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 TerminatorTron 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.

18 Responses to “In Defense of Tron”

  1. Aunt Amelia Says:

    The pluses you give, and …. It had Bruce Boxlightner in it. Yes, there are still people around, who “had it bad” for Bruce. ,-) Anyone remember ‘Scarecrow And Mrs. King” on tv? Nahhhhh, didn’t think so. ,-)

    Anyway, just goes to show the range of readers you have, My Dear. 🙂

    And since I remember the above, I’m probably the oldest [& newest] fan of your “Voices Of Dragons.” Sooooooooo glad you are planning a sequel. Oh yes! Sooo glad.

    And now, I have to get to reading other things you’ve written!!!

    Gentle hugs…

  2. Andrew Says:

    Dang, I’m going to have to watch Tron again.

  3. Cathiag Says:

    Just did a Tron re-watch last month. Have not seen the movie since 1982, and enjoyed the re-watch. My teenage son did not understand my joy and thought the graphics were week :0). The currant concept that seemed to jump out at me was the topic of net neutrality.

    It was sorta scary how the writers pegged the future. They went so far as to have the company created out of a garage. Do you thing any of the writers were friends with Gates or Jobs?

  4. Mark Hibshman Says:

    Not to mention how Flynn comes in with his “user power” like a messiah to show the subjugated programs that they can rise above their oppressors, giving the film both political and religious overtones.

    I agree that the movie nailed the future. It’s something that my kids will never understand or appreciate about the film… that this movie PREDICTED all of this. If they watch it, they just think it’s a state-of-the-union type of thing and they think, “So?”

  5. Jakk Says:

    Easily one of the greatest Sci-Fi movies of the 80’s, which is more known for its unusual box office performance: The movie bombed at the box office, but with the release of the video game to arcades, more people wanted to see the movie…so Disney RE-released it and made back it’s production costs and then some.

    It was also one of the first movies with CGI, but the cost of said special effects were astronomical to say the least back then.

  6. Jared Says:

    I have no opinion about Tron (never saw it; not really my thing), but I definitely hate it when someone harshes someone else’s squee, so on that note you have my sympathies.


  7. I just saw TRON for the first time a couple of weeks ago and I really enjoyed the hell out of it, and admire it for many of the reasons you mention in this post. Looking forward to the sequel, but I am curious how things will change given the changing landscape of video games, computers, etc.

  8. David Bolack Says:

    First of all, fellow Squee-er.

    I find it fascinating at times that Tron and Wargames are still two of the better comp-sci sci-fi movies made, both fairly early in the computers as home-tools eras.

    Technology MacGuffins don’t always translate well to later generations – I remember the baffled faces on my 7th grade science class when the teacher explained the furvor over Sputnik when she was our age. Kids today don’t even grok spending the entire day in an Arcade….

    There is a class of movies that are always a product of their times and they just couldn’t be made in another decade. Can you imagine Weird Science or Ferris Buehller’s Day Off if made today? Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure? (Sadly, that last sequel will never happen…)

    Tron is a fantastic movie that simply cannot be enjoyed without the technological context it was produced in, or at least an ability to check out at the relative primitiveness of some of its CGI. Most of it holds up, IMO, just choice bits – like the grid bugs – fail.

  9. Ty Says:

    It is both cheesy AND awesome, as we discussed. I hope you’re not lumping me in with the cheese only crowd.

    The one thing it lacks, that makes your love for it a bit puzzling, is a female character that exists as anything other than eye candy/romantic interest.

    Does it get grandfathered in because you first saw it when you were fairly young?

  10. Alejandra Says:

    Dearest Carrie, I agree with most of the points you made. But! As a youngster who only recently watched Tron for the first time, I found it kind of boring (even though I was looking forward to the cheesiness!). I don’t know. Maybe it was just TOO good, TOO modern in its representation of technology. I can’t say for sure.

    And the commentator above me makes a good point – Tron was markedly lacking in strong female characters. Alas.

  11. carriev Says:

    To be fair, I like lots of movies that lack any decent women characters — Master and Commander, for one. It’s not something that’s a requirement, just something I comment on incessantly…

    I’d actually argue that Lori is pretty awesome, even though we don’t see her much. A glasses-wearing scientist, even. Not just eye candy, she’s the one who breaks them into the lab. Yori, her computer counterpart, is a bit of a wet dishrag. But Lori is very cool, I think.


  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by torforgeauthors, Adam Lipkin. Adam Lipkin said: Carrie Vaughn on why Tron — the original one, from 1982 — still matters: http://bit.ly/9w2CmS […]

  13. Cat Says:

    Ditto the Bruce Boxleitner love. Although as a guy, and slightly too young back in the Scarecrow days, I more love his role on Babylon-5.

    Carrie, I have to say, though, you’re missing something on the “cube farm in Tron”… cubicles have existed for a long time, although not always with walls. The massive secretarial pools in 9 to 5, for example, in 1980. And societal-like, since way back. It’s just been an efficient way to use space back when needing 5 copies meant five people banging on typewriters. Aesthetic? No.

    Tron and Wargames stand so well based on their story and characters, less the “high tech”. The technology is used, of course, but the stories focus on the human protagonists and their struggle over the gee-whiz computer bits.

    And light cycles… Parker Brothers Cycles of Melbourne, FL, (used to live there) are creating 5 working, running light cycles.
    http://singularityhub.com/2010/07/01/real-working-light-cycle-from-new-tron-movie-for-sale-on-ebay/

    Sadly, their website is being retooled, but they have an image including their light-cycle replicas.

  14. David Bowles Says:

    To me, Bruce Boxleitner will ALWAYS be captain Sheridan. Of course, Babylon 5 is my all time favorite sci-fi show, so I guess I’m biased there.

    I’m glad to see them bringing back both Boxleitner and Bridges for this movie.

    I agree with Carrie’s mostly positive review of Tron. It was probably TOO cerebral for the 1982 audience and I fear that the new movie will be dumbed down with a lot of mindless action for the ADD-riddled 2010 audiences.


  15. […] point I should have added to my defense of Tron:  The soundtrack is […]

  16. Rubymoon Says:

    I not only saw Tron in the theatre, but was lucky enough to have taken a Science Fiction class in which Tron was required viewing and analysis (as was Planet of the Apes.) Back then, there was a hope, an excitement and a caution that came along with these shows that I find lacking in the films of today. Tron was about humanity. I dearly love this film, and I’m a little worried about the new Tron- will it be all about FX and no story? Movies that have been released in the nineties and forward seem just a bit glib to me; a bit on the I’m-so-sophisticated/jaded, and more about the explosions and flash than they are about the stories and plot.

    I don’t know. Maybe I’m showing my age when I say that I miss the substance and the optimism- the sheer wonderment of it all, and I hope that they reach back and touch that connection with the upcoming Tron.

    I’ve got my fingers crossed.

  17. carriev Says:

    I think there’s a lot to be excited about in the new Tron previews — there’s a lot of detail paid to the earlier films, which shows me they’re paying attention. Things like “The Black Hole” movie poster in Sam’s room (in the original Tron, they used some left over props and costumes from The Black Hole for their screen tests). Also, Flynn’s arcade, the Encom sign. This shows me that they’re at least paying attention to the previous film, which makes me hope they realize what made that film so much fun.

  18. Rob Landley Says:

    It turns out, Tron is a sword and sorcery epic that casts geeks in the role of gods. And you wonder why we like it?

    http://landley.livejournal.com/6926.html


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