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Tron (1982)

One of the first "virtual reality" films ever made, or a clever marketing ploy? This week's MonsterVision feature begs the question "was Tron a brilliant film because it pondered the nature of artificial intelligence, or because it spawned not only video games and action figures, but also bendy dolls and air freshners?" Either way, Tron was a film ahead of its time.

Tron centers around an honest young hacker, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges). After an unceremonious dismissal, Flynn and his friends break into the offices of their former employer, the evil video game empire, ENCOM. While attempting to hack into the computer of said evil video game empire, Flynn suffers a molecular breakdown and is forcibly dragged INTO the computer by the Master Control Program. (MonsterVision viewers, take heart here - ENCOM is lead by none other than MV fave bad guy David Warner.) Once inside, Flynn discovers a horrible world where weaker computer programs (the computer embodiment of their respective programmers) are either forced to either pledge allegiance to the MCP, or suffer a certain death in gladiator-esque games played on a game grid (with lotsa neat lights, natch).

With the help of his girlfriend, here represented by an accounting program, Flynn sets out to find TRON, the heroic computer security program written by Bruce Boxleitner (the guy from Babylon 5). Will Flynn find TRON? Will the cool Lightcycles get enough screen time to touch off a buying frenzy of Star Wars-ian proportions? Will they save the world from the evil clutches of ENCOM, or will the entire world be forced to bow down to one computer operating system? Sound familiar? This film was released in 1982 folks! When asked about the current Microsoft anti-trust suit and Tron in an August 1999 interview with online magazine, Shift, director Steven Lisberger said:
"Well, it was IBM. It was a different world. You young guys don't know what Bill Gates went through when he took on IBM. He beat IBM by becoming IBM. It was a Trojan Horse. Before that, we thought that IBM was forever. We were thinking: I'm going to spend the rest of my life, this technology's going to advance, and it's just going to be (in a robotic voice) 'I.B.M. I.B.M. I.B.M. Mainframes.' And then, the Trojan Horse and the magic bullet. Bill Gates is . . . Flynn. Tron was the combination of those two, Gates and his software, that went into the MCP and rewrote the program. And, like fiction becoming fact, IBM came down."

Lisberger goes on to say that all of the Jungian elements of the movie are intentional, and refers to himself in the third person, so go figure. Nonetheless, John Lasseter, the director of Toy Story, credits Tron as being "the future of movies," and even included a Tron spoof in Toy Story 2.
Because Tron came out the same year as Star Wars film Return of the Jedi, it's often overlooked. But while Return of the Jedi boasted a more well developed script (long a criticism of Tron), this MonsterVision flick is '80s classic sci-fi that deserves more than a passing glance.

Tron's most significant contribution to film history is that it's credited with being one of the first computer-animated films ever made. Using a combination of backlit animation, rotoscope (the process of animating over live-action film that was used in Ralph Bakshi flicks like Lord of the Rings and Wizards)and computer-generated images, Tron was the first film to ever use entire sequences shot using CGI.

Other '80s nostalgia? Gratuitous neon and more than a few passing references to Pac Man pepper the world of Tron. The soundtrack was by everyone's favorite transsexual Moog musician, Wendy Carlos, with contributions from Journey (according to Roger Hodgson, Supertramp turned the gig down because they were "way too busy" - boy those were the days, weren't they?). And like other '80s leftovers, there's long been talk of a remake of Tron. For the last year, it's been speculated that Pixar Studios is working on a remake, but nothing official has been released as of yet. Warriors of Tron, a Saturday morning children's show, is supposed to pick up the gauntlet some time in 2000, but that remains to be seen as well.
In the meantime, sit back and enjoy this week's MonsterVision feature. Or face an imminent de-rezz.

Tron (1982)
July 29, 2000, repeated Tuesday night August 15 (after WarGames). Rating: TV-PG-V

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Sorry, I couldn't find the themesong for Disney movie Tron, but here's one for Disney's Electrical Parade if that helps

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