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A Brief History of Tron

Tron Legacy, the sequel to the 1982 film Tron, is being released in December and anyone born in the last 10 years probably has no idea why. Looking at it from 2010, the film looks cheesy, boring and ugly.
So, to help put the film in context, I'll give a brief overview of why Tron is one of the best science-fiction films ever made.

The movie follows Kevin Flynn, a video game programmer played by Jeff Bridges, who is abducted to a surreal "world" inside computers where programs are people fighting in games. He joins "Tron", a security program played by Bruce Boxleitner, in his struggle to overthrow a dictatorial program known as MCP (Master Control Program), played by David Warner.

Let's look at the culture of the year 1982: Arcades were king at this time, because it was the only real way to enjoy video games. In the early 80s, an IBM personal computer cost about $4,995 ($10,662 in 2008 dollars). So back then, you could purchase a new car or get a PC. Game consoles, like the Atari 5200, were incredibly popular, but looked more like stick figures fighting.  If you wanted to play a popular game then you had to go to the arcade.

Movies about video games and computers, like Hackers or Matrix are common today, but in 1982 these films were unheard of. Even basic computer ideas like the character "Bit" that only responded with "Yes" and "No" - a parallel to the binary one and zero - left people scratching their heads. So, for many, it was an educational experience to understand the computer revolution occurring all around them

Finally, let's look at the special effects technology of the 1980s. Lucas' Star Wars was the pinnacle of movie effect technology, but CGI simply didn't exist in film at that time beyond simple wire-frame raster graphics. This was the first time that live-action and computer graphics were combined in a movie, and the effect was stunning. The 80s neon glow "computer world" effect was achieved by filming the live-action scenes in black-and-white using back-lit screen projection on black sets. This technique led to some of the stilted acting, since it was almost impossible for the actors to know what they were responding to.

The film single-handedly affected the way people think about computers, video games and the role of CGI in movies forever. All that in a film from twenty thirty years ago.

BONUS LINK: Steve Lisberger, Exclusive TRON (Disney) Interview

Do you care about the Tron remake? Let us know in the comments!

Update: Thanks to curemode for pointing out that Tron is almost thrity years old now!


  1. Great post Mauricem. Tron was an important step in filmmaking technology but was also a great metaphor for describing the relationship between users (or programmers) and programs at the time. As you've pointed out Tron was all about arcade games, corporate networks, hacking and security and was completely pre-Internet!

    For once I think there's a good reason for re-making Tron now - I'd like to think that a new Tron would reflect the way these relationships have developed post Internet and I will certainly see it.

    Of course there's a chance Tron will simply be a re-make with no new ideas but cooler lightcycles...

  2. Please join the facebook campaign for a starman sequel with jeff bridges (from Tron)


  3. @ScifiGene
    Thanks for visiting! It's nice to know that at least one person may have changed their mind about this awesome film. I'm hoping the movie takes it up a notch too. There's a line in the trailer that sends chills up my spine: "Not anymore." If you watch the trailer you'll know what I mean.

    @Brian Hansen
    Hmmm. Starman was an awesome film as well, but I doubt they'd make a sequel after the lame television show. Still, you never know.

  4. Nice retrospective. I showed the movie to my wife, and she thought it was absolutely crap. And I admit, the story wasn't that great (just a string of sequences that seemed designed to promote the inevitable videogame tie-in), the graphics are laughable by today's standards, and there are parts like the neon spandex that are kinda goofy. But it's hard to put our minds back to that time and put it in context. Back then, it was nothing less than groundbreaking. Like Scifi said, today a Tron movie could really explore computers in a way the original couldn't...and have the graphics to back it up.

  5. That is very cool curemode. I myself developed a lifelong love of computers from Tron. Nice to know I'm not the only one. You're right about the numbers, so I'll update them.

  6. I agree with everything you are saying and I am a huge fan who saw the movie in theaters in 1982 when I was 12. But you keep saying the movie was 20 years ago, when it was actually 28 years go (nearly 30 years) which makes it's effects and story even more impressive. This movie actually changed the course of my life and got me interested in computers as a career. I am a Computer Systems Analyst now and actually went to NYIT (where some of the TRON graphics were done). I also own an Original Tron arcade game and I still play it.

  7. I agree this was a mile stone movie. I remember seeing it in the movies 30 years ago. I recenty ordered it from net flicks to see it again. My daughter couldn't watch it because she found it hard to get through the special effects of that time. I guess cgi is so entrenched in our culture it can make or break films today. You had to be their when things were starting up in effects to appreciate it. I still think the story line was great. Their wouldn't be a legacy if it wasn't for Tron. Same way their wouldn't be a new point break if they didn't make the first one. Which I,m looking forward to seeing in December.


Thanks for commenting!.