Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ode to Tron

I suppose I am embarrassed to admit it, but to this day, I still love watching Tron. Yes, it is a plot fit for a teenager, but unlike many films that fall along the wayside, this one I think deserves some ground breaking credit. First, it really was one of the first films to use computer animation extensively, and just that fact alone puts it on the map. What makes it still look so interesting even today is that the techniques used were a hodgepodge of several pioneering processes that were abandoned later for more flexible and less costly methods made possible by better computation speeds. Most of the animated sequences have a look and feel unlike anything seen before and after - a hybrid of live footage, hand drawn, and computer generated images and motion.

Another achievement for its time is the use of computer generated camera movement. This is completely the directors job which is ubiquitous in today's computer generated footage, but the camera work done in 1982 still stands on its own. Just check out the famous light bike sequence:

Another really significant point is the skill in which computer related concepts were translated into an analogous world in which a story could be weaved. Software is my profession and I can tell you that all the terms used in the 1982 film are still used today. Even in high school, I was able to suspend my credibility meter by simply telling myself that everything I was watching on the screen was a symbolic representation of what was actually happening within the bits and bytes of the computer system (ok, maybe not the "pet" bit that acted more like an intelligent program with binary output). If you do that, the story actually makes some sense. It's like watching a computer science allegory. I don't remember a better treatment of such concepts before The Matrix. I credit the writers with having the sense to know what computer concepts were fundamental enough to stand the test of time and the producers for not messing with it. There is not a single product reference (DOS, Windows, PC) or company reference (e.g. IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Maxtor, Intel) during the entire animated portion. Imagine the royalties Disney gave up! Then again, back in the 80's those companies were making money hand over foot so they probably weren't interested anyway.

Speaking of writers, I still can't believe this came out of the Magic Kingdom. The first attempt by Disney to put out a Sci-Fi offering was a huge flop called The Black Hole. This time they hired a guy named Steven Lisberger who both wrote and directed the film. Although they have done plenty of movies in space, I don't recall any serious sci-fi films from Disney since Tron. So I named this entry "Ode to Tron" because it was like a very unique thing that we may never see the likes of again.

After saying that, I just discovered that a sequel will be coming out this year called Tron: Legacy. After watching the trailers, I don't fear having to take back my statement. It looks like they took a dark angle a la Matrix. Part of the charm of Tron was its innocence so they are going to completely destroy that along with the unique look. The amazing thing is that it's not only being released again by Disney, but Lisberger is also coming back as producer and both Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleiter will be starring in it. I guess they will all go down with the ship. We'll see.

No comments:

Post a Comment