I first saw the original Tron at the house of my life-long best friend Chad Austin, the first time that we had a sleepover at his parents' house. We were nine years old in the summer of 1983. Tron came out in theaters the summer before but I hadn't seen it yet.
Well, Chad's family had a VCR. I'd never watched a movie from a VCR until that night. His dad rented Tron from Cobb TV and Stereo Barn (for the longest time the only place to rent movies from in Rockingham County).
And that was how I first saw Tron, more than 27 years ago. With Chad. And we were up all that night wondering if there might really be a whole 'nother world on the other side of the computer monitors. Later that summer my family got its first computer: a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A. I messed around with writing simple programs in BASIC. Each time, my pre-adolescent mind envisioning a digital doppleganger of myself being created in that other realm, the "World of Tron".
On the playground the kids already played at Star Wars. We soon began playing Tron too. It sure made games of dodge-ball more fun: envisioning that big rubber ball as being the ball in the ring game from the movie. Pretending to be Tron and Sark fighting each other.
And, Chad and I talked about what a sequel to Tron would be like. We talked about it a lot. I bet we came up with a zillion ideas for what a follow-up to Tron should have in it.
This has always been one of the movies that was most at the center of our friendship. And it was Chad who first suggested that when Tron Legacy came out, we should see it together.
That was supposed to have been last Sunday. And we would have caught it, were it not for the Christmas snowstorm that marooned both him in Raleigh and me in Reidsville with 6 inches of snow. We decided to take a raincheck (or a "snowcheck" as Chad put it). "Well we waited twenty-seven years to see this movie, we can wait a few more days I guess," I said.
We saw it yesterday, on New Years Eve, in 3-D on this new IMAX screen in Cary. During lunch Chad and I speculated on what it was we were about to behold. Would it be anything like the wild and heady notions we concocted for this movie in our youth? Would it hold up to the original? Would we be as delighted with seeing Tron Legacy as we had when we watched Tron together all those years ago?
Yes. Yes. And absolutely YES!!!
Sitting in that IMAX theater with the funky 3-D glasses, Chad and I were like a pair of nine-year olds all over again, oohing and ahhing and having our eyeballs assaulted with even crazier psychedelics than our kiddie minds ever envisioned. Quietly giggling over moments like when Sam (Garrett Hedlund) breaks into ENCOM through the very same "big door" that his father Flynn (Jeff Bridges) cracked open in 1982. Moments like that, when we turned to each other and smiled about the many sly nods to the original Tron...
...that made seeing Tron Legacy a cinematic experience that I already cherish as one of my all-time most wonderful.
Tron Legacy is a plenty strong movie on its own, and you don't have to have seen the original to enjoy it. But it does help to appreciate some of the nuances of Tron Legacy if you've seen the 1982 original.
(Speaking of which, where is that Blu-ray release of Tron, huh Disney? Did you forget that your company had a holiday tentpole movie that builds on a cult classic? Did somebody break into the Disney Vault and steal Tron?!)
The film begins in 1989, and Kevin Flynn telling his young son Sam about his adventures in the computer realm. We discover that Flynn returned to the Grid and built a new world, together with Tron (Bruce Boxleitner, who along with Bridges also returns from the original movie) and a recreated version of Flynn's original Clu program (also Bridges, in a dual role). Flynn cryptically mentions a "miracle" that he's discovered, but before he can tell Sam about it Flynn takes off into the night... and is never seen again.
The business world is rocked by Flynn's disappearance. A montage of news reports reveals that Flynn's behavior had grown increasingly bizarre since taking over at ENCOM: striking a messianic pose as he promised a "new world" within the computers.
In the present day, Sam Flynn is reluctant to take charge of his father's company (though that doesn't stop him from pulling pranks every year on ENCOM, including turning the company's latest operating system into a freeware download). Flynn's old friend Alan Bradley (Boxleitner) soon comes to Sam with the news that his pager got a call from Flynn's old arcade: a place that had been closed for twenty years. Alan tells Sam that just before he disappeared, Flynn confided that he about to "change everything".
Sam comes to Flynn's Arcade (faithfully recreated from the original film). Behind a Tron video game (the very same model that a bunch of us poured gallons of quarters into back in the day) he discovers a secret office. And as Sam tries to trace his father's last activity from more than twenty years before, a laser quietly powers up behind him...
So it is that Sam, at last, finds himself in the computer world that his father was zapped into almost thirty years before.
Tron Legacy is a dazzling, smart and beautiful update of the original movie's concept. But, I also found that it intelligently built upon something that a number of people have noted over the years: that Tron had quite a lot of religious metaphor in it, particularly some elements that were analogous to the Christian faith. The programs' belief in the users, Flynn's self-sacrifice for the computer world, even how Sark became an Anti-Christ figure in first film's final battle... it's funny because before we saw Tron Legacy, Chad brought up the religious angle during our lunch.
Tron Legacy is the natural progression from that as a religious film (and I do consider it and the original to be plenty religious in nature). Tron had Flynn come into the computer world and then acting to save it, knowing that he would probably die. In Tron Legacy Flynn - "the Creator" as he is known to the programs - is back in the computer realm as its god incarnate.
And then, as happens all too often in our real world, we see what religion is capable of doing in the name of its god: for the sake of perfection, for the sake of being faithful to God.
No more spoilers about the movie, but... let's just say that I was immensely satisfied and surprised at how well Tron Legacy builds upon the original film in every way possible: from design, to modern technology and its associated economics, to fodder for theological rumination. And, it is a gorgeous feast for the eyes and ears (the soundtrack by Daft Punk is already on my iPod).
And when the credits began rolling, and Chad and I took off our 3-D specs, we looked at each other and grinned. "Yes," we both agreed. It was a movie well worth waiting the better part of thirty years for.
I'm planning on catching Tron Legacy again at least one more time in theaters. I can't imagine how the regular 2-D version is going to disappoint, but if at all possible you owe it to yourself to see it in 3-D, either on a standard screen or on an IMAX one. Perhaps even more than Avatar a year ago, I wound up feeling sucked in and enveloped by the splendor and danger of Tron City by this film's use of 3-D.
Can't recommend this nearly enough, folks. Go see Tron Legacy. Even if you haven't had the pleasure of seeing the original, you're in for one heckuva ride!