|(live action, some cgi animation, some drawn animation)
Spartacus in cyberspace. Had the word “cyberspace” been coined in 1982, that may very well have been the pitch for this Disney sci-fi extravaganza. The fact that the word didn’t exist may help explain why Tron fared so poorly in its initial theatrical release. An emerging generation of video game players sat spellbound, but most audiences were mystified by such then-arcane terms as “I/O port.” Some were still getting used to the word “computer,” for Pete’s sake. Maybe Tron was simply ahead of its time.
The story concerns game programmer Kevin Flynn, whose designs were stolen by the underhanded schemer Ed Dillinger. Dillinger used the stolen designs to make a fortune for computer corporation Encom, ascending to the position of Senior Executive. Flynn now works as an arcade owner, spending his off hours trying to hack into Encom’s files to prove Dillinger’s guilt.
In every attempt, Flynn is thwarted by the Master Control Program (MCP, voiced by Warner), a sentient program with designs on world domination. Flynn teams up with Encom employees Alan and Lora to break into Encom and tap into the MCP. In doing so, Flynn is zapped by a special ray, separated into individual molecules, and sucked into the world of the computer.
Inside the computer, the MCP rules, with Sark (yet again, Warner) as its chief lieutenant. Flynn is sent into gladiatorial combat, facing off against computerized opponents in a video-game-like setting. Among the gladiators is a program called Tron, created by Alan to defeat the MCP. The two join up with a program called RAM and Tron’s girlfriend Yori, break out during a “light cycle” competition, and mount a quest to communicate with Tron’s “User,” Alan-1, at the I/O port. With the information gained from Alan-1, Tron and company set out to defeat Sark and the dreaded MCP itself, restoring balance to both the digital and fleshy worlds.
Tron was one of the first films to make extensive use of computer-generated graphics, part of a groundbreaking production design that included animated bits, tanks, cycles and “grid bugs.” But despite its visual splendor, the film never connected with 1982 audiences the way Disney had hoped.
Interestingly, the film was outshined by the two arcade games that sprang from it, 1982’s Tron and 1983’s Discs of Tron. The movie itself went underappreciated for years, but the spread of computer animation and cyber-savvy in the 1990’s brought Tron a new reputation as innovative and even prophetic. None of that mattered to Tron’s original fans, who only knew that those light cycles were the coolest things ever created by humankind.