This is what the future looked like to those born during the hippie craze. Poor souls. Had the future indeed turned out to be a grid-like structure which Jeff Bridges would zip around in an awful motorbike, then there are doubts over the possibilities of technology. Nobody would want anything to do with the digital era had it resembled anything close to the digital mainframes and dotted structures found here. But, that is the beauty of these pieces. There is a time capsule variety to the likes of Tron and Jonny Mnemonic that surely resonates with those that were alive to see them upon release. They were wowed by the cutting-edge special effects, which now look like they could be processed on stone-age equipment.
No doubt about it, there are moments within this film that look horrendous. They look like a 3DO game, and that was released a decade after Tron. Surely technology could advance further, and faster, than that. As a matter of capturing this time, though, director Steven Lisberger does particularly well to demonstrate his understanding of what all good science fiction needs. A collection of characters, differentiated only by the colours of their uniform, waging war on some particular, Power Rangers-looking villain set on either world domination or world destruction. There was little else to do in the 1980s, and it certainly killed time between Phil Collins’ album releases.
But beyond the timeline where Collins’ Hello I Must Be Going released quick enough to tide people over without having them try and make a film like Tron, there is little else we can do. We must sit and suffer from the supposed legacy of this ugly film. Even once we have jumped the hurdle of aesthetic displeasure, what they actually show is of no real interest or excitement. Jeff Bridges and company manage to keep a straight face, somehow. They probably thought this was their Star Wars. Who can blame them, really? There are all the makings of a strong sci-fi here, and there is certainly longevity to Tron. Longevity here is birthed more out of nostalgia than anything of quality, there is little to explore within the realm of cyberspace set out by Lisberger, and less still to be found in his script.
What Tron demonstrates is that there was a time back in the day where people would eat up anything that had the faintest whiff of futuristic credibility. Its pixellated torture drums up a handful of decent moments, but when piecing this all together, it’s another humdrum excitement vacuum. Bridges plays well with the dependability of the cyberspace he finds himself locked into, but there is only so much he can do. Are we meant to be amazed by the remorseless land of bikers and cars killing one another in the graphics card hellscape? Are we meant to fear it? What emotional response we are, exactly, meant to have to Lisberger and his direction is completely redundant. He riffs on those that came before him. Endless cubicles litter the land in a similar fashion to The Apartment with Jack Lemmon, but in Tron, it means nothing, is a brief visual gag, and adds nothing to the empty layers that make up this technological car crash.