Friday, April 9, 2010

Watching Tron

So, I watched Tron today for the first time in a long while.

Tron's one of those movies (along with The Road Warrior, Star Wars, Taxi Driver and Conan the Barbarian) that I've seen so many times I can recite the dialogue from memory. It was also in the first batch of movies I ever rented when my family got our first Betamax back in 1983/84 (along with Swamp Thing and Night of the Living Dead.) So me and Tron have what film noir calls "a history."

There's a quaintness to Tron that I've always chalked up to Disney's inherent lack of cool. Along with The Black Hole and Watcher in the Woods, Tron is a fun film that just lacked the edge and vision of its contemporaries. All three were attempts at making "modern" films by a studio mired in its own history.

Watching Tron today, though, I saw something else bubbling beneath the surface of the film. Tron's lack of narrative vision makes it timeless (in it's own way) because it is totally unhinged from the cinematic fashions of its day. It wasn't made in a vacuum, but it's artistic relatives are much older than they ought to be, given the subject matter. To me, this makes the proto-cyberpunk story of life existing within computers all the more interesting.

Watching Tron, I was reminded of classic Hollywood films like March of the Wooden Soldiers, made when studios went balls to the wall when producing escapist fare. There's no trace of cynicism, detachment or condescension in March of the Wooden Soldiers, The Wizard of Oz, Universal's horror films or other fantasy films from those days. And I don't think it was innocence or naivety. Instead, it was a commitment to creating a world for the audience to enjoy for two hours, and cynicism would rightly be interpreted as hostility toward the audience. Camp can only be enjoyed from a place of privilege and is an utterly alien concept for many people. I doubt there are many people in Ethiopia who understand what "so bad it's good" means.

I think I came to respect this gee-whiz aspect of Tron today for the first time today. For example, I've always had a problem with the relationship between Alan Bradley and his avatar (if you'll pardon the expression) Tron. Bradley is not a very likable character and it's never clear why Lora dumped Flynn for this whiny, insecure dork.

But that's the cool thing about the movie: it doesn't underline its own story elements as though the audience is too dumb to keep up. Bradley is Clark Kent; Tron is Superman. They are two aspects of the same person and both barely have an inkling that the other exists. Their "secret identities" are only secret from each other.
Meanwhile, Flynn is a repressed adolescent who fights only for himself and seems to have no hidden depth. You might even say his representation of maturity - Clu - is an early victim of the story.

As a movie, Tron wants to be liked and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think its earnestness actually offsets some of the issues with the film. If something like the preposterous "grid bugs" scene popped up in one of The Mummy movies I'd have called bullshit. With Tron, though, it was just an honest attempt to squeeze one last idea into a film already bursting at the seams with ideas.

Below is a new trailer for Tron, edited with modern tastes and sensibilities in mind.


  1. Good analysis. Yeah, the earnestness really works in its favor. That said, seeing the riffed version is a real treat, getting a nice layer of cynicism slathered on top of it. Recommended viewing.

  2. There are just some movies I can't do that with ... I've been tempted a few times, but don't think some of my favorite movies could survive the Riff Trax treatment.


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