There’s a computer hacker named Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges). He wants to locate something that is in the software mainframe of a company called ENCOM, which is run by Ed Dillinger (David Warner), but is really run by the computer software called the Master Control Program (MCP). It turns out, Dillinger holds less power than the program he created. Flynn writes a program to locate what he wants, but it ends up failing and being captured by the MCP. So begins Tron.
Eventually, Flynn gets two of his friends to break him into ENCOM so he can his data. It turns out, he wrote five video games while he was working for ENCOM, but once Dillinger found out, the games were stolen and Flynn was fired. Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora (Cindy Morgan) are the friends that aid in this break-in, although we don’t spend much time in the real world. See, Lora has been working on a laser that can transport people into the computer world. MCP, recognizing Flynn as a threat, activates the laser which is conveniently behind the seat that he’s sitting on, and takes him as prisoner in this digital world.
So we have a villain in MCP, and we have a hero in Flynn. What else do we need? Well, people to help the hero would be nice. Programs created by Alan and Lora (played by the same actors, too) end up serving this purpose. Alan’s program is called “Tron,” which shows us where the title comes from, while Lora’s is called “Yori,” who shows up part-way through without any prior information about her and helps for whatever reason you want to come up with. All of the programs in the film look and act like humans, save for MCP which we only see on screens until the final scene inside the computer world, where it appears as a giant spinning face/tornado.
Long story made short, Flynn, Tron and Yori have to through a series of sequences in hopes that they’ll be able to defeat the big boss. They end up with more reasons than just obtaining Flynn’s proof, such as saving the world of the computers from a dictator like MCP, but the reasons don’t matter a lot, nor are they given much time. We mostly just race (sometimes literally) from action scene to action scene, not spending much time on either the plot or the characters. This is an adventure film that expects you know how adventure films work.
It also expects you to know a lot about computers. There’s a lot of jargon that, back when it came out in 1982, probably wouldn’t have been understood by a lot of the audience. Even now, some of the dialogue used might be not be commonplace for some of the audience. This doesn’t make it a bad film, but I can see some viewers not wanting to sit through listening to things they don’t comprehend, because they’ll lose interest.
Possibly working in the film’s favor is that it doesn’t spend too much time on dialogue, like I mentioned earlier. Since most of the film is made up of action scenes and more action scenes, not understanding what characters are saying beyond “let’s beat MCP” rarely becomes a problem. There are a couple of things that they need to do before the final confrontation, but those end up being menial tasks like “let’s go to this place” or “let’s not get crushed by the giant robot things that are trying to kill us.” They just need to do whatever they can to survive.
The elephant in the room here is the visual design of Tron. Since most of the film takes place in what’s supposed to be the inside of the computer, it’s obviously not going to look exactly like the outside world. Or maybe it would — I’ve never been transferred into data and put inside of a computer system. I doubt you have either, nor has anyone else. The filmmakers could basically do whatever they want in representing this. What ended up happening was that computer animation was used extensively. Other scenes were simply colored in post-production. The look we get is unique, and I actually didn’t have any problem with how it aged; after all, I’m not going to say that the inside of a computer system didn’t look like that in 1982.
I will say, though, that there are times when you can really tell that the special effects are very dated. Things like a light cycle (think motorcycle with a trail of light following behind it that stays on the track like a wall) race or when we take control of one of the machines that are constantly getting in the way of Flynn’s quest look very blocky and you can easily tell that they’re CGI. But, like I said earlier, maybe that’s what the inside of this system would look like. It didn’t bother me all that much, but like the computer jargon, I can see it turning off some audience members. However, occasionally, the colorization with a blend of animation and real life, meant that it was sometimes difficult to tell who was who.
Tron ends up working quite well, although to get full enjoyment out of it, you’ll need to be okay with computer jargon, dated visuals and a lack of focus on the plot and characters. I was, for the most part, and ended up with an enjoyable adventure film about a man in a strange world who needs to save the day. It’s not a perfect film, but I can definitely see how it became a cult classic and why it has incredibly devoted fans. I enjoyed it, and if you’re a fan of video games, know a little bit about computers or like adventure films, you’ll probably have a good time.