A world inside the computer where man has never been. Never before now...
Enter its world.
TRON: Videogame developer Kevin Flynn, trying to prove that a Corrupt Corporate Executive has stolen his videogame programs, is sucked into the digital world inside the computer, where anthropomorphic programs are consigned to fight for their lives in gladiatorial games. With the help of Tron, an independent security program, Flynn must try to destroy the evil Master Control Program from within, bringing liberty to the cyber realm, and find a way of returning himself to the real world.Sounds simple enough, right?Although computer-generated special effects had appeared in film as early as 1974, TRON (1982) marked the first time that computers were used to create something "real", rather than to just represent computer graphics (sort of "real", anyway, since the story takes place inside a computer). Ironically, a large portion of the special effects in TRON were actually hand-drawn; even the computer-generated objects and environments had to have their geometry entered by hand for every frame, since no practical method of automating the process existed at the time. In general, the light cycles, tanks, recognizers and the Solar Sail were CGI — however the huge amount of processing time required versus how much was available at the time required that they be rendered in black and white and hand-colored later.Despite its bold look and bolder ambitions, especially for Walt Disney Productions which was sinking further into irrelevance at that time, TRON was a commercial disappointment (it didn't lose money, but wasn't the hit they had intended it to be). The proven boxoffice poison that the Disney name was, for anything but outright kiddie stuff at the time, led to the creation of Touchstone Pictures two years later.To add insult to injury, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences considered it "cheating" to have used computers to create the special effects, resulting in the film not getting nominated for Best Special Effects. TRON's failure put CGI development on the back burner for years; while a few later productions made use of CGI elements (Young Sherlock Holmes, Flight of the Navigator and, most notably, The Last Starfighter), it would not be until 1989's The Abyss, and later 1991's Terminator 2: Judgement Day and 1993's megahit Jurassic Park, that computer-generated effects would become feasible in the eyes of Hollywood and the public. This development and the film's persistent cult fandom would cause the film to be popularly reevaluated as a bold experiment in computer visual effects. This was the only project in which legendary futurists Syd Mead and Moebius would collaborate (each working on different aspects of the cyberworld.)TRON appeared as a level in Kingdom Hearts II (the game director's admitted first choice for the series, but couldn't find a way to put it in the first game).TRON has spawned two (mutually exclusive) sequels, the 2003 video game TRON 2.0 (in which Alan and Lora's son Jethro is transported into the cyber-world) and the continuity consisting of the film TRON: Legacy and its tie-ins: (in order of publication) the graphic novel TRON: Betrayal, the video game TRON: Evolution, and the television series TRON: Uprising.
TRON provides examples of the following tropes:
Advancing Wall of Doom: Near the end of the movie, an energy wall slowly derezzes Sark's Carrier, and Flynn and Yori must escape it while being trapped onboard the carrier. Fortunately, Flynn shields them, so all that's left is a wire-frame carrier with a sole intact control panel. When Yori hops off the Carrier, it finally fades away.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Played straight with Master Control, who figures he can run things 800 to 1200 times better than any human; inverted with the free programs, who are being persecuted because they believe in the Users and want to continue serving them.
Aluminum Christmas Trees: The laser lab, the computer facility, and the ridiculously large security door were not sets and props, but an actual location, Lawrence Livermore Labs. Unfortunately, all of it has long since been replaced.* The hardware that replaced it can be seen as the USS Enterprise's warp core in Star Trek Into Darkness.
Androids Are People, Too: It never even seems to occur to Flynn to think of them otherwise. Though, it's Ram dying that really cements it.
And You Thought It Was a Game: Ram informs Flynn that he'll be forced to play video games. Flynn laughs it off, saying he plays those better than anyone. Unfortunately, those games turn out to be serious, lethal business.
Flynn: On the other side of the screen, they all look so easy!
And You Were There: The programs are all dead ringers for the people who wrote them: Clu for Flynn, Tron for Alan, Yori for Lora, Sark for Dillinger, Dumont for Gibbs... and, down at the level where you'd need freeze-frame to notice, Sark's henchman for Dillinger's PA and Ram for Alan's cubicle neighbor (Flynn Lives in TRON: Legacy gives his name as Roy). The MCP, a product of numerous man-hours by various people, has a geometric abstraction of a face, but when it falls apart at the end, the original core program can be briefly seen, and it has Gibbs's face.
Cyberspace: Trope Codifier. Had at least as much influence on how fiction portrays it as Neuromancer — and TRON was released two years beforeNeuromancer. However, William Gibson introduced the idea of cyberspace in his short story "Burning Chrome", which was published shortly before TRON was released (although after the film had been made). In fact, it was first published in an issue of Omni magazine that also had an article about the making of TRON.
Deadly Euphemism: Programs don't "die"; they "derez" (short for "deresolution"). Averted whenever Sark or the MCP talk to or about Flynn, for obvious reasons. Also averted by Yori speaking about Tron's supposed fate when Sark's Carrier rammed through the Solar Sailer.
Bit, despite only being able to say "yes" and "no".
Flynn: (while driving the recognizer) Pretty good driving, huh? (He crashes into several things) Bit: NO Flynn: Who asked you?
Kevin Flynn is a major snarker as well.
Flynn: I never should have written all those tank programs.
Flynn: Now that is a big door!
Dumont gets in a good one, too. While being tortured by Sark.
Dumont: What do you want? I'm busy!
Death Glare: Tron gives off a good one during his match, which was a bit of Enforced Method Acting. Lisberger was pissing Boxleitner off, challenging his acting, while Frisbees were being whipped at him. The final take had Tron catching the Frisbee behind his head and whipping it back - while glaring at his "opponent". He was actually glaring at Lisberger as a Take That.
Dramatic Pause: Ram gives a particularly good one when Flynn first meets him.
Ram: You're a... (pauses, thinks for a moment, stands up and walks over to the wall to lean against it while half-smirking) ... guest of the Master Control Program.
Dressing as the Enemy: Flynn turns himself red (but not evil) by absorbing the energy from one of Sark's warriors, derezzing him. He uses this disguise to blend in with Sark's other troops and approach the Solar Sailer. It almost fatally backfires on him when he charges more troopers boarding the Sailer, causing Tron and Yori to mistake him for an enemy boarder and almost push him to his death.
Expose the Villain, Get His Job: At the end of the movie, Flynn has Dillinger's old job as vice-president of Encom. More justified than some instances of the trope, since it probably wasn't just exposing Dillinger that got him the job: the work that got Dillinger the job in the first place was all really Flynn's.
Genre Motif: Wendy Carlos intentionally scored all scenes set in the real world only with orchestral music, saving the electronic music for cyberspace. (Daft Punk doesn't follow this convention in TRON: Legacy.)
Tron: If you are a User, then everything you've done has been according to a plan. Flynn: Heh heh, you wish! You guys know what it's like... you just keep doin' what it looks like you're supposed to be doin', no matter how crazy it seems. Tron: That's the way it is for programs, yes. Flynn: I hate to disappoint ya, pal, but most of the time, that's the way it is for Users, too. Tron:(amazed) Stranger and stranger.
Good Colors, Evil Colors: Blue denotes free programs, red is programs controlled by the system (in this case, the Big Bad MCP). The different colors of the light cycles is due to a change in the movie's script, where gold was good and blue was bad. CLU has the old color scheme of yellow, but this might be Justified as he was an infiltration program. However, considering what his successor became, it also works as accidental Foreshadowing. Gold/yellow was later retconned into being for independent programs. This is also the reason the insides of the tanks chasing the escaped light cycles, and the programs driving those tanks, are blue (actually more blue/green). The scenes were finished before the red=bad & blue=good edict was handed down.
Heroic Sacrifice: Flynn intends his jump into the beam to be this trope, but he is returned to the analog world instead. From the point of view of the programs, it doesn't make a difference that he ascended instead of derezzed. He's gone either way, and despite what they think, they really can't tell one User from another on the other end of the beam.
"I knew you'd escape. They haven't built a circuit that could hold you!"
Hollywood Hacking: One of the earliest instances of this trope in film. Arguably, Flynn's methods aren't too unrealistic compared to other examples. Sitting at Lora's terminal, he was getting ready to put the MCP into a logic loop so he could search for his file uninhibited. Had he not been sitting in front of the digitizing laser, he might have succeeded. Furthermore, Clu is an actual hacking program, albeit a custom one.
I Knew There Was Something About You: Ram figures out that there's something strange about Flynn from the beginning. When he's dying, he flat out asks Flynn "Are you a User?" Flynn's confirmation allows him to Go Out with a Smile, happy to not only be right in his suspicions, but knowing that the Users exist and one is there to help.
I Know Mortal Kombat: Flynn succeeds at the games inside the computer partly because he's so good at them outside. Justified in the novel by saying that he based the ones he wrote on real-life skills he was familiar with.
Indy Ploy: Flynn does not know what he's doing, and is clearly making it all up on the fly. He only survives the games because of what he knows about video games, and his User abilities are invoked only by guesswork and "this might work." Of course, the apple won't fall all that far from the tree.
Instant A.I., Just Add Water: The MCP started as a chess program, then various people gradually rewrote it to perform sysadmin duties on its own hardware. After this, it continued to gain intelligence by assimilating other programs' code into itself. That still doesn't explain why every other program seems to be an A.I. too, even when they don't need to be. Ram, for example, calculates insurance premiums, and Tron is basically just a firewall. May be a case of Science Marches On. There was a time not too many decades ago when the simple tasks of playing chess or recognizing speech commands was seen as the benchmark of intelligence. We now know actual intelligence consists of much more.
Last Kiss: Flynn kisses Yori just before his attempted Heroic Sacrifice.
What makes it unusual is that apparently in the computer world, kissing is completely unknown. When Yori kisses Tron, he's confused - but very happy.
Like Cannot Cut Like: Identity Discs normally block each other when used in combat. In the final battle, however, Tron's disc shatters Sark's disc, just before splitting his head apart.
Load-Bearing Boss: MCP's tower literally blows apart mere seconds after its resident is destroyed.
Logic Bomb: Flynn attempts to use this to hold off the MCP while searching for evidence. He ends up provoking the MCP into firing the Deep-Immersion Gaming Laser at him, which was for some reason conveniently positioned directly behind its control panel.
Flynn: How are you gonna run the universe if you can't answer a few unsolvable problems?
Love Triangle: Between Alan, Lora (and their program counterparts) and Flynn. Specifically, Flynn is Lora's ex and she's currently going out with Alan, though there's still a certain amount of attachment between them. As the programs resemble the Users who created them, this carries over into the computer world with Tron and Yori. (Some read Threesome Subtext into this- see YMMV.)
Man Child: Kevin Flynn, who seems to have regressed to this state after getting kicked out of his company. When we first see him, he's the owner of an arcade and wowing his teenage customers with his virtuoso game skills. His office overlooks the arcade, Lora (his ex) shouts in frustration "Now, you see why all his friends are fourteen years old!"
Mickey Mousing: Several instances, notably during Sark walking to the MCP core, where his footstep punctuations are actually in the score, not sound effects. According to the liner notes of the CD release of the soundtrack, composer Wendy Carlos actually used this much more in the original drafts of the score, but was requested to lessen it by the production staff.
Mr. Fanservice: Jeff Bridges as Flynn was quite the beast in his shirtless scene.
In an interesting case of What Could Have Been, the filmmakers originally wanted an actor who looked more like a stereotypical nerd, very thin and unremarkable in build, the kind of person people might expect to be a computer programmer (probably someone more like Bruce Boxleitner, who played Alan/Tron), not a big, rugged, manly man like Jeff Bridges.
Name Tron: According to Lisberger, TRON is a shortening of the word elecTRONic. He didn't learn until years later that there was a BASIC command that was also TRON (a debugging tool, short for "trace on"). note The computer graphics were calculated on a small mainframe, Digital Equipment Corporation model PDP-10. That 36-bit computer has a TRON instruction (Test Right half, set to Ones, skip if any were Nonzero). Trivia: the numeric value for that opcode, in octal, is 666.
Nerd Glasses: Alan Bradley's large and unflattering spectacles. Most of his co-workers too, actually. Apart from marking them as computer nerds, it helps keep them visually distinct from their electronic counterparts. They come across this way now, but were much less so when the film was made. Large-lensed glasses were quite common in the '80s.
Never Say "Die": Programs dying or being deleted is referred to as de-resolution, or "derezz" for short. This isn't consistent, however; there's a scene where Yori tells Dumont that Tron is dead.
Nice Hat: As is typical of costumes designed by Moebius. All programs wear helmets, but special mention goes to Dumont's hat, which resembles both a bishop's mitre and the abdomen of an insect. And, looking at how he sits on the ground, makes him look like a real sphinx.
No OSHA Compliance: The digitizing laser should have been constructed and installed in such away that it could never target anything that was outside of a clearly-marked danger area, let alone one of the computer terminals that control it.
No Plot? No Problem!: Deconstructed — the games played at Flynn's gaming hall are this trope in the physical world, but once you are inside the Grid you discover that these simple games are surrounded by all kinds of drama.
Off the Rails: A near-literal case in the lightcycle arena. Flynn sees the glitch on the wall and decides to make a run for it, escaping the arena. Ram and Tron think he's completely nuts, but that the idea's Crazy Enough to Work.
The Outside World: The real world in this film and TRON: Legacy. Programs are barely aware of its existence, except as a place where the nearly-mythical Users live, but some of them are anxious to break out of their computerized life and enter reality. The MCP in Tron is trying to use Dillinger to access more powerful systems, namely the Pentagon, and Clu 2.0 in Legacy actually wants to invade the real world to make it "perfect".
Pac Man Fever: Flynn's handheld. Justified, since this is the '80s. It's actually Coleco's "Electronic Quarterback" handheld game.
Recursive Canon: The TRON arcade game from the 1980s appears in both the Legacy and 2.0 continuities; the explanation is that Kevin Flynn created a game based on his adventures in the film, which was later published by Encom.
Schizo Tech: Sentient programs and a laser which can dematerialise (and digitise) objects which are straight out of The Future... and yet Flynn is still using an Apple III as a remote terminal, and there's even a teletype machine in the laser lab.
The MCP, despite being the height of "technology" in the game world, is shown to be just an old guy with what looks like a typewriter.
Tempting Fate: Invoked by the MCP when he tells Flynn, "You shouldn't have come back, Flynn."
Thank the Maker: The blue programs hold their Users in awe in a manner akin to worship; the red-tinted MCP denies the existence of the Users (publicly, anyway), claiming that nobody has ever seen one, and wants to establish rule over the computer system in which "liberated" programs no longer believe in something so archaic as Users. Thanks to the I/O nodes being turned off by the MCP, programs are reduced to faith. Sark does believe in Users, simply because he and the MCP are the only ones in direct contact with them.
Turned Against Their Masters. Yet again, the MCP, who intends to hack into the Pentagon and take control of the US's missile defense system, using it to force the world to obey.
Twenty Minutes into the Future: Implied. The inspiration is very much that of the contemporary computing and videogame revolution and the visuals heavily invoke such, yet several key technologies (sentient AIs, the digitising laser) are more advanced than 1982 could manage. The sequel would appear to subvert this trope, though.
Twirl of Love: Tron to Yori after he helped her off of Sark's derezzing ship.
Unbuilt Trope: TRON was cyberspace before cyberspace was invented. In fact, the digital world isn't referred to as "Cyberspace" at all; the creators seem to favor the term "Electronic World".
Undercrank: Just before the credits roll, the film becomes undercranked to show that the high-sped nighttime cityscape looked just like the computer world. This is done just after Flynn greets his friends, "Greetings, programs!" to hammer the point home.
Underlighting: Used to make the computer world glow. (Called "back-lit animation" by the development team.)
Unintentional Period Piece: The general look and feel of the computer world, meant to resemble the computer displays and games of the time (black backgrounds! semi-wireframe 3D graphics!), as well as the computer technology itself (command-line interfaces! teleprinters!) must have looked awfully cutting-edge and modern at the time. Now, it looks pretty retro.
Voice with an Internet Connection: Alan when he speaks to Tron in the I/O Tower. Justified, as Alan's dialogue is most likely words that he is typing into his computer's command prompt.
Also, Flynn giving Clu his orders near the start.
Watching the Sunset: The final shot of the film is the cityscape going from daylight to a neon-lit light scene that looks a lot like the digital world, almost saying that we are Not So Different.
What Happened to the Grid-Bugs?: Said Grid-Bugs appear once, briefly at the start of the Sea of Simulation sequence, and never again. Speculation is that they were included solely so that Midway could use them as an antagonist in the coin-op.
Dumont is one of the programs created by Walter Gibbs, one of Encom's founders:
Dumont: What do you want? I'm busy! Sark: Busy dying, you worn-out excuse for an old program? Dumont: Yes, I'm old... old enough to remember when the MCP was just a chess program. He started small and he'll end small!
In a similar conversation in the real world, Gibbs admits he sometimes wishes he was back in the garage where he started the company, years ago. Dillinger darkly replies, "That can be arranged, Walter."
Year Inside, Hour Outside. They kind of got this one right; computer processes are so fast that subjectively, the perception of time would be vastly different. Programs reference time in "microcycles" and "nanoseconds".
This carries over to the second movie; when Flynn's son Sam says it's been a long time since they last saw each other, Flynn says, "You have no idea."
You All Meet in a Cell: A rare, heroic (instead of anti-heroic) example. Ram's in the middle cell, Tron's on one side, Flynn gets thrown on the other side. The film's first scene is where the poor newbie Crom is tossed into prison.