In Defense of Tron
August 4, 2010
Lately I’ve had a couple of conversations that have gone something like this:
Me: OMG Tron sequel squee!
Antagonist: OMG Tron, that was such a stupid movie.
Me: Mer? *sniffle* But. . .why would you say that?
Antagonist: It just is.
I’m not entirely sure why the people who say Tron is stupid think it is. Is it the cheese factor? Cheesy story, cheesy costumes, whatever? I don’t think it’s any cheesier than, say, your average western. Story-wise, it’s kind of a buddy flick. Are the ideas silly? Someone getting sucked into the internet via superlaser? Is that any stupider than some kid living under the stairs getting an invite to wizard school?
Here are the reasons I think Tron is awesome:
- Tron has all the great cyberpunk tropes three years before the release of the cyberpunk Bible, Neuromancer. Rogue AI, visualization of cyberspace, hardcore hacking and netrunning, videogamers saving the world.
- It’s a classic heroic adventure well told.
- It imagines an entirely new and different visual world and executes it well.
- Seriously kick ass action sequences. There’s a reason the light cycles are part of the pop culture lexicon.
- It’s prescient in a way that most science fiction only wishes it could be. It came out in 1982, only a year after IBM signed a contract with Microsoft that would make it the dominant software company in the world, four years before Microsoft’s initial stock offering made Bill Gates a billionaire. Tron has ENCOM, a sinister software tech company that seems to be taking over the world. There’s one point where ENCOM’s greatest creation, the Master Control Program, gives a speech about how it envisions a fully networked world where it controls everything from finance to national defense. Listening to that speech now is downright spooky, because we’re there. And Tron posits this a decade before the popularization of the internet, years before the concept of Skynet in Terminator. Tron even pegs the future of working in IT: the endless cubicle farm that holds Alan’s office. Once again, years before the cubicle farm became a concept, much less a cliche. The filmmakers were keyed into the computer tech industry and nailed where it was going.
The truth of the matter is that the core idea of Tron works really well because it’s intuitive. Obvious, even. What if the video warriors in video games were, you know, actual warriors? Lots of games are player v. computer — what if we really were going up against a sentient, malevolent computer? Tron takes that fairly obvious idea and runs with it, and an impressively cohesive, awesome story results.
What I worry about with the new Tron movie: in 1982, computers and video games were still a strange and alien landscape, and the antagonistic relationship was powerful, foregrounded. Now, most of us have really impressive computers in our cell phones. The issues in Tron are still with us — we just don’t think about them anymore. And if you’re not worried about an all-powerful and pervasive computer network taking over the world — have you looked at your Facebook ToS lately?
See, in this day and age — the MCP won. I want to see Tron Legacy do something with that.