Whatever happened to Bruce Boxleitner? Find out inside...
We all have fond memories of films we saw as kids, and while reminiscing is a good thing, to return to those movies as an adult often results in disappointment. Too often the magic we remember is long gone; where Indiana Jones once ran along a tunnel flooding with a huge wall of water all we see now is a dodgy blue-screen effect, and all of a sudden men wrapped in tinfoil shooting laser beams that appear to travel at 40mph looks, well...crap. Returning to Steven Lisberger's iconic cult classic Tron, I had my doubts about clicking the 'buy' button to order my copy of the 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition. I practically hadn't seen it since I learned how to put my own tie on...what if I realised I hated it? Fortunately on arrival of the shiny 2-disc set my doubts were soon de-resolutioned. After firing up the old Apex the memories came flooding back quicker than you can say 'Reindeer Flotilla'.
Tron has the kind of plot that makes sense when you're ten, but reminds you how old you are when you hit your mid-twenties. For those of you who didn't know already (or who simply do not want to believe the Ultimate Truth), the real world is mirrored behind your computer screen where each of us as a real person (we're known as 'Users') has our own digital identity. There's some apparent reason for this which relates to us leaving traces behind in cyberspace every time we use a computer or something, but don't spend too much time picking holes in the logic of it. The upshot of this is we all get to wear funky glowing leotards and have names like 'Tron' and 'Clu'. Chances are I really am called Disko in there somewhere. I just hope my leotard isn't some gay colour like pink...
At the heart of this huge digital world is it's ultimate ruler; the nefarious MCP, or Master Control Program. No doubt this really does exist as a representation of the sum total of Microsoft's capitalist greed and corporate evil, but I digress. Like all powerful entities in these films, the MCP is awfully nasty to everyone, making these poor 'Programs' fight each other to the death if they show a belief in the outside existence of their Users. Meanwhile on the outside, disgruntled software engineer Flynn (a youthful Jeff Bridges) attempts to hack into the mainframe of his ex-employer in an effort to prove his hard graft had been stolen by a shady corporate lackey. Unfortunately for him, his ex-boss Ed Dillinger (David Warner) is really the MCP's contact with the outside world, and when he takes his hacking too far Flynn finds himself zapped into the mainframe to engage in mortal combat of the digital kind.
Now, obviously this will be sounding familiar to all of you up until this point. I myself am thoroughly fed up of having to work my way out of various systems whilst dodging the evil deeds of the MCP and still making it home before my tea gets cold. Unfortunately Tron becomes fantasy when the filmmakers decided that in escaping the digital realm, Flynn (or Clu as he is known in pixelated form) must fight alongside the advanced security program Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) to not only secure their own freedom, but also decide the fate of both worlds. Like, whatever. Come on Disney, you were doing well up until then.
Okay. I'm being a bit silly about this, and to be honest it's because I don't want people to know how much I love this film. You can practically see the script writers forging their ideas on the back of a cornflakes packet between games of Defender or Pong. Anyone who doesn't have an interest in games or wasn't still going 'Yuk!' when Harrison Ford kissed Kate Capshaw at the end of Temple of Doom will never admit to having watched this film, let alone liking it, yet Tron has much to recommend.
Of course the most noticeable legacy left behind is in the visuals. No mainstream film before or since has had quite the distinct look of Tron. Cutting edge for it's time, the movie's extensive use of largely experimental computer imagery is startling to this day, if no longer for it's complexity then certainly for it's bold originality. It's still quite breathtaking to view the movie from a standpoint of artistic interest, and for all he might like to think he is the Godfather of Digital Imagery (TM), George Lucas can take a flying f**k at a rolling doughnut, because Tron was using virtual sets twenty years before the bearded one farted and presented us with Episode 645. Jesus, the limit of Lucas' involvement with computers at this point was still to control cameras for multiple passes over scale models of X-Wings. But I digress. Too much Vitriol Juice with my dinner...
Yes, it's fair to say it's still a striking beast to look at. Listening to the commentary track and viewing the brand new 90 minute documentary (both on the SE DVD) it's interesting to note that a couple of the quirks that make it so unique actually came about by accident, such as the flickering of the program's monochromatic faces being a result of Kodak cocking up and delivering different grades of film stock. Whether by design or default, though, Tron remains as fresh to look at today as it would have been 20 years ago.
Of course, as I say, there's more to Tron than looks alone, and anyone who's seen it will tell you it's no slouch in the action department either. There are a lot of highlights, such as the deadly disc-throwing game where the loser is 'de-rezzed' to the coolest eight-bit sound effect ever. The film's most famous moment though is the legendary light-cycle sequence. Think Nokia Snake with multiple players and motorbikes instead of reptiles and you're almost there. It's a breathtaking scene even today, and you'll immediately want to have a go yourself. Of course, theOneliner.com will not be held responsible for injuries incurred in cyberspace, but for something a little safer point your browser at this link and say cheerio to your afternoon.
There are plenty of other moments to enjoy, but to list them would be to deprive you of the enjoyment of discovering them yourself. Suffice to say there's lots of exciting chase sequences, life-and-death battles between cyber gladiators, and even the standard love interest from Cindy Morgan as Lora/Yori (depending on which side of the screen she's inhabiting). Just don't go looking for some Freudian relationship between the two worlds or some deeper meaning to it all because there isn't any.
It's a shame only Bridges made any headway in Hollywood because everyone involved shares the same conviction, obviously aware that what they were involved in was so revolutionary, albeit not exactly in a dramatic sense. Unbelievably the last significant film appearance Boxleitner made was in 1992's Kuffs as Christian Slater's dad, but he's done quite nicely for himself playing Commander Sheridan in Babylon 5 for a wee while now so it's not like he disappeared below the radar completely.
If you're a twenty-something male who still hasn't seen this movie then shame on you. I'd challenge you to a light-cycle duel if I thought you were worth the effort. If you're a young lady whose partner is intent on forcing you to put up with all this boyish nonsense then chill out. You might be an arty-type and you can easily amuse yourself looking at all the pretty colours.
Before I ride off into a decidedly 8-bit sunset, I will leave you with the words of John Lasseter, head of Pixar, as quoted on the official Disney website:-
"Without Tron, there would be no Toy Story"
Craig Disko checks the high score table to see that Tron has completed five out of five levels.
DVD Notes:- The version reviewed is the 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition 2-DVD set. The remastered picture transfer is spot on, retaining all the grain and glitching intended whilst cleaning up all the scratches and marks that weren't. There's a director and crew commentary on the movie disc, and the auxiliary disc contains a truck-load of extras, top of which is a brand new 90 minute "The Making Of Tron" documentary. Also included are deleted scenes, photo galleries, storyboards and storyboard-to-film comparisons amongst other things. Special mention must go to the wonderful 'animated menus' which normally I hate being listed amongst extras, but here they really are superb.
Bruce Boxleitner (Alan Bradley/Tron)
David Warner (Ed Dillinger/Sark/MCP [voice])
Cindy Morgan (Lora/Yori)