Monday, November 01, 2004

Movie: Tron (1982)

The failure of this movie, the TRS-80 version of THE MATRIX, ushered in the Eisner/Katzenberg era at Disney. At the time of its release, SF fans didn’t show it much respect. I was at a convention when a roll of 20 TRON lobby posters were put on the auction block as a joke. A friend of mine bid a quarter. There were no other offers. My friend was roundly booed as he went up to collect his prize.

That investment may have paid off handily, because TRON has gone on to develop a sizeable cult following. I had the opportunity to see the movie on the big screen again for the first time in 22 years at Seattle’s Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. The usher who took my ticket referred to the movie by its hip-hop name, T-Ron. Tell me that’s not a sign of street cred.

Hugo- and Nebula-winning author Greg Bear made a terrific host. He pointed out what a spectacular gamble the movie was, because it was attempting to convey cinematically concepts that the audience was then largely unfamiliar with. William Gibson had yet to coin the word ‘cyberspace,’ most people hadn’t used computers, and the internet was still in its nascent form. He also singled out the simplicity and elegance of the movie’s design. Director/co-writer Steven Lisberger knew exactly what the technology was capable of and built the visuals around those limitations. As a result, the film still holds up.

TRON remains a treat to look at, but it’s not exactly a classic in terms of storytelling. There’s a lot of ham-handed religious symbolism, and the script unwisely splits its focus between Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a real-world programmer who gets sucked inside a computer, and Bruce Boxleitner’s titular piece of code. Still, the play of ideas is intriguing, and David Warner plays multiple hissable roles.

The ending is essentially an endorsement of open source software. Which seemed odd, considering we were a stone’s throw from Microsoft HQ. If there were employees in the audience, they wisely held their tongues.

Miscellaneous: Links

Speaking of the internet, an archive of dotcom business plans is in the works. David Casstevens writes a wonderful article on the slow demise of the freak show. And courtesy of Liz Penn, here’s Bill Murray at his finest.