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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Tron (1982)



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What makes Tron is its visuals. Movies with great visuals -- less common in 1982 than now -- can often provide a kind of visceral entertainment that makes up for a weak plot. Tron is exactly like that, but I would like to make a distinction between the visuals of a summer visual effects blockbuster and these. Tron is trippy and dazzling, sure, but they are more: they are art, in the best and strictest sense of the term. You can pretty much hit 'pause' at any random point after the first twenty minutes and see an image worthy of hanging on a wall in an art museum. They are composed of simple shapes and colors, but they way they are put together is beautiful and evocative, sort of like a weird cross between Dali and Escher.

These visuals do more than make up for the silly plot: they justify it. In a nutshell, it's about people who get zapped into a computer by a malicious program and navigate the perilous world inside to try to get out. There's a human villain, too, but he doesn't matter. The plot is a framework for the journey inside, which never ceases to be innovative and fascinating. The high point for me was a segment in the middle in which one of the human characters, disguised as a computer program (bear with me), is forced to play a series of video games to earn his continued survival. The games, particularly one played with cars on a grid, is dazzling and exciting, and I loved how some resourceful thinking turns the trial into an opportunity to escape.

Some movies make you think. Some movies make you feel. I credit any movie that can make me do either. I suspect the latter is more difficult to do in a new and original way, but Tron does just that. There is not another movie like it. It is sobering to think that just two years earlier or later, and Tron would not have been made. Its effectiveness depends so much on the level of technology it employs. Its enduring impact reminds us today that innovation isn't about employing new technology but about employing any technology in new and stimulating ways.

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