Sunday, April 10, 2011

Blu-Balled: It's in the Game -- Tron (1982)

Before its animation branch got its act together in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, and well before it discovered tweeners in the early-2000’s, Disney’s main bread and butter was live-action tent pole movies. Not all were successful, but many were interesting, and later became mainstays on The Disney Channel (again, before Disney discovered tweeners). One such movie was Tron, an 80’s cult classic that has since gained a following among nerds and a very expensive sequel.

Tron has a fairly complicated and meander-y plot, but here’s the long and short of it: while digging around his old employer’s computer files, Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is transported to cyberspace by the Master Control Program, an ornery AI who is basically intent on world domination. Once inside, Flynn must work with Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), a security program, and Yori (Cindy Morgan), a testing program, to defeat the MCP and get back to reality.

I find Tron to be immensely appealing, but not for traditional, “This movie is good” reasons. Tron was released in 1982, and almost everything about this film is steeped in 80’s movie –isms, from the general look of the film (a grainy, almost modern appearance common in many other flicks of the time) to the “Gee whiz, we’re making a movie!” attitude that permeates most of my favorite 80’s entertainment. Perhaps I’m simply weary of so many grim, “serious” takes on popular entertainment, or the uber-hip, modern school of film-making, but Tron simply wants to try something new, and I’d be a damn cold b@%#$ if I gave it a rap on the knuckles for its desire to be different.

Dudes who wear hockey helmets and glow-y leotards while playing Ultimate Frisbee. Eh, I'll take it.

You can’t discuss Tron without also discussing the special effects, and Tron is a real feast for the eyes. Even if the effects have aged significantly since its initial release in 1982 (and believe me, they have), the film’s look is so startlingly different that it’s easy to take the primitive effects at face value; you get the impression that the movie is supposed look that way, deliberately like it’s inside of a computer. The characters all have an otherworldly glow to them, and all look as if they were filmed in black and white, giving even the most mundane of scenes a trippy and compelling visual style. Buying the film on Blu-ray only accentuates the “OMG PRETTY!” level of an already-gorgeous movie.

The acting is split down the middle. Boxleitner and Morgan are kinda wooden, but charitable fans could explain that Tron and Yori are programs, and aren’t capable of fully human emotions (uh huh). On the other hand, I do enjoy Jeff Bridges as a hotshot, nerdy guy who loves coding as much as he loves video games. The biggest star of the film, though, is Warner, who uses his wonderfully unctuous, British dialect to give his character, Sark, an effortlessly villainous edge. Warner also plays the Master Control Program, though his voice is digitally lowered, Talkboy-style.

Warner also plays "The Lobe" on the old WB series Freakazoid. If you haven't seen it, please open another tab and add it to your Netflix queue now.

Make no mistake, Tron is definitely not what you’d call a Great Movie. Tron’s plot takes quite a while to get going, setting up several story-important details, but mostly trudging around. Even when the movie finally enters The Grid, the computer setting where most of the film takes place, much of the action is rather unevenly paced, alternating between special effects-driven set piece scenes and awkward bits of dialogue.

Still, for what it is, Tron is a fun, if slow, bit of 80’s nostalgia for evenings that require 80’s nostalgia. It’s not the most exciting film available on Blu-ray, but for fans of 80’s flicks or for those that remember when The Disney Channel actually used to play old Disney shorts, Tron is a worthwhile purchase.

Blu-ray Breakdown:

Where purchased: Target in Bozeman

How much: $20 (first week special)

Favorite character: Sark

Favorite scene: Flynn, Tron, and RAM race the Lightcycles

Rating: ***/****


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