Watched Jul 09, 1982
Dave Cobb’s review:
"FIVE stars? What is he THINKING?"
When TRON came out in 1982, I was twelve and saw it three times opening day, in between bouts of dropping quarters into the TRON game at the nearby arcade.
Even though I'd been inducted into my love of sci-fi film by the likes of Lucas and Roddenberry and Kubrick, it was actually Lisberger and Bridges and Boxleitner who conjured up for me a new world that, for the first time, really felt like mine, like it was meant for my generation specifically. Seeing these glowing videogame worlds that my nascent digital generation were heretofore exploring solely on tiny TV monitors suddenly expanded to epic movie-screen-size, populated by living, breathing characters, absolutely blew my adolescent little mind. I took TRON as my own and imprinted on it *hard*.
As an adult, I'm still charmed by TRON, warts and all -- its goofy existentialism, the strange geometric allure of its chilly, glowing aesthetic, the breezy chemistry between the leads, the silly-yet-earnest script that's embedded with nerdy dialogue and puns ("oh, my user!").
Of course, there's the computer graphics, and we wouldn't have the modern CGI-based film industry without TRON. Amazingly, its computer-generated visuals were animated via hand calculations -- no graphical WYSIWYG interfaces in 1982, so each frame was figured out through numbers on graph paper (!).
In truth, there's only about fifteen minutes of actual computer-generated imagery in the film. Most of TRON's world (the glowing costumes, the "sets" of the computer world behind the actors) was created through painstakingly hand-painted backgrounds & back-lit cel animation -- all made even more difficult by the fact that it was done in 70mm. Seemingly waved-off by modern audiences, it's a technique that was both first of its kind and also hasn't been used since -- they basically produced the film twice, once on sound stages with cameras, and a second time on animation stands... all in 70mm. There are a myriad of production techniques that were mind-bogglingly difficult in the production of TRON, and computer-generated imagery is only *one* of them.
I fully admit that this is one of the biggest reasons I still adore the film -- it's staggering that a major studio would have funded such a wacky, experimental effort. It's like seeing a Unicorn: sometimes corny and campy, for sure, but a rare marvel and beautiful to look at nonetheless.
Critics, the adult movie-going public, and my parents might not have understood TRON at the time, but I didn’t care. I was twelve, lived a block from an arcade, and my world was about playing Atari & Intellivision and learning to program my Commodore64 – so TRON hit me square between the eyes, and was the first time I really felt a movie had been made specifically for me.