There’s a certain irony in the fact that the passage of time is usually pretty unkind to science fiction movies. For example, few, if any such movies made before the ‘digital revolution’ reflect the centrality of computers and mobile phones in our lives. The predicted future is often rapidly outstripped by the real future catching up with itself.
‘Tron’ was made by Disney in 1982 when video game ‘arcades’ were big news – well, they were in America, anyway. Seemingly, it never occurred to anyone involved with this movie that we might actually prefer to own this ‘fun’ ourselves rather than pumping cash into pub or arcade machines and that we might also prefer not to have to stand next to a load of nerdy, noisy teenagers whilst trying to outwit the alien space-fleet in Galaxians or one of those early games. In the end, we took the arcade home with us, plugged in to our TV or computer and left the teens behind.
The thing that got me about ‘Tron’ when I first saw it – and it’s still true nearly 30 years on – is how different it looked to anything else that was being released around that time. In the pre-CGI Dark Ages, the movie had a look all of its own, or at least it did once Jeff Bridges had been disassembled and sucked down into the world of the gaming grid by the ‘Master Control Programme’ that has the usual predictable ambitions of world domination. Skin tones are weirdly unnatural in the heart of the machine and the so are the inner landscapes of cyberspace, 1982 style.
There’s something immensely reassuring about any movie with Jeff Bridges in it. Over the years, his genial persona has lent its own special flavour to a fair number of good movies (‘Arlington Road’, ‘Starman’, ‘Winter Kills’) and two or three really great ones (‘The Big Lebowski’, ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and especially ‘The Fisher King’). In ‘Tron’, Bridges looks ludicrously youthful and plays his role like an over-enthusistic puppy. He’s joined by the intriguingly-named Bruce Boxleitner, the nubile Cindy Morgan and David Warner doing that sexually-repressed, hammy English villain thing that is often allocated to British character actors like Alan Rickman, Ian Holm or Warner himself.
Watching it again after a gap of at least 25 years, I can better see why it became a cult among science fiction fans of a certain age – not least because of the obsession with gaming and the possibility of being dragged through the screen into a world where it actually does matter if you win or lose the game. In some ways, ‘Tron’ has aged more gracefully than some of its contemporaries – the early ‘Star Wars’ films look a bit tatty, the ‘Star Trek’ movies with the original cast makes them all look like ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ in the 23rd Century; only the ‘Alien’ movies (and especially the first two) have really survived intact. After all, who’s to say that cyberspace isn’t full of boxy landscapes with infinite horizons? Only the virtual villain looks really dated; like a cylindrical version of Jabba the Hutt from ‘Star Wars’, but without his winning personality.
Anyway, ‘Tron‘ is back in the news as Disney have finally decided to make a sequel, to be called (for a reason or reasons that will hopefully become clear) ‘Tron Legacy’. Bridges and Boxleitner reprise their roles from the first movie, but Morgan doesn’t as the producers seem to have opted for drafting in a slightly newer variety of eye candy. Without wishing to lift the lid too much, the new movie apparently features Bridges’ son re-entering the virtual world to rescue his Dad. Bless.
‘Tron Legacy’ will be in a theatre near you around Christmas – and, with no apparent hint of irony, there will be at least one tie-in computer game.