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This came out in 1982, but I must not have seen it until at least a bit later in the 80s, on TV or whatever. Still, it's a movie of great nostalgic value to me, and I always liked it a lot. Um... looking at Wikipedia now, I don't see anything really negative about it, which surprises me a bit, because I think the movie's always had a bit of a stigma, like a lot of people thought it was really bad and it did poorly at the box office. (I think of one episode of The Simpsons where pretty much everyone denied ever having seen it. And an episode of Freakazoid! in which Fanboy defended the movie against its bad rep.) But while it wasn't a exactly hit, it did actually make a profit, and apparently did fairly well critically. And even if some people today might think the special effects aren't that great, at the time it was considered pretty groundbreaking. I guess a lot of critics were more impressed by the technology than by the story or anything, but personally I always liked the story and the characters, even if the premise was rather ridiculous. I still thought it was pretty cool and fun and amusing and exciting and a bit dark. So it didn't really matter that nothing about it made much sense. Also it had a good cast.
Anyway... the movie got a 20th anniversary DVD rerelease in 2002, and I thought about buying it, but as so often happens, I thought I'd have more time, and I didn't feel like I could spare $20 right away. Of course, it was soon discontinued, and for years after that, it was impossible to get unless you wanted to buy a copy someone was selling for a ridiculous amount of money. So I regretted not buying it when I had the chance. But then in 2010, a sequel, "TRON: Legacy," came out, and the original was released on DVD again in 2011, at the same time as the sequel's DVD. So I finally got it. (I didn't get a chance to see the sequel in theaters, and as much as I want to see it, I don't plan on doing so until I can get a 3-D home entertainment system.) In spite of buying the original movie in 2011, I didn't get around to watching it until 2013. Not sure when the last time I saw it was, maybe sometime in the 90s. So it's cool to finally watch it again. Um... and I still really like it, or as per my rating, kinda love it. I don't know if I'd rate it at that level if it came out now, but nostalgia pushes it over the top, from "liked" to "loved." But I think I'd still like it a lot even if it was totally new to me.
Well, as for the plot, I should say it was, apparently, set around the same time that it came out. But a large portion of the movie is actually set inside a computer system. Programs basically look like the people who wrote them, except they're in these weird suits that look like spandex, with glowing lines all over them. (The lines are conveniently color coded: the good guys are in blue, and the bad guys are reddish. Actually, much of the landscape has such glowing lines.) At the start of the movie, there's a program named Clu (Jeff Bridges, who also plays Kevin Flynn, the programmer who created Clu). Flynn is using Clu to hack into the system of a company called Encom, from which Flynn had been fired a few years ago. However, Clu fails, and gets de-rezzed (basically, killed). Not long after that, a programmer named Alan (Bruce Boxleitner), who still works for Encom, discovers he can't access the program he'd been working on, called Tron. He gets called to the office of a senior executive at Encom, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), who explains that everyone with level 7 clearance within the company have temporarily been shut out of the system, because someone was using that clearance to hack into the system. (Incidentally, the first time we see Dillinger, he arrives in a helicopter at night, with glowing lines on it just like in the virtual world, which I thought was neat.)
Alan, of course, is annoyed by this, and goes down to a laser lab within the company, where his girlfriend, Lora, is working on a project with another scientist named Walter Gibbs (Barnard Hughes). Basically, they're developing something a lot like the transporters from Star Trek. Anyway, Alan complains to Lora about losing access to Tron, and she figures the hacker must be Flynn (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend). She convinces Alan that they should go warn Flynn that Dillinger is onto him. Flynn now runs a video arcade, where he also happens to be the top scorer on at least one of the video games. He explains to Lora and Alan that three years ago, he had created several video games, but Dillinger had stolen his data, and claimed the games as his own. That led to him climbing the corporate ladder, eventually reaching his current position. Now, Flynn wants to find proof that he created the games himself, which is why all the hacking. So, Alan and Lora sneak Flynn into Encom, where Flynn can forge a level 6 access, and use a direct terminal to do his hacking. I'm, uh, not sure what Lora does while she waits, but Alan tries to contact Tron. However, Flynn gets zapped by the laser, and transformed into a program, himself.
See, there's this Master Control Program (voiced by Warner, though unlike the other programs in the movie, it doesn't really look like a person). It had been written by Dillinger, but since then has apparently absorbed lots of other programs, so it keeps getting more powerful. In fact, it's apparently been hacking into other corporations, but now it wants to start hacking into government facilities. And Dillinger can't control it anymore. (I gather the reason he doesn't just shut it down is because the MCP, which seems to have attained artificial intelligence status, threatens to reveal his theft of Flynn's games. And I'm also assuming the only reason the original file hasn't been deleted yet is because the MCP wanted to use it as leverage against Dillinger, though I don't feel this is stated quite explicitly enough.) Anyway, the MCP controls pretty much all computer access for Encom employees, and in the virtual world, it has become like a god. So it was the one who zapped Flynn. But rather than just de-rez him, MCP wants Flynn to compete in video games until he dies. (They're basically the same games from the arcade, but it's very different playing them from the inside, and potentially lethal.) Which I guess is ironic, potentially being killed by something you created yourself. I don't much like the idea of omnipotent A.I.s, but if they have to exist, at least it's nice that they can have a sense of irony.
But, Flynn meets Tron and another program named Ram, and the three of them escape from the game grid together. After awhile, Tron gets separated from Flynn and Ram. And Ram learns that Flynn is actually a user, which is what programs call the people who wrote them. (Users are like gods to them, and in fact MCP wants programs to stop believing that users even exist. So there's an interesting religious persecution angle to the story.) Anyway... um... eventually Flynn will have to go on without Ram. But he does meet a little thingamajig called Bit (which only says "yes" or "no"). It actually had belonged to Clu, and I think it now believes Flynn is Clu. (I always liked Bit, and watching the movie now, I'm kind of surprised how brief its time with Flynn actually was.) Meanwhile, Tron thinks Flynn and Ram are dead, so he carries on with his own mission, to reach an input/output tower, so he can communicate with Alan, who can finish his programming and give him the ability to delete MCP. Tron meets up with his friend Yori, who is Lora's program. She gets him to a tower guardian named Dumont (Gibbs's program), who can help him get access to Alan.
Gosh, I feel like I've said way too much already, but I also can't imagine how to explain the movie at all without saying all this stuff. And I haven't even mentioned Sark, yet! Sark is a program, also played by Warner, who basically is in command of everything, and is constantly trying to kill Flynn and Tron and anyone else who defies the MCP. Though he keeps failing, of course, so MCP keeps threatening him, which is a neat sort of parallel to MCP's relationship with Dillinger in the real world. Anyway, Flynn eventually reunites with Tron, and meets Yori, and everyone does their part to try to defeat the MCP. And uh, I think there are plenty of details I've actually left out. But the movie has a happy ending and it's all cool and stuff. So... I guess I'll shut up, now.