Released in the summer of 1982, the original Tron movie was initially overshadowed by the science fiction hits of the year, such as E.T. and Star Trek II., just to become a cult classic throughout the years. The story of the rebellious, young computer programmer, who gets transported into the digital world of a computer was ahead of its time, ahead of the age of the internet, the rise of the great tech companies on the west coast, ahead of Michael Crichton’s suspense books.
In the movie Kevin Flynn, who is a talented, free-spirited programmer of ENCOM, comes up with a few innovative video games, which are later stolen from him by another ENCOM employee, Edward Dillinger. Operating a video game arcade at daytime and trying to hack into the ENCOM system in order to prove the truth at night, Flynn soon receives help from two of his former co-workers. Suspicious of the new developments at ENCOM, the three of them break in to the office building to obtain the information that would reveal Dillinger’s actions – unaware of that Dillinger’s Master Control Program has been awake and that the malicious program with own artificial intelligence would do anything to keep its secrets.
Using a digitizing laser, the Master Control Program transports Flynn into the computer so that it could get rid of its rival on its own playground. But in the digital world Flynn meets Tron, a friendly security program and other video game warriors that believe in Users and are willing to fight against the tyrannical MCP. After numerous adventures, chases, battles and escapes Flynn and his new friends defeat the Master Control Program and free the system. Flynn returns into his own world with the proofs he was looking for and subsequently wins ENCOM.
Directed by Steven Lisberger, written by Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird, designed my Moebius and Syd Mead, with Wendy Carlos’ music, the first movie was groundbreaking in every possible aspect and introduced a world that has not been seen before. Filmed in black and white, before a black set, using extensive computer animation, the movie cels were shipped back and forth between the US and China, where the cels were manually painted and colored one by one. All these efforts resulted a film with scenery that was shown on the movie screen for the fist time. But the world was not ready: while the movie did deliver, it did not become a big hit and while it received Academy Award nominations for Best Costume and Best Sound, it would not get nominated for the best visual effects, because back in those days using computers was considered to be cheating. But the movie was the first of a kind, the beginning of a new era and the way computer animation was used in movies. It also put down the foundations for the Pixar studio. It was one of the early, great movies of Jeff Bridges, who is the only actor from the film who has risen to real stardom.
The novelization of the movie was written by Brian Daley.
Following the movie release Midway came out with a Tron arcade game, which made more money than the film did – upon the success a second arcade game, Discs of Tron was created soon after.
In 2003 a PC game called Tron 2.0 was released along with a comic book Tron: Ghost in the Machine. These sequels were loosely linked to the movie, however despite of the good reviews, the sales were disappointing and the storyline they have picked up, was generally forgotten and considered non-canon later.
The great return of the franchise came in 2010, when the second movie titled Tron: Legacy was released, along with the video game Tron: Evolution and the comic book Betrayal. The game and the comic book were both meant to cover and explain the events between the two movies. The Betrayal comic, that was introduced at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, was written by Jai Nitz and was drawn by Jeff Matsuda and Andie Tong.
From the game and the comic we learn that Kevin Flynn kept the secret of the digital world he had discovered in the first movie, for himself. Using the original digitizing laser he visits the computer world numerous times and builds an own system for himself. He becomes one of the greatest program developers and writes several successful books about programming. While ENCOM rises to the top with him, Flynn becomes more and more alienated and lonely, especially after his wife’s death. To take off some of the pressure from himself, Flynn creates a digital doppelganger of himself, named Clu and entrusts the program with creating the perfect system inside of the computer. In the beginning Flynn, Clu and Tron appear to be managing the new system with great success, but later the balance is broken by the sudden, unexplained appearance of intelligent isomorphic algorithms, the ISOs. The seemingly endless flow of new programs into the computer creates tension, and the unsolved issues lead to a break up between Clu and Flynn. During the fight Flynn runs out of time and gets trapped in his own system, while Tron’s fate remains unknown.
The greatly anticipated second movie was released in December, 2010. In the movie, that takes place 30 years after the events of the original film, ENCOM’s main shareholder is Sam, Kevin Flynn’s now adult son. Sam, a programmer himself, discovers the hidden computer room under his lost father’s closed gaming Arcade and gets transported to the Grid accidentally. There he meets Clu, who became the ruler of the digital world and tries to use Sam as a bait to lure Kevin Flynn out from his hiding place. Sam is saved from the Game Grid by a program named Quorra, who takes Sam to his father. After an awkward reunion a now aged Kevin Flynn tells his son about Clu’s revolt, Tron’s disappearance and the purge, that destroyed the ISOs. They are unable to come to an agreement about their further plans and Sam goes back to the city to meet a mysterious program, upon Quorra’s advice. He walks into a trap, from where he is saved by his father and Quorra. While on the way to the portal, the departure point from the system Quorra is revealed to be the last living ISO, who is meant to change the world and during an aerial battle Tron, who has spent the previous 20 years as Clu’s reprogrammed enforcer, saves their lives. Reaching their destination the trio confronts Clu once more and the duel ends with Sam and Quorra escaping from the Grid, while Kevin Flynn reintegrates with Clu.
The movie was a box office success. Directed by Joseph Kosinski, upon Edward Kitsis’ and Adam Horowitz’s screenplay, along with the suggestive music by Daft Punk, the movie did not outperform itself, but was a solid sequel and also a decent salute to the original movie. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Sound Editing and received many other acknowledgements. In the cast, next to Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner (who had played Tron and also Alan Bradley in the original movie) that have reprised their roles, we could see Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund, representing the young generation, with James Frain and Michael Sheen in supporting roles.
Most of Legacy was filmed in 3D and it raised the bar once again as per visuals. A clean design, dominated by dark structures and light lines was created as a more modern version of the original digital world – and Clu, Kevin Flynn’s young doppelganger was fully animated. Special light suits were designed for the actors, along with their individual identity discs; even though Legacy was a largely animated science fiction movie, much of the Grid and the Tron universe was actually built and physically existing.
In accordance to the movie, Disney released a great deal of merchandise, toys, identity discs and games. It was featured in Disney theme parks in Florida, California and in Europe, including the ElecTronica festival in Anaheim, which remained open for an extra year upon the positive response.
When Tron: Legacy came out on DVD, there was a short movie titled The Next Day in the extras, which is a follow up to the movie. It is much of a teaser for the coming sequel, but it also leaves the door open for any possible storyline they might pick up.
As a cult movie, Tron has a great deal of followers on the internet. Fan created merchandise is available, starting from the ‘Flynn lives’ t-shirts and clothing items to Legacy suits and discs (for and from cosplayers), toys, fanart, bracelets, necklaces, guerilla websites (www.encominternational.com for example) and there are hundreds of fanfictions available on the web.
In 2012 a book titled The Making of Tron was published by William Kallay, for the 30th anniversary of the first movie. On the 27th of October, 2012 the original Tron movie received an anniversary screening in the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, where the crew of the film also made an appearance, along with Bruce Boxleitner and dozens of Tron cosplayers. There were panels before the movie screening and after the movie the guests attended a party, where Tron collectibles and reliquie were on display, there was a costume contest, Tron arcade games available to play with and DJs were entertaining the people with electronic music and remixes.
Throughout the years the Tron universe and its characters were mentioned in countless other media products, such as the Simpsons, Once Upon a Time, The Goldbergs, Adventure Time, South Park, The Big Bang Theory and many more.