Tron is the mother of all geeky geek movies. Since its release this movie managed to gain a cult following which became so massive that Disney decided to finally milk the franchise for good (starting with Tron Legacy and/or the video games).
But is Tron really worth it and worth the praise? After re-watching Tron the cult classic is a mixed bag. It has some great stuff in it but it also contains one major if not horrible problem. That problem is called screenwriting.
Let me get straight to the point: why starts Tron the way it starts? What went wrong here? Just think about it: in the very first minutes we already see all of the amazingly cool stuff which could be called The Best of Tron. The light cycles, Sark’s ship, the MCP, the Recognizers, the tanks and so on. Everything’s there before the plot even starts to get moving or the main character gets established! For… for what reason exactly?
Why does Tron start on the wrong side of the screen?
The single reason for this mess is the fact that the production team created the movie outside in instead of inside out. In other words: they thought about the visual stuff first and character motivations etc. second. We can witness this in full glory in one documentary that outlines the whole production process. The Tron project started and evolved with an “energy man” the team refined and reworked.
It was all about the revolutionary graphics. Not once did they think about anything beyond that. And that’s the reason they decided to throw in all the cool visual action stuff in the very first minutes. They had nothing else.
Unfortunately, the end result is…sub-standard. What’s worse is that it takes more than 17 minutes until we meet our main character. Seventeen minutes. That level of forgetting something is almost on the same level as The Phantom Menace disaster where there’s no protagonist at all. But again, we can trace this all back to said production process.
So a lot happens at the beginning with a ton of exposition and action. Besides the problems mentioned above the horror intensifies even further because nothing’s shown through the eyes of Flynn. He’s just not there. Where is he? What’s he doing? Sure, many characters talk about Flynn and his attempts to break into the system. We learn much about the overall backstory. But he’s just not there, despite his minor role during the two minutes of Clu hacking into Encom’s systems.
Thanks to this writing we more or less learn more about everybody else to the most irrelevant minor characters than the main character himself. What’s worse, after thinking about it a little bit I realized that up to the end of Tron Flynn’s character never gets fleshed out at all and remains absolutely flat. His (family) background, his goals, his dreams? There’s nothing.
On the other side, the producers didn’t miss a single chance to create a movie which so very often makes no sense at all. Here’s one example: We know Flynn wants to break out of the computer and get back to reality. But how does he know that taking out the MCP will help him doing that? “Killing” a program ends it but it doesn’t make it take back any changes it made. And killing something as big s the MCP could also kill the whole system (Blue Screen of Death). Moreover, how does Tron know that getting to the MCP cannot be done without the help of his user Allan? Later on everything is about destroying the MCP although Tron at first said it’s only about getting to the MCP. But why is there a need for the disc to destroy the MCP? Why is Allan saving some stuff onto the disc? Wasn’t he almost finished with his program meaning that all the necessary algorithms were inside of Tron already? Oh, and wait: wasn’t Tron written to be some sort of observer to interfere when necessary? So how could a control program completely rewrite or delete another program?
Character motivations are another thing Tron’s not really good with. Flynn doesn’t seem to have his own agenda at all and simply follows the lead of others. Not once we see him thinking about his situation of being inside a computer and coming up with a plan to solve his problem. He goes from playing deadly games to drinking energy to flying a recognizer towards the input output tower to following Sark for no clear reason to the flight simulator to somehow reaching the MCP.
Basically it’s Flynn stumbling from one level to another until he’s reached the final boss. By the way, I’m still wondering how Flynn ended up at the simulator at the right moment in time. He was somewhere in one moment and suddenly he’s on the simulator in the other. You can trace this jump back to Flynn basically vanishing again from the plot for a very long time because they had to tell the subplot of Tron contacting Allan.
And what’s the deal with the lowest point in the plot of Tron? You might have heard already that in most movies the plot reaches a point where everything seems to be hopeless before the good guys win once and for all. Usually this happens some minutes before the end. The Matrix has Neo’s death; Star Wars has the death star approaching the rebel’s base.
I guess in Tron the lowest point is the moment at the end of the simulation sequence when Flynn and his friends get captured by Sark. I base this solely on the time alone because otherwise I have no idea if this moment really is the lowest point. Sure Flynn but it never feels he’s in any immediate danger or that everything is lost or hopeless. we remember: Flynn got captured a long time ago anyway and technically he’s still captured inside the computer. So what’s the big deal? The only guys in danger at that moment are some programs I don’t care about at all while the MCP has a plan I have no clue about. Sark doesn’t even try to kill Flynn or do something dangerous or evil. He’s just letting Flynn fall to his death or something because he destroys his own ship for no apparent reason. And let’s not forget Tron who’s still on the run at that point, going after the MCP. This moment is anything but a low point.
The plot is anything but good and if it were not for one massively good element at play I’d toss Tron into a corner and forget it forever. It might sound ridiculous to you but yes, there’s one thing I totally love Tron for and this is the mood a.k.a. the vibe a.k.a. the visual style.
Among some other things it’s especially the environment and the setting that create a mood which sets Tron apart from any other movie out there. This especially holds for the setting inside the computer with its minimalistic, dark and geometric shapes set in a seemingly endless and empty world engulfed by endless darkness. It’s a visual style and a mood I’ve never seen again. Perhaps it’s the contradictions that make the “Tron mood” so special: although the digital world feels endless we know it’s just inside a relatively small computer. Although the world is minimalistic the programs are detailed and glowing. Although there’s no sun we see something, yet we don’t see a light source. Seriously, no other movie ever managed to create such a mood as Tron did.
The amazing thing about all this is that the look gets better and better with each passing year. Just look at some of the more recent action movies which bombard us with details above details thanks to the latest computer technology. Although much of Tron was produced without the help of computational (non-)power the limitation set the visual standard for everything else. Therefore the producers had to go for a look that’s absolutely minimalistic. In 1982 it might have looked good already when Tron was released but now it looks absolutely gorgeous because of the reduction to the bare minimum. Modern movies shove more and more visual crap into the screen which in turn makes the look and feel of Tron more and more special. We’ll probably never get a movie again which is that minimalistic in its look and its seemingly endless universe it plays in.
It’s because of this special look and feel alone that I don’t call Tron a total disaster.
Tron is sporting an absolutely gorgeous look no other movie ever managed to achieve. Think of 300 with more bits. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the plot which is a chaotic mess that sometimes even forgets there is a main character. If you want to give Tron a try you can do it like me: ignore the plot as well as the characters completely and focus on the style. That always worked for me to not immediately go “Delete C:\Tron”.
Tron holds the record for giving us two of the most useless things ever: the floating bit-thingy (most useless “character” ever) and the spider-thingies popping out of the ground (most useless scene ever).
End of Line.