Steven Lisberger’s 1982 cult Science Fiction adventure, TRON, is a fun exercise in visual storytelling. It is the fantastic tale of a man who is beamed into the electronic world of the computer, where he is forced to survive against the villainous Master Control Program by playing video games against other enslaved programs. On the level of the computer world, the programs look like people with glowing circuit covered tracksuits and helmets. Lisberger was aiming to make a searching statement about the spiritual relationship between humans and the machines we create. By employing the most state of the art computer generated and hand-rotoscoped animation techniques of its day, TRON explored the theme of the interpenetration of the human spirit with our technology. Something of us is in each program we create, but conversely, our technology reaches out to transform and shape the society we live in, and the individuals who make it up.
Although it suffers from shallow plotting and occasionally juvenile dialogue, TRON is buoyed by a charismatic leading performance from Jeff Bridges, and most of all, from a clever design sense that pervaded the art direction in both the “computer” and “real world” scenes. Since it was Lisberger’s goal to demonstrate the ways in which these realms influence each other, he employed the Wizard of Oz scheme of casting actors to play parallel roles in both settings. The fantastic score by Wendy Carlos reinforced the permeated duality of technology and humanity through a deft blending of synthesized and acoustic sounds in the orchestration. Lisberger also made use of visual cues to demonstrate the connection in a visual, cinematic fashion. In fact, Lisberger used strikingly similar imagery to another film from 1982, Godfred Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi, (translated as “life out of balance”) in a genre adventure rather than in an expreimental documentary. But TRON‘s ambitious visual sensibility is often the equal of anything from Reggio’s acclaimed “Qatsi trilogy.” TRON was released in a year which also included Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and E.T. the Extraterrestrial, and has certainly suffered in comparison with those genre masterpieces. Nevertheless, I think some tribute should be paid to the extraordinary visual artistry with which Lisberger’s team managed to integrate backlit mattes, rotoscoping, traditional effects animation, at least 3 incompatible computer graphics design systems, live action, traditional painted mattes, and in-camera effects, to bring to life the futuristic designs of artists like Moebius and Syd Mead.
This post is belatedly submitted for Blog of the Darned’s Blogathon from Another World. be sure to check out all the other Sci-fi posts from the Blogathon hosted by Chris Sturhann!