Viking Night: Tron
By Bruce Hall
August 31, 2010
Most consumers have no problem loving a huge budget blockbuster. Movies that are meant to appeal to the widest possible audience usually do just that. But some films have a narrower vision, or simply contain more complex meaning than meets the eye. They aren't always art, and they aren't always even very successful. But for a devoted and eccentric few, they're the best entertainment money can buy. Once, beginning with Erik the Viking, a group of dedicated irregulars gathered weekly in a dingy dorm room to watch these films and discuss how what pleases the few might also appeal to the many. Time has separated the others in those discussions so that I alone remain to ponder the wider significance of cult cinema. But while the room is cleaner and I no longer have to skip class to do it, I still think of my far off friends whenever I hold Viking Night.
With a sequel due to open this winter, you’re going to hear more and more people rhapsodizing about how much they've always loved Tron and have desperately looked forward to a second installment for years. I am here to tell you that nine out of ten times you hear someone say that, you will be listening to a lie. Tron is a film that was pioneering in many ways, from its obvious technical achievements to the fact that in a forward thinking move for the time, a promotional video game was released along with it. But upon its release it perplexed as many people as it impressed, and the arcade version of the movie was considerably more popular – and profitable - than its big brother. Though the film itself turned out to be a modest financial success, Disney considered it a disappointment and all but divorced it, even getting out of the live action movie business entirely for about a decade. Because of this, public awareness of Tron waned over the years and misperception of the film as a complete failure put off serious talk of a sequel until the turn of the century. And as much as the franchise’s devoted cult following would like to take credit for that it was more than likely a financial decision, and an ironic one at that. It was most likely the success of CGI driven extravaganzas like The Matrix that convinced Disney that they’d been on to something in the first place – had there been no Tron, Neo, Morpheus and Agent Smith might never have existed. So what IS the deal with Tron, and why should you care? Well lace up your Chuck Taylors, brush out your mullet and settle back into a bean bag. Allow me to take you back to a time when computers and the people who used them were little more than a curiosity, and the idea of using either to make a movie seemed completely ludicrous.
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a hot shot computer programmer, banished from the nefarious Encom Corporation for pressing the issue when a rival coder pirated his work and parlayed it into a promotion. Relegated to living in a loft over the video arcade he now owns, he spends his free time hacking into the Encom mainframe, trawling for the evidence that will clear his name. After he runs afoul of system security, two of his former coworkers drop by the arcade to warn Flynn that he’s now in danger. What’s worse, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora (Cindy Morgan) paint a bleak picture of Encom’s corporate culture since their friend was forced into exile. Flynn’s nemesis Ed Dillinger (David Warner) has become CEO of the company and is using the Master Control Program (MCP) he created to impose dictatorial authority over the other programmers, stifling creativity and innovation. It’s become a terrible place to work, and it quickly becomes clear to the trio that their interests overlap. If Flynn can prove that Dillinger is guilty of theft they can topple him from power, restoring Flynn’s good name and giving his colleagues back their freedom. To this end, they sneak Flynn back into the building and place him at a secure terminal where he can dig up the files he needs, but in doing so he attracts the attention of the infamous MCP. Dillinger’s pet program has outgrown its creator, evolving into a ruthlessly malevolent entity that runs the company with an iron fist and even harbors designs on world domination. Not eager to be upstaged by a mere human, the MCP uses a conveniently placed experimental laser to digitize Flynn into the mainframe, where it intends to gleefully torture and kill the one man who can stand in its way.