Film Review: TRON (1982)

Also known as: Tron: The Electronic Gladiator (Australia – promotional title), Disney’s TRON: The Original Classic (re-release title)
Release Date: July 9th, 1982
Directed by: Steven Lisberger
Written by: Steven Lisberger, Bonnie MacBird
Music by: Wendy Carlos
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes, Dan Shor, Michael Dudikoff

Walt Disney Productions, Lisberger/Kushner, 96 Minutes

Review:

“On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.” – Kevin Flynn

I’ve been wanting to re-watch and review the TRON films for awhile now but I figured that I’d hold out till Disney+ dropped, as I assumed that these would be there, along with a bunch of other films I’ve held off on for the streaming service’s launch.

Well, now that Disney+ is here, you can expect a lot of reviews of sci-fi and fantasy Disney flicks that I’ve been putting off until now.

This is one of my all-time favorite films simply because of its visual aesthetic. Honestly, there is nothing like it and that includes it’s big budget, modern sequel that relied on modern CGI effects, as opposed to the dreamlike matte paintings and primitive computer effects that this original film employed.

TRON is such a unique and bizarre picture that it wasn’t initially successful. It developed a cult following as time went on and eventually, Disney made a sequel, albeit 28 years later. But it was considered a financial disappointment, despite being their highest grossing live-action film in over five years. This actually led to Disney writing off some of its budget.

In the years since 1982, the film found its audience thanks to home video and television. In fact, almost all the kids I knew, back in the day, liked the film, even if its concepts felt like they were a bit over our head.

It was TRON that really generated my interest in programming when I was a kid and I would go on to excel at computers in a time when they weren’t really owned in very many homes yet. I always took computer programming classes throughout school and even designed my first video game in 1991 because of how I was inspired by this film.

Seeing it again now, the first time in at least five years, I still absolutely love this picture from its look, its cool and original story and also because of its musical score and sound effects. TRON truly is an otherworldly experience in a way that the sequel couldn’t quite replicate.

However, being older and having a more refined palate, without sounding like a pretentious asshole, I can see the faults in the film. And even though it’s hard not to become overwhelmed by nostalgia, having some distance from this allows me to see it more clearly and with somewhat fresher eyes.

To start, the acting isn’t terrible but Jeff Bridges really has to carry the picture. It’s not his best effort but I almost don’t feel as if he’s really acting. I think that he was having a blast making this movie and it shows. But luckily, for the character he was playing, it fits and it works well.

Additionally, I thought that David Warner did a solid job too, as did all of the main players. But you can’t not see the hokiness in all of this and at certain points it pulls you out of this fantastical adventure. However, I think that some of this is the script’s fault, as there are some weird lines thrown in. Like the little observational joke that Dr. Gibbs gives when you meet him. It was a cute, whimsical way to explain the technology he was working with but it was just an odd moment. As a kid, I was like, “Shut up old man! You’re being weird!”

I don’t feel like the direction was necessarily good either but it wasn’t bad. Honestly, it seems kind of nonexistent, which is fine for what this is but I think that there was more emphasis on lining up the action on large sets without the actual world around the characters existing. I mean, this was made well before green screen was a major thing in Hollywood and the film feels kind of emotionless and cold at times because so much detail was given to the visual side of the film. But if the visuals didn’t work, TRON would’ve been a disaster.

The things that do work though are the art direction, the special effects, the post-production manufactured sets and the film’s sound from its imaginative score and computer world sound effects.

I’d like to think that this is a picture that has stood the test of time but it will certainly feel dated to younger audiences. It’s a strange movie by any standard and it’s not going to be a lot of people’s cup of tea. But that doesn’t discount that it did once speak to a generation of kids that were inspired by its coolness and uniqueness and thus, embraced a brave new world of emerging technology.

TRON is a special film. It’s amazing that it even got made in the first place because it was a massive risk. In 2019, I don’t think a studio would have the balls to try something this far outside of the box.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel: TRON: Legacy, as well as other sci-fi films of the era like The Black Hole, The Last Starfighter, Flash Gordon and The Explorers.