Game Movie: Tron
Released: Walt Disney Productions, July 9th, 1982
System: Amazon Streaming Movies
Game Movie started: February 26th, 2013
Amount completed: We watched the whole thing, start-to-finish, in spite of seeing Tron: Legacy in theaters some time ago.
We citizens of the nerd culture tend to be the biggest target for peddlers of nostalgic schlock. Just slap some 16-bit pixel art or some Star Wars references on a t-shirt and one of our ilk will buy it, guaranteed. Even with my rugged will-power and a stalwart wife by my side, I have fallen victim to geek kryptonite in the past. Hence why I own a vast array of ironic video game t-shirts; I just can’t help myself. However, I do have an immunity to one such disease of the memory: I have never seen the original Tron, not even parts of the film.
To this news, many of you may be calling for me to turn in my nerd card and resign from the elite club, for I am certainly not one of the chosen few. Well, that’s just silly, you can’t revoke a lifetime membership.
You see, many of my friends watched Tron at an early age, so they grew up with the notion that just beyond the screens of their favorite games, rogue computer programs battled for survival in strange disc-based trials. As for me, classic arcade games did not hide some dystopian world; they were simply entertainment that lacked the technology to tell the greater story a developer wished to share. Over the years, Tron has held the same place as Doctor Who in my book: a geeky trope that plenty of people revered, but I never really understood the appeal. So Laura and I decided to stage a viewing of the 1982 classic in our own home, which we coincidentally watched streaming over our computer (where Master Control would surely monitor our reactions).
Let us be frank at the commencement: Tron is a dated film. Back in the year 1982, I am sure the movie was a technological marvel, but in 2013, the movie shows its age. The visual effects in the movie could be created by any teenager with a bootleg copy of Flash or Maya, and the technical jargon of the script can be understood by most of today’s internet-savvy generation. The costumes are rather silly (and feature WAY too much moose-knuckle), and the data discs on each program has are obviously Frisbees with neon paint. The soundtrack starts off as an intense symphonic masterpiece, but quickly devolves into out-of-place prog rock and synth noise, which seems dissonant and jarring. Overall, Tron has not aged well and it shows.
But in spite of all the wrinkles and liver spots that cover this old movie, there is still some great magic at work in Tron. As the games of today feature increasingly realistic character creation modes and greater immersion, there is still a disconnect between player and game world. None of us can completely integrate ourselves into the games that we love, and that is precisely what Tron is about: a plain dude who is a bit of a slacker has been digitized into the world of the Grid, and in order to earn his freedom and fame, he must compete in classic arcade games. This is the stuff of gamer dreams.
The protagonist of Tron, Kevin Flynn, is a perfect hero for the nerd generation. Here is a guy who would always prefer tinkering at a computer and playing video games than getting involved in corporate politics. The irony of the situation is that his attitude has relegated him to being a mere arcade owner, forced to watch his creations only earn him quarters against the millions that his usurper has won through treachery. Such a story transcends time as we live in a world with renewed interest in the indie developer underdog, fighting against the corporate robots who pump out sequel after sequel each year. In a way, Tron was quite ahead of its time, offering a guiding hand into the world of video games to a world that was only just beginning to accept gaming culture.
By the end of the film, I was rooting for Flynn all the way. I felt sorry for this downtrodden computer programmer who received no recognition for the games he made. The more I grow to understand just how difficult it can be to produce a successful video game, the more I empathize with Flynn’s sentiment once he is dropped into the Grid: “On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.”
There are some movies that stand the test of time. Tron stands up about as well as any other 80’s movie. Essentially, if you didn’t see Tron in your youth, then you’ve missed any opportunity to really like it. Watching Tron just really made me want to re-watch Tron:Legacy instead. The action scenes are better executed, the special effects are far superior, and the story is more engaging to the generation that grew up with computers. Granted, this should be expected from a sequel released nearly 30 years after the original.