I rarely do listicles, in fact I abhor them. So the topic at hand will have to be something worth tapping on that numbered list button for. Disney’s TRON is worth it…
Released in theaters on July 9, 1982 (I wasn’t even six then!), TRON was an instant success with critics and raked in $4 million in its opening weekend. The problem, however, was it cost Disney $17 million to make, so the studio instantly saw it as a disappointment and kept it shelved for years since. TRON had since gained a cult following and is considered by many retrophiles as a modern-day classic. Without further ado, here are 32 facts, points, bits and opinions about TRON:
1. TRON was The Matrix before The Matrix.
I don’t say this enough to people who give The Matrix so much love, but TRON did it first. Technically, you can say that Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz did it earlier, the concept of a protagonist venturing into a fantasy world and bringing about changes that affect the outside world while meeting counterparts of real life characters along the way. Only thing is, like The Matrix, TRON utilized the computer to do so. The Matrix was a computer network run by sentient machines harvesting humans for electricity; TRON was a computer program resident in the ENCOM mainframe, which was run by a sentient machine (The Master Control Program). Plus… harp on the cheesy 80’s acting in TRON all you want, no one the likes of Keanu Reeves is there to deliver bland lines in the face of action.
2. Flynn’s was the best geek hangout ever designed.
Other than living in a comic book store (word to Edgar and Allan Frog), Being able to live in a loft above your very own arcade which featured a game that you designed as its main quarter-sucking attraction would be awesome. Two things about this… (a) in the late 70’s-early 80’s arcades drew crowds like nobody’s business & (b) with such a huge crowd at Flynn’s, I had to wonder why there wasn’t more security around, especially if the owner was living right upstairs and highly doubtful the daily take of quarters was being sent to the bank.
3. Every human character in TRON had a computer program counterpart.
Humans were referred to as “users” in the computer world of ENCOM mainframe. Alan Bradley was Tron, Dr. Laura Baines was Yori, Dr. Barnard Gibbs was Dumont, Ed Dillinger was Sark, the unnamed employee who bummed popcorn off of Alan was Ram, and Dillinger’s assistant Peter was Sark’s lieutenant. Even Flynn, who entered into the world of TRON as himself, was previously represented by Clu, who was derezzed at the beginning of the movie. The only prominent program without a known human counterpart was likely Crom, who died fighting Flynn on the game grid.
4. TRON was a Computing 101 course in movie form.
Between programs, users, mainframes, hacking and even deresolution, this film ushered in a lot of what became the computer age in film. Sure, we got to know HAL in 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but TRON got us inside the virtual guts of computer and to this day anytime I think of a bit, it’s that pyramid that grows spikes and yells out “YES!” or “NO!” to everything. Wargames, the next big computing flick, didn’t arrive until a year after TRON.
5. Identity discs were the multi-pass to awesome.
Even though it seemed rather stupid to carry your entire identity around strapped to your back (as pointed out in TRON: Legacy), the identity disc that programs had contained not just their code, but their access to games, light-cycles, tanks and that flying Recognizer monstrosity. Hell, TRON even used his disc at one point to communicate with his user Alan.
6. The games were deadlier than Mortal Kombat.
When Flynn is captured by the MCP’s goons, he is repurposed for the games (basically they give him red lighting instead of blue) and immediately thrown into a deadly version of Jai Alai! Sure, that, the disc battle and light-cycles arena were cool to watch, but these were survival games and programs were derezzed left and right! Apparently, this is what the MCP did to old programs, which is a cruel way to usher someone into retirement. Yeah, Disney was not playing around here.
7. Light-Cycles were THE SHIT!
If I saw TRON in theaters, I barely remember it, but I do vividly remember light-cycles. They came in different colors and left light trails which were deadly to crash into! They could turn on a dime because they operated on a graph-paper grid. And anyone with a disc can just immediately create one and start driving. I wanted one badly. When we got this movie on VHS, I immediately fast forwarded to the light-cycles part and watched over and over again. When there was a TRON light-cycles game at the arcade, I was there! In fact, to this day I still want a light-cycle. The redesign for TRON: Legacy was very cool, but hell, I’ll even take an original.
8. TRON wasn’t even the main character in his own movie!
This pissed me off as a kid, but I got over it. Why would you call the movie TRON when its all about some guy named Flynn who infiltrates ENCOM to recover his original program code? TRON was in the movie, sure, and had the coolest disc battle and light-cycle scenes, but he didn’t sacrifice himself at the end to destroy the MCP, that was Flynn. He got the girl, but only after she gave Flynn an obligatory Princess Leia-slobs-down-her-twin-brother style kiss. The movie needed more TRON, and this should have been an issue for TRON: Legacy but wasn’t… because light-cycles and Daft Punk.
9. Digitizing lasers look like they hurt
While trying to hack the ENCOM mainframe, Flynn was digitized by way of an experimental laser fired on him by the MCP. Earlier in the movie, that same laser was digitizing and reconfiguring an apple (foreshadowing), but when it happened to Flynn, we were treated to a pixel by pixel destruction of Flynn’s form. Look, in real life, you get hit with a laser, it’s burning a hole through your ass (see Real Genius), but this was both cool and a bit painful to watch at the same time.
10. Jeff Bridges is a fantastic actor
Yeah, this is pretty obvious, but he made Flynn a likeable character who you wanted to root for, if not punch in the arm. Bridges was funny, charismatic and most of all emotional on-screen. He was a hot shot who enjoyed playing around inside a digitized computer world that he basically designed, and we were all along for the ride. The man who eventually played The Dude in The Big Lebowski and one half of The Fabulous Baker Boys… hell… I’ll even throw in his role as the coach from Stick It! on here… showed his star power early on with this film.
11. TRON on CBS??! TRON is on CBS!!
After countless viewings of this movie, I knew the name Bruce Boxleitner, the actor who played TRON, and had it committed to memory. So when the 1983 CBS fall line-up announced a new show called Scarecrow and Mrs. King starring Boxleitner as Lee Stetson, the titular “Scarecrow”, I was all ready to watch every episode! Mind you, I was still at an age where Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood were my usual TV watching habits, so it was odd to see a kid just flip the channel to CBS, basically an old-folks’ network, to check for this show. Scarecrow ran from ’83-’87 and I watched my fair share of episodes, but it was mainly so I can see TRON on a weekly basis.
12. The guy who played Dillinger actually had three roles in TRON
David Warner played Ed Dillinger, the shady ENCOM executive who tries to have Flynn stopped. He also played his program counterpart Sark, who was MCP’s second in command. Finally, he is uncredited as the voice of the Master Control Program itself, so there were scenes where he was basically talking to… himself. That’s a lot of lines to memorize.
13. Recognizers were big-ass flying airships that were poorly designed
One of the vehicles in TRON that Flynn commandeers was designed by him and is first shown in his hit video game, featured at Flynn’s Arcade. It’s a huge as hell flying staple whose legs can shift around to squeeze through tight spaces (barely) and whose controls were more cumbersome than that trackball mouse that came with the Colecovision (hated that thing). Sure, it adds some humor to the scenes where Flynn’s trying to escape, but it just felt like a pain in the ass to watch and I did not want one of those, ever. They were seen again in TRON: Legacy and honestly, the long legs seem like wasted space.
14. Actress Cindy Morgan played Dr. Laura Baines & Yori, and she’s still hot.
15. The soundtrack to TRON was fantastic!
Sure, everyone was excited about Daft Punk providing the score and soundtrack for the 2010 sequel TRON: Legacy, however it was only because they knew Daft Punk could live up to the high bar set by Wendy Carlos and Annemarie Franklin. Carlos, considered a pioneer of electronic music, composed the music heard in TRON as well as the movies The Shining and A Clockwork Orange. The music was a mix of analog and digital synthesizers backed by performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It set the tone for many of the scenes in the movie and proved more than memorable. I still play my copy to this day. Check it out at Amazon.com.
16. Roger Ebert gave TRON four stars.
People give film critics a lot of crap, and sometimes rightfully so. But there have not been two more highly regarded film critics than the late Siskel and Ebert, co-hosts of the famous review show At the Movies. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars, stating that TRON was “a dazzling movie from Walt Disney in which computers have been used to make themselves romantic and glamorous. Here’s a technological sound-and-light show that is sensational and brainy, stylish, and fun.”
For the full Siskel and Ebert review, watch the video here (jump to the 19:38 mark)
17. Of all the vehicles and toys in TRON, the Solar Sailer was the prettiest.
Just look at that thing…
18. Even though it eventually grossed a total of $33 million in North America and was widely acclaimed, TRON was considered a flop.
It cost Disney $17 million to make, so initially they had to write off a lot of their losses from the $4 million opening weekend. Over time, it made more money via home video/laserdisc sales and some merchandising, but for its time, it did worse than John Carter.
19. TRON sits at 70% among critics and audiences on RottenTomatoes.com
Many reviews touted it as a visually stunning masterpiece and I have to agree. TRON actually holds a higher score than its sequel, TRON: Legacy, which has a 51% critics rating and a 63% audience rating as of this post.
20. The light-tank was also stunning and can mess you up good.
Not as fast or as sleek as the light-cycle, and it can’t fly around like the recognizer, but the light-tank in TRON was a formidable machine that could crush anything in its path. Equally as punishing was its tank arrow, which was a digitized shell that when fired could derez any and all rebellious programs in the mainframe.
21. What the hell was Dumont wearing?
I mean, sure he was a Tower Guardian and had to protect the mainframe’s I/O tower, but did he really have to dress up like that?
22. Bruce Boxleitner is still TRON!
One of the coolest things about TRON is that the actor who played the titular character is committed to preserving his legacy. Similar to Kevin Conroy voicing Batman, no one else can fill TRON’s shoes than Bruce Boxleitner. He reprised his roles as Alan Bradley and as the voice of TRON (revealed to be Renzler) in 2010’s TRON: Legacy. He also voiced TRON in the short-lived but really awesome Disney XD animated series TRON: Uprising. He has also stated on numerous occasions that he’ll be back for the next TRON sequel, whenever that happens. Let’s hope Bruce is TRON forever. Follow him on twitter and tell him I said so.
23. TRON was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1983. It finally received one for Technical Achievement in 1995.
24. The movie was really about IP theft and industrial espionage.
The entire premise of TRON was that Ed Dillinger stole some of Kevin Flynn’s original programming code and wiped his authorship from it, taking credit for all of Flynn’s work. This led to Dillinger’s ascension as senior executive of ENCOM and to Flynn’s firing and subsequent slacker & hacker lifestyle. As the Dillinger-designed Master Control Program became sentient, it began to plot schemes of global domination by hacking into the mainframes of the Pentagon and the Kremlin and threatened to expose Dillinger for plagiarizing Flynn’s work. Flynn needs to hack the mainframe from inside ENCOM to expose Dillinger and find justice, so that’s where Alan, Laurie and the laser come in. At the end of TRON, after Flynn has danced across “the grid” and returned home, he’s the new CEO of ENCOM and can take helicopter rides everywhere. The end.
25. The Making of Tron (1982 documentary)
26. The Tron arcade game.
I once went to a cousin’s birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. Pizza, cake, toys, none of that meant a damn to me. I was in front of this machine the whole time…
Also, Discs of Tron…
In the near-final battle, Tron mortally wounds MCP’s second-in-command Sark. Because the Master Control Program is getting desperate and knows the end is near, he transfers powers to Sark and causes him to grow into a super-sized giant. This doesn’t stop Flynn from tossing his body into the beam and destroying the MCP, but a nice last ditch effort nonetheless.
Also, I want a Sark hoodie…
28. The programs’ suit colors were originally supposed to be yellow and blue.
In the movie, the good programs had blue circuitry, whereas the bad guys had red. The original plan would have had good programs wearing yellow and bad guys wearing blue. Probably wouldn’t have been as visually appealing, so it’s a good thing they changed it.
29. Tron was inspired by Pong.
Animator Steve Lisberger noticed a demo of Atari’s computer game Pong, which inspired him to create the universe of TRON.
30. Tron wasn’t all CGI.
Many of Tron’s stunning visuals were done using matte paintings and old school effects. The glowing circuits on the characters were hand-painted onto each frame of the film. This didn’t help them at the Academy Awards, as TRON lost out on visual effects awards because the Academy considered use of computers as cheating.
31. Tron had stiff competition at the box office in the summer of ’82.
Conan the Barbarian, Rocky III, Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Annie, Blade Runner, The Secret of NIMH and Zapped! were all in theaters that same summer. Oh, and not to mention Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Friday the 13th Part III, An Officer and a Gentleman and The Beastmaster. That summer was packed with hits.
32. “Now that is a big door!”
It sure is, Flynn… It sure is…