New York

“Tron”

Tron is another in the current crop of glossy tech movies. It is a cute and flashy piece of propaganda which argues for democratized access to computer technology. This scenario places it amid the “us versus them-isms,” that never-ending litany of unbalanced dualities which results in the classic narrative-film conventions of cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, and the good and the bad.

On the side of “good” are Alan and Lora (Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan), who are employees of a vast media conglomerate called Encom, and Flynn (the wonderfully heroic slob Jeff Bridges), a maverick whiz kid dismissed by the company after they handily appropriated his program for a successful video game, “Space Paranoids.” The three join forces to challenge corporate tyranny and to retrieve the data that proves Flynn’s authorship of the game. Their ignoble adversaries are Dillinger (David Warner), the diabolical boss, and the MCP (Master Control Plan), a throwback to the cranky HAL of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Things become a bit more complicated when the MCP vengefully deports Flynn to the interiors of computer space, where he continues to fight the good fight along with Tron and Yori (humanoids modeled after Alan and Lora. their programmers in the ‘outside world’). Of course after much visual razzle-dazzle and narrative confusion they are triumphant in their quest to liberate computer access. making the system available to the “users” and safe for democracy.

Much has been made of Tron’s techno-esthetic flourishes: it has been praised as the vehicle that unveils the visual power of computer “art.” But for those who have been watching television for the past five years, Tron’s choreography is not revelatory—just a vast improvement on an already familiar vocabulary. Computer graphics invaded the TV screen as a result of the major networks’ desires for more riveting aur-atic presentations of their numerical logos. This spawned a bevy of luxuriously enhanced twos, fours, and sevens floating in space, positioned by furiously manipulative grids and winking occasional sparks of light. These corporate numerals loitering in a never-never land of questionable distances are Tron’s visual turf, along with the aggressions of the video arcade and the techniques of conventional film animation. After all, this is a Walt Disney production.

The change in scale from video to film multiplies the power of these graphic orchestrations, of course, but they are overexposed in Tron. What is dazzling in a 30-second TV spot becomes excruciatingly rote after nearly two hours of frantic exhibitionism. This is not to say there isn’t a place in contemporary film production for the stunning proclivities of computer art, but merely that these motifs should demand the same intelligent usage as astute dialogue and virtuoso live-action cinematography. And further misfortune couples these overdone “state-of-the-art” accomplishments with some of the most foolish costuming this side of Halloween. The results look like an updated version of Buck Rogers, with the humanoids traipsing around computer space in little leotards, like archaic cartoon remnants of an imperfect “real world.” Nevertheless, Tron’s confused but sometimes interesting liberal-propaganda scenario does sport four or five lines of intelligent dialogue. Hopefully Lisberger will take note: successful propaganda economically extracts the heart of the matter from an embarrassment of riches.

Barbara Kruger