration has created a cult following and a follow-up film, Tron Legacy (2010); a video game, Tron: Evolution; a TV series, Tron: Uprising (2012); and a third Tron film has been announced.
Currently, Tron has a 6.8 rating on the Internet Movie Data Base website. My rating, posted long ago is 6. I think that’s about right.
In modern times, computers have invaded almost every aspect of our lives. We have our I-phones, our Ipads, laptops, desktops, virtual reality, and cars now run on computer systems that make them last longer, but also make them more expensive to repair.
And who knows, maybe, as Tron foretold, we’ll be able someday to turn ourselves into computer software to battle the evil that lurks within our computer systems.