A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that in addition to its cutting-edge special effects, this Disney feature was also a pioneer as one of the Magic Kingdom's early PG-rated films. To seem more "mature" there's verbal acknowledgement of premarital sexual relations among the main characters (nothing shown) and very mild swearing. Violence and death are unrealistic (mostly dematerializations) but in one scene a software-based humanoid being tortured reveals a glowing skeleton; small children may be troubled by that and some of the menacing imagery associated with the villains. Religious households might note the spiritual undertone about religious persecution.
What's the story?
Unscrupulous computer magnate Dillinger (David Warner) financed his technology empire with a hit video game he shamelessly stole from fired programmer Flynn (Jeff Bridges), with the aid of a "virtual" partner in crime, an intelligent software called the MCP, or Master Control Program. The ambitious MCP, growing ever more powerful, now seeks to dominate the outside world as well. With the help of some friends left at the company, Flynn tries to break into the company mainframe for evidence of Dillinger's guilt. The MCP, however, uses an experimental laser to "digitize" Flynn, zapping the nuisance human right into the computer circuitry itself. Flynn finds himself in a fantastic electronic world, where glowing humanoids like himself -- the literal embodiments of computer software -- are forced to fight and die in video game-style tournaments as the ruthless MCP maintains its control.
Is it any good?
TRON offers mediocre sci-fi, but is agreeably kid-friendly, for the most part. It boasted revolutionary CGI special effects in the early 80s, although it probably will not impress modern kids. The basic premise is something out of The Flintstones: inside computers dwell little guys, who do tasks assigned to them as programs. For audiences of 1982, many of whom had never touched a keyboard or mouse, that seemed easier to accept than it might for later, PC-savvy generations.
As in many f/x spectacles, characters aren't too interesting. Flynn, as a mighty "user" incarnated as a fragile program (the unexpected Christian angle is one of the more inventive things about the predictable plot) wields ill-defined, demi-godlike powers. In other words, he's a cheat code. Though it failed to captivate viewers of all ages the way Star Wars or even 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea did, Tron maintained enough interest to generate a sequel a quarter-century later.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the advancements in computerized special effects since this film. Does Tron still impress kids visually?
On a deeper level, discuss the script's metaphor of computer-generated beings who are victimized for proclaiming their belief in `higher powers,' their own creators. That would tend to make the human Flynn -- a real, live programmer downloaded into the mainframe -- very much a Christ figure.
Note the very naive, unrealistic depiction of pre-Windows computer technology, and talk about other movies of the era (such as Superman III) that saw computers of the time as miraculous and almost magical (sci-fi movies of the 1930s held the same awe for radio and TV).
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