The Rear-View Mirror: TRON (1982)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Like Wargames a year later, TRON tried to get behind that new and slightly unsettling thing called computer. And the more fearful among us somehow thought that that machine would treat us the same way that the first picture cameras would treat us: they would steal bits of our souls. Not that we told anyone that we were afraid of them, but hey, if you get sucked into them (by ways not quite clear), then the frisbee of death would kill you. Or you would get erased. A whole new world of danger.

But it was also fun. Turns out, if you master the few simple rules of the neon world you’re stuck in, you could actually have an adventure and survive. It was like on the other side of the game booth, only much better because – total immersion! The whole cityscape looked like those horrible 80’s posters. It was like being trapped in a neon disco forever, not knowing if it was day or night outside – wherever outside was.

And TRON brought us Jeff Bridges, cool dude extraordinaire, much lauded in this blog and elsewhere. I did not yet know anything about The Last Picture Show or King Kong, and Starman was in the future. In TRON, Bridges’ Kevin Flynn was some kind of everyman, but still someone to look up to because he seemed to figure out how that weird world worked. I would have died in that bike race.

TRON looked weird when it came out, and now, 27 years later, it looks sort of twee. It hasn’t aged well, but that is its point: its sequel, TRON: Legacy (2010) is good, but it’s too slick to serve as proof that what we took to be the future had a lot of primary colors and lots of bleeps. TRON brings us one of those early digital worlds where movement is slower and danger is greater. It’s not yet the progress that the whole system seemed to promise, but it seemed to wait there, just beyond the next neural knot.

The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.

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