Daily Obsession: Off the (Game) Grid

Let’s take another jaunt through my nascent childhood geekery, shall we?

(Oh, look I just lost half of you – no matter, this will just be between the rest of us the special people)

Back in 1982 Disney released a tale of corporate espionage in which a programmer (a young pre-Dude Jeff Bridges) has his code stolen from him by his boss and is fired when he tries to blow the whistle. He then goes searching for evidence in the company mainframe, finds it, and gets his boss fired.

…yeah, if I was Disney, I’d be looking to jazz that story up any way I could too. Lucky for them, this thing called CGI was just picking up steam.

Let’s try that synopsis again with the aid of computer graphics, shall we?

Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a wronged programmer who tries to hack into his former company’s mainframe for evidence to show he is the true owner of his stolen code. The mainframe fights back, digitizes him, and sucks him into a computerized city of neon light and pure code where he has to fight in futuristic gladiatorial combat, race against other programs on cycles of pure light, and fight the evil Master program who has slipped the shackles of his corrupt master and wants to destroy the world.

There. That’s better.

As you can see, there wasn’t a ton of actual story to justify TRON being the cult hit that it has become. What made people sit up and take notice in 1982 (and even now) was the visual style. I rewatched it recently and was amazed at how well it has stood up, even against the prevalent CGI in just about everything today from Avatar to Law & Order. When it was first used in movies, CGI was embarrasing, at best. Mostly because they were attempting to create “realistic” creations. TRON had no such restrictions. At the time, 3-D computer games were blocky, neon affairs, and so that’s the asthetic that the designers started with. Working with a limited palate, they put together a startilingly believable pastiche of video games and art deco elements to create something that was decidedly 80s, but timelessly modern at the same time.

Much like Avatar will for 3-D, TRON pioneered the way for much grander delves into CGI. The story is servicable, but is such vanilla pablum that it quickly fades into the background as we’re swept up in this world sprung from the confines of our server farms and desktop PCs.

With the sequel looming at the end of the year, I have to wonder if TRON can hold on to that retro-future vibe that made the original such a captivating outing. Sure, there’s all kinds of rumors about grand betrayals and lost programmers, but l really just want to get back to the mainframe and see if the light cycles still make those crazy 90-degree turns, if they can update the Game Grid in an era where we’ve created wholly believable universes in the interces of our electrons. Is it even possible to make a movie anymore that truly surpises it’s audience? That shows them something so undeniably unique, that they can’t chalk the experience up to yet another pop-culture mash-up (oh, it’s The Matrix meets Daft Punk)? TRON set off a revolution in movie-making that’s still rolling. It will be interesting to see if can survive in the landscape it created.

End of line.

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