The first video game movie?
Though it’s not based on an actual game, Tron is a remarkable transference of the gaming experience onto the big screen – and certainly a better one than most of the iterations we’ve seen since. Jeff Bridges plays a hacker who breaks into a rogue computer system. At first he does this technically, but then a laser zaps him directly into the system’s mainframe. Inside, he battles various nefarious “programs” in lethal Frisbee matches and auto races that resemble Tetris on wheels.
Directed by Steven Lisberger, Tron also is one of the first films to combine live action with computer-generated imagery. So it’s groundbreaking, to be sure, but it’s also good. While the standalone CGI animation is rudimentary, the scenes integrating the actors into the background have an eerie visual scheme that’s at once nerdy and trippy. The actors’ faces are drained of color, while neon streaks outline their costumes. It’s as if Fritz Lang had set Metropolis, his silent, science-fiction classic, in a disco.
Tron was initially derided as cold, and that’s a fair claim. The love triangle among Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan is awkward at best. Yet this technical artifact from the dawn of the CGI era is still enthralling. Watching it now, after CGI has gone on to swallow up the movies, you feel like a cinematic archaeologist.