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25 Years Ago: The Best Genre Year Ever, Part II! Harry Remembers TRON!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here. I published the first article in this series a couple of weeks ago, and the reaction to it was pretty great. Nordling kicked it off with his look back at the summer of E.T., and I talked a bit about my preoccupation with getting around the ratings of movies as a 12-year-old movie geek. Of course, this was before I was a movie geek. It’s before I’d ever heard the term movie geek. Fandom was much lonelier when I was growing up. Sure, I had friends who were big fans of various things, but not everyone, and certainly the guys who were really movie crazy the same way I was were few and far between. At the age of 12, I was living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I felt like I was a million miles from all the things that I was interested in. I was a weird kid, already desperate to get closer to the way movies were made. I read everything I could get my hands on. I treated each new issue of STARLOG like homework, devouring it several times over until I could regurgitate the material within. I loved the coverage of the cinematographers, the production designers, the FX guys. I loved seeing behind the curtain. I wanted to know who helped create these amazing worlds I was seeing when I went to the theater. I remember reading about TRON and thinking it sounded like a big crazy hoax. Like there was no way they were really doing what they said they were doing. They said they were going to make a movie about a guy who gets sucked into a computer, and it was going to be like MARY POPPINS, but for the stuff inside the computer, all the animation... was going to be done by a computer! It just wasn’t possible. I was pretty nuts about video games, and I had seen what the best graphics at the time were like, and I was sure that in my infinite-12-year-old wisdom, I knew what the limitations of the computer were because of my time spent in an arcade. The first time I saw TRON, having already played the videogame and having already heard the score and having already memorized every still released, I wanted to make sure it was going to be the best. So I talked my parents into a trip to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, the only 70MM screen in the area. It was a giant single screen complex, designed to be part of the tourist attraction. And they typically booked event movies. Despite the presence of the hotel and the theater, the area around that part of downtown Chattanooga was, politely put, pretty shitty. Even so, my parents turned the day into an event, braving a trip a few blocks into the neighborhood for lunch at an Italian dive called Mom’s that was, according to my Dad, the best Italian food in the city. And afterwards, stuffed with a meatball sammich and ripe with hype, I pretty much lost my mind for the movie. More importantly, for the way the movie looked. It was 2001 for the videogame generation, and it rocked me. When I first started talking to Harry about doing this series, I knew I wanted Harry to be the one to write about TRON, and when he heard the premise for the articles, he immediately IM’d me back: “I get TRON, fucker.” He showed it at BNAT for a reason... he loooooooves this movie. Unabashedly and completely. He gets why this one felt so important that summer. He remembers... and that’s what this series is all about. So here’s Big Red hisself, tearing it up as only he can.
1982. That was the last year that I was wholly innocent. The last year my family was together. The last year that my friends were forever. My last full year in Austin, till college. It was the year Prince released 1999 and that year seemed forever away. It was the year that had me singing “Who Can It Be Now?” and referring to Australia as “The Land Down Under.” I was “Hungry Like a Wolf,” and Michael Jackson became one in his “Thriller” video. The world was just dealing out coolness left and right. There were new video game systems with wildly advancing graphics and David Letterman debuted on Late Night after Carson. It was the year KNIGHT RIDER, CHEERS and REMINGTON STEELE hit the air. It was the year STAR WARS officially hit Home Video. The year I read Stephen King’s DIFFERENT SEASONS and discovered Shawshank, Apt Pupil and The Body. It was also the year that blew my mind totally in theaters. When Drew asked me to write about 1982, I demanded to write about TRON. It wasn’t the best film of 1982, but to me... it was the one that most influenced the rest of my life. I was 10 years old when I saw TRON. 10. That’s an impossibly young age. I had been watching ROCKY III twice a day, right out of school that year. However, I’ll write about that, when I write up ROCKY III and FIRST BLOOD later. Just two weeks before TRON, BLADE RUNNER had blown my mind totally. That had been the first R-rated film I saw by myself. “Yes, I’m 18.” And the box office guy said, “Keep saying that kid!” I was a total arcade junkie at the time. My friends, Roland, Rylan, Josh and the kids I was in Cub Scouts with – all flooded the arcade. And there in the Gold Mine and/or Le Fun (R.I.P. to both) – had been this game TRON. The graphics seemed cool, the music was cooler. But when I read in STARLOG that it was to be a movie, I played with additional vigor. Now remember, this was 1982, the year that Q-BERT, DIG DUG, POLE POSITION and ZAXXON came out. At home my friends and I were playing STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK trying to get the force as often as possible so the walkers wouldn’t kill us. But TRON was special, it was a Video Game, that was going to become a movie… and in my life experience since – this was the only film that came in the wake of a game, that blew the game totally the fuck away. TRON, the movie made playing Video Games seem important. It hinted at the idea that somehow computers could talk to each other. More than that – it said that inside this connected universe of computers – our souls were seeking out like-minded souls and communicating. Not just that, but that inside that universe, there would be corporate powers, working to homogenize and incorporate programs into their giant Master Control Programs. And then there was TRON, a single program, by a guy with a handle… ALAN 1. And his “character” in this universe was named TRON. And he fought for all the users out there to break the corporate control that attempted to monopolize the free communication of ideas and concepts. This was a Frank Capra populist film with Disney animation and some of the earliest CG out there. It made Computers cool. It made Jeff Bridges cool. However, nothing was nearly as cool as Syd Mead and Moebius’ brilliant design for the TRON universe and the accompanying Wendy Carlos music. It spoke to me. “Little boy, this is the world of COMPUTERS!” That year at Robert E Lee Elementary, they introduced for the first time ever – a series of computers and began teaching us elementary BASIC programming. Other than a simple password program, and a Q&A program about Beans the Magical Fruit, I hadn’t seen much potential for Computers. However, right after TRON, I got my SuperPet with built in tape drive. I also began going to the public library looking for Programs to write. I became obsessed with trying to create and animate a computer stick figure, but my typing skills sucked and made the 14 pages of program impossible to input. But I kept at it. My parents somehow thought my interest in computers was a good thing. The movie made me and countless others dream about the possibilities of computers at a time where it was just next to impossible to get em to do anything cool. 1983’s WARGAMES was the follow-up film that made me realize that I could change my grades and book air flight with a computer and told me I could somehow hook a phone up to my computer and make it do something. But TRON was why I got my first computer. Why I wanted to do something cool with a computer. I wanted to play games at FLYNN’S, and I very much wanted a Light Cycle. And the idea that LOVE could exist in a computer. Well, it was an awesome thought. There’s a whole host of people that respect its history as a groundbreaking film in terms of its use and reliance on CG – but to me – that was the glitz that caught my eye, but it was the ideas the film put forth that really entrenched this film in my mind. The idea of a computer plane of existence is actually the least far fetched of any and all the fake universes. We each forge identities and resist the “MCP” of our choice. I have TRON shoes. I own a 16mm Scope print of TRON. And I’d kill for one of those original TRON discs. It’s a holy grail to me. I think it is amazing that Steve Lisburger hasn’t had Disney begging him to make a sequel to this film. Can you imagine FLYNN today? However, I kinda love that it’s a stand-alone film. It’s a piece of my childhood, one of the pieces that formed a part of my personality that may sometimes have me greet my friends as “programs” and doing Jeff Bridges impersonations and how many chats have I ended with “end of line”? There’s a part of me that imagines all of us “programs” online in glowy Moebius suits. It makes me smile. TRON is a geek’s geek film. It’s one of my faves!
Nicely done, Harry. Reading this made me go out and finally pick up the film on DVD, and I not only watched it, I watched the whole making-of documentary on the second disc. I think I’ve gotten a healthy shot of TRON nostalgia, and you really nailed all the things that made the film such a potent brainbender for a kid that summer, and also the reason the film remains a landmark moment in film technology and animation. Because I took so long putting up this second article, I’m going to be back this weekend with one more, in which Obi-Swan, my co-screenwriter, is going to talk about a film that was tremendously important to a smalltown Pennsylvania boy. I’ll also have my own reviews of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, REIGN OVER ME, and SHOOTER up by Friday morning, so I’ve got a lot to do, starting riiiiiiight... now!

Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

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