Tron is a 1982 American science fiction action-adventure film written
and directed by Steven Lisberger, based on a story by Lisberger and
Bonnie MacBird and produced by Walt
Disney Productions. The film stars
Jeff Bridges as a computer programmer who is transported inside the
software world of a mainframe computer where he interacts with
programs in his attempt to escape. Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner,
Cindy Morgan, and
Barnard Hughes star in supporting roles.
Tron began in 1976 when Lisberger became intrigued with
the early video game Pong. He and producer
Donald Kushner set up an
animation studio to develop
Tron with the intention of making it an
animated film. Indeed, to promote the studio itself, Lisberger and his
team created a 30-second animation featuring the first appearance of
the eponymous character. Eventually, Lisberger decided to include
live-action elements with both backlit and computer animation for the
actual feature-length film. Various film studios had rejected the
storyboards for the film before Walt
Disney Studios agreed to finance
and distribute Tron. There, backlit animation was finally combined
with the computer animation and live action.
Tron was released on July 9, 1982 in 1,091 theaters in the United
States. The film was a moderate success at the box office, and
received positive reviews from critics who praised the groundbreaking
visuals and acting. However, the storyline was criticized at the time
for being incoherent.
Tron received nominations for Best Costume
Design and Best Sound at the 55th Academy Awards, and received the
Academy Award for Technical Achievement fourteen years later. Over
Tron developed into a cult film and eventually spawned a
franchise, which consists of multiple video games, comic books and an
animated television series. A sequel titled Tron: Legacy directed
Joseph Kosinski was released on December 17, 2010, with Bridges and
Boxleitner reprising their roles, and Lisberger acting as producer.
4.1 Box office
4.2 Critical response
4.3 Cultural effect
7 Home media
8.1 Tron: Uprising (TV Series)
8.2 Tron: Legacy
9 See also
11 External links
Kevin Flynn is a leading software engineer formerly employed by the
computer corporation ENCOM, who now runs a video arcade and attempts
to hack into ENCOM's mainframe system. However, ENCOM's Master Control
Program (MCP) halts his progress. Within ENCOM, programmer Alan
Bradley and his girlfriend, engineer Lora Baines, discover that the
MCP has closed off their access to projects. When Alan confronts the
senior executive vice president, Ed Dillinger, Dillinger claims that
the security measures are an effort to stop outside hacking attempts.
However, when Dillinger privately questions the MCP, he discovers the
MCP has expanded into a powerful virtual intelligence and has become
power-hungry, illegally appropriating personal, business, and
government programs to increase its own capabilities. The MCP
blackmails Dillinger with information about his plagiarizing Flynn's
games if he does not comply with its directives.
Lora deduces that Flynn is the hacker, and she and Alan go to his
arcade to warn him. Flynn reveals that he has been trying to locate
evidence proving Dillinger's plagiarism, which launched Dillinger's
rise in the company. Together, the three form a plan to break into
ENCOM and unlock Alan's "Tron" program, a self-governing security
measure designed to protect the system and counter the functions of
the MCP. Once inside ENCOM, the three split up and Flynn comes into
direct conflict with the MCP, communicating with his terminal. Before
Flynn can get the information he needs to reveal Dillinger's acts, the
MCP uses an experimental laser to digitize and download Flynn into the
ENCOM mainframe cyberspace called the Grid, where programs are living
entities appearing in the likeness of the human "Users" (programmers)
who created them.
Flynn learns that the MCP and its second-in-command, Sark, rule and
coerce programs to renounce their belief in the Users. The MCP forces
programs that resist to play in deadly games and begins pitting Flynn
in duels. Flynn meets other captured programs, Ram and Tron, between
matches. Partnered, the three escape into the mainframe during a light
cycle match, but Flynn and Ram become separated from
Tron by an MCP
pursuit party. While attempting to help Ram, who was wounded in the
pursuit, Flynn learns that he can manipulate portions of the grid by
accessing his programmer knowledge. Ram recognizes Flynn as a User and
encourages him to find
Tron and free the system before "derezzing"
(dying). Using his new ability, Flynn rebuilds a vehicle and disguises
himself as one of Sark's soldiers.
Tron enlists help from Yori, a sympathetic program, and at an I/O
tower, receives information in his identity disk from Alan necessary
to destroy the MCP. Flynn rejoins them, and the three board a hijacked
solar sailer to reach the MCP's core. However, Sark's command ship
destroys the sailer, capturing Flynn and Yori, and presumably killing
Tron. Sark leaves the command ship and orders its deresolution, but
Flynn keeps it intact by again manipulating the Grid, while Sark
reaches the MCP's core on a shuttle carrying captured programs. While
the MCP attempts to absorb captive programs, Tron, who turns out to
have survived, confronts Sark and critically injures him, prompting
the MCP to give him all its functions. Realizing that his ability to
manipulate the Grid might give
Tron an opening, Flynn leaps into the
beam of the MCP, distracting it. Seeing the break in the MCP's shield,
Tron attacks through the gap and destroys the MCP and Sark, ending the
MCP's control over the Grid, and allowing the captured programs to
communicate with users again.
Flynn reappears in the real world, rematerialized at his terminal.
Tron's victory in the Grid has released all lockouts on computer
access, and a nearby printer produces the evidence that Dillinger had
plagiarized Flynn's creations. The next morning, Dillinger enters his
office and finds the MCP deactivated, and the proof of his theft
publicized. Flynn is subsequently promoted to CEO of ENCOM, and is
happily greeted by Alan and Lora as their new boss.
See also: List of
Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn, a former programmer and game developer at
ENCOM and video arcade proprietor who is beamed into the ENCOM
mainframe via a digitizing laser by the Master Control Program.
Bridges also portrays Clu (Codified Likeness Utility), a hacking
program developed by Flynn to find evidence of Dillinger's theft in
Bruce Boxleitner as Alan Bradley, Flynn's work partner and fellow
programmer at ENCOM.
Boxleitner also portrays Tron, a security program developed by Bradley
to self-monitor communications between the MCP and the real world.
David Warner as Ed Dillinger, the Senior Executive Vice President of
ENCOM and former co-worker of Flynn's, who used the MCP to steal
Flynn's work and pass it off as his own, earning himself a series of
Warner also portrays Sark, a command program developed by Dillinger to
serve as the MCP's second-in-command.
Warner also provides the uncredited voice of the Master Control
Program (MCP), a rogue artificial intelligence operating system
(originally a chess program created by Dr. Gibbs and "improved" by
Dillinger) which monitors and controls ENCOM's mainframe.
Cindy Morgan as Dr. Lora Baines, Bradley's co-worker and girlfriend,
as well as assistant to Dr. Gibbs on the digitization experiment.
Morgan also portrays Yori, an input/output program developed by Dr.
Baines and an ally of Tron.
Barnard Hughes as Dr. Walter Gibbs, a co-founder of ENCOM running the
company's science division, who creates the SHV 20905 digitizing laser
with Dr. Baines's assistance.
Hughes also portrays Dumont, a "guardian" program developed by Dr.
Gibbs to protect input/output junctions in the mainframe.
Hughes also provides the uncredited voice of the Master Control
Program's original incarnation.
Dan Shor as Roy Kleinberg, an ENCOM employee
Shor also portrays Ram, an actuarial program possibly developed by
Kleinberg to sort out connections between ENCOM and an unnamed
insurance company, who is a close ally of
Tron and Flynn.
Peter Jurasik as Crom, an accounting program matched against Flynn on
the Game Grid.
Tony Stephano as Peter, Dillinger's assistant.
Stephano also portrays Sark's Lieutenant.
The inspiration for
Tron occurred in 1976 when Steven Lisberger, then
an animator of drawings with his own studio, looked at a sample reel
from a computer firm called MAGI and saw
Pong for the first time.
He was immediately fascinated by video games and wanted to do a film
incorporating them. According to Lisberger, "I realized that there
were these techniques that would be very suitable for bringing video
games and computer visuals to the screen. And that was the moment that
the whole concept flashed across my mind".
Lisberger had already created an early version of the character 'Tron'
for a 30 second long animation which was used to promote both
Lisberger Studios and a series of various rock radio stations. This
backlit cel animation depicted
Tron as a character who glowed yellow;
the same shade that Lisberger had originally intended for all the
heroic characters developed for the feature-length Tron. This was
later changed to blue for the finished film (see Pre-production
below). The prototype
Tron was bearded, and resembled the Cylon
Centurions from the original 1978 TV series, Battlestar Galactica.
Tron was armed with two "exploding discs", as Lisberger
described them on the 2-Disc DVD edition (see Rinzler).
Lisberger elaborates: "Everybody was doing backlit animation in the
70s, you know. It was that disco look. And we thought, what if we had
this character that was a neon line, and that was our Tron
Tron for electronic. And what happened was, I saw
Pong, and I said, well, that's the arena for him. And at the same time
I was interested in the early phases of computer generated animation,
which I got into at MIT in Boston, and when I got into that I met a
bunch of programmers who were into all that. And they really inspired
me, by how much they believed in this new realm."
He was frustrated by the clique-like nature of computers and video
games and wanted to create a film that would open this world up to
everyone. Lisberger and his business partner
Donald Kushner moved to
the West Coast in 1977 and set up an animation studio to develop
Tron. They borrowed against the anticipated profits of their
90-minute animated television special
Animalympics to develop
Tron with the notion of making an animated film.
The film was conceived as an animated film bracketed with live-action
sequences. The rest would involve a combination of
computer-generated visuals and back-lit animation. Lisberger planned
to finance the movie independently by approaching several computer
companies but had little success. However, one company, Information
International Inc., was receptive. He met with Richard Taylor, a
representative, and they began talking about using live-action
photography with back-lit animation in such a way that it could be
integrated with computer graphics. At this point, Lisberger already
had a script written and the film entirely storyboarded with some
computer animation tests completed. He had spent approximately
Tron and had also secured $4–5 million in
private backing before reaching a standstill. Lisberger and Kushner
took their storyboards and samples of computer-generated films to
Warner Bros., MGM, and Columbia Pictures – all of which turned
In 1980, they decided to take the idea to the Walt
which was interested in producing more daring productions at the
Disney executives were uncertain about giving
$10–12 million to a first-time producer and director using
techniques which, in most cases, had never been attempted. The studio
agreed to finance a test reel which involved a flying disc champion
throwing a rough prototype of the discs used in the film. It was a
chance to mix live-action footage with back-lit animation and
computer-generated visuals. It impressed the executives at
they agreed to back the film. The script was subsequently re-written
and re-storyboarded with the studio's input. At the time, Disney
rarely hired outsiders to make films for them and Kushner found that
he and his group were given a less than warm welcome because they
"tackled the nerve center – the animation department. They saw
us as the germ from outside. We tried to enlist several Disney
animators but none came.
Disney is a closed group."
Because of the many special effects,
Disney decided in 1981 to film
Tron completely in 65-mm
Super Panavision (except for the
computer-generated layers, which were shot in
VistaVision and both
anamorphic 35mm and
Super 35 which were used for some scenes in the
"real" world and subsequently "blown up" to 65mm). Three designers
were brought in to create the look of the computer world. French
comic book artist
Jean Giraud (also known as Moebius) was the main set
and costume designer for the movie. Most of the vehicle designs
(including Sark's aircraft carrier, the light cycles, the tank, and
the solar sailer) were created by industrial designer Syd Mead. Peter
Lloyd, a high-tech commercial artist, designed the environments.
Nevertheless, these jobs often overlapped, leaving Giraud working on
the solar sailer and Mead designing terrain, sets and the film's logo.
The original 'Program' character design was inspired by Lisberger
Studios' logo of a glowing bodybuilder hurling two discs.
To create the computer animation sequences of Tron,
Disney turned to
the four leading computer graphics firms of the day: Information
International, Inc. of Culver City, California, who owned the Super
Foonly F-1 (the fastest
PDP-10 ever made and the only one of its
kind); MAGI of Elmsford, New York;
Robert Abel and Associates of
Digital Effects of New York City. Bill Kovacs
worked on this movie while working for Robert Abel before going on to
found Wavefront Technologies. The work was not a collaboration,
resulting in very different styles used by the firms.
Tron was one of the first movies to make extensive use of any form of
computer animation, and is celebrated as a milestone in the industry
though only fifteen to twenty minutes of such animation were used,
mostly scenes that show digital "terrain" or patterns or include
vehicles such as light-cycles, tanks and ships. Because the technology
to combine computer animation and live action did not exist at the
time, these sequences were interspersed with the filmed characters.
The computer used had only 2 MB of memory, and no more than 330 MB of
storage. This put a limit on detail of background; and at a certain
distance, they had a procedure of mixing in black to fade things out,
a process called "depth cueing". The movie's Computer Effects
Supervisor Richard Taylor told them "When in doubt, black it out!",
which became their motto.
Most of the scenes, backgrounds, and visual effects in the film were
created using more traditional techniques and a unique process known
as "backlit animation". In this process, live-action scenes inside
the computer world were filmed in black-and-white on an entirely black
set, printed on large format Kodalith high-contrast film, then colored
with photographic and rotoscopic techniques to give them a
"technological" appearance. With multiple layers of high-contrast,
large format positives and negatives, this process required truckloads
of sheet film and a workload even greater than that of a conventional
cel-animated feature. The Kodalith was specially produced as large
sheets by Kodak for the film and came in numbered boxes so that each
batch of the film could be used in order of manufacture for a
consistent image. However, this was not understood by the filmmakers,
and as a result glowing outlines and circuit traces occasionally
flicker as the film speed varied between batches. After the reason was
discovered, this was no longer a problem as the batches were used in
order and "zinger" sounds were used during the flickering parts to
represent the computer world malfunctioning as Lisberger described
it. Lisberger later had these flickers and sounds digitally
corrected for the 2011 restored Blu-ray release as they were not
included in his original vision of the film. Due to its difficulty and
cost, this process of back-lit animation was not repeated for another
Sound design and creation for the film was assigned to Frank Serafine,
who was responsible for the sound design on Star Trek: The Motion
Picture in 1979.
At one point in the film, a small entity called "Bit" advises Flynn
with only the words "yes" and "no" created by a
BYTE wrote "Although this film is very much the personal expression of
Steven Lisberger's vision, nevertheless [it] has certainly been a
group effort". More than 569 people were involved in the
post-production work, including 200 inkers and hand-painters, 85 of
them from Taiwan's Cuckoo's Nest Studio. Unusually for an
English-language production, in the end credits the Taiwanese
personnel were listed with their names written in Chinese
This film features parts of the Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory; the multi-storey ENCOM laser bay was the target area for
the SHIVA solid-state multi-beamed laser. Also, the stairway that
Alan, Lora, and Flynn use to reach Alan's office is the stairway in
Building 451 near the entrance to the main machine room. The cubicle
scenes were shot in another room of the lab. At the time,
Tron was the
only movie to have scenes filmed inside this lab.
The original script called for "good" programs to be colored yellow
and "evil" programs (those loyal to Sark and the MCP) to be colored
blue. Partway into production, this coloring scheme was changed to
blue for good and red for evil, but some scenes were produced using
the original coloring scheme: Clu, who drives a tank, has yellow
circuit lines, and all of Sark's tank commanders are blue (but appear
green in some presentations). Also, the light-cycle sequence shows the
heroes driving yellow (Flynn), orange (Tron), and red (Ram) cycles,
while Sark's troops drive blue cycles; similarly, Clu's tank is red,
while tanks driven by crews loyal to Sark are blue.
Budgeting the production was difficult by reason of breaking new
ground in response to additional challenges, including an impending
Directors Guild of America
Directors Guild of America strike and a fixed release date. Disney
predicted at least $400 million in domestic sales of merchandise,
including an arcade game by Bally Midway and three Mattel
Intellivision home video games.
The producers also added Easter eggs: during the scene where
Ram escape from the
Light Cycle arena into the system,
Pac-Man can be
seen behind Sark (with the corresponding sounds from the Pac-Man
arcade game being heard in the background), while a "Hidden Mickey"
outline (located at time 01:12:29 on the re-release Blu-ray) can be
seen below the solar sailer during the protagonists' journey.
The soundtrack for
Tron was written by pioneer electronic musician
Wendy Carlos, who is best known for her album
Switched-On Bach and for
the soundtracks to many films, including A Clockwork Orange and The
Shining. The music, which was the first collaboration between Carlos
and her partner Annemarie Franklin, featured a mix of an analog
Moog synthesizer and Crumar's GDS digital synthesizer (complex
additive and phase modulation synthesis), along with non-electronic
pieces performed by the
London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Philharmonic Orchestra (hired at the
insistence of Disney, which was concerned that Carlos might not be
able to complete her score on time). Two additional musical tracks
("1990's Theme" and "Only Solutions") were provided by the American
band Journey after British band
Supertramp pulled out of the project.
An album featuring dialogue, music and sound effects from the film was
also released on LP by Disneyland Records in 1982.
Tron was released on July 9, 1982, in 1,091 theaters grossing
million on its opening weekend. It went on to make $33 million in
North America, which
Disney saw as a disappointment, and led to
the studio writing off a good chunk of its $17 million budget.
The film was well received by critics.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago
Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars and described the film
as "a dazzling movie from Walt
Disney in which computers have been
used to make themselves romantic and glamorous. Here's a technological
sound-and-light show that is sensational and brainy, stylish, and
fun". However, near the end of his review, he noted (in a positive
tone), "This is an almost wholly technological movie. Although it's
populated by actors who are engaging (Bridges, Cindy Morgan) or
sinister (Warner), it is not really a movie about human nature. Like
Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back, but much more so, this movie is
a machine to dazzle and delight us". Ebert closed his first annual
Overlooked Film Festival with a showing of Tron.
Tron was also
featured in Siskel and Ebert's video pick of the week in 1993.
InfoWorld's Deborah Wise was impressed, writing that "it is hard to
believe the characters acted out the scenes on a darkened
soundstage... We see characters throwing illuminated Frisbees, driving
'lightcycles' on a video-game grid, playing a dangerous version of jai
alai and zapping numerous fluorescent tanks in arcade-game-type mazes.
It's exciting, it's fun, and it's just what video-game fans and anyone
with a spirit of adventure will love—despite plot weaknesses."
On the other hand, Variety disliked the film and said in its review,
Tron is loaded with visual delights but falls way short of the mark
in story and viewer involvement. Screenwriter-director Steven
Lisberger has adequately marshalled a huge force of technicians to
deliver the dazzle, but even kids (and specifically computer game
geeks) will have a difficult time getting hooked on the
situations". In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin
criticized the film's visual effects: "They're loud, bright and empty,
and they're all this movie has to offer". The Washington Post's
Gary Arnold wrote, "Fascinating as they are as discrete sequences, the
computer-animated episodes don't build dramatically. They remain a
miscellaneous form of abstract spectacle". In his review for the
Globe and Mail,
Jay Scott wrote, "It's got momentum and it's got
marvels, but it's without heart; it's a visionary technological
achievement without vision".
As of May 2017, the movie review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes
rated the film at 70% on its Tomatometer, based on the reviews of 54
critics. A consensus statement for the movie said, "Though perhaps not
as strong dramatically as it is technologically, TRON is an original
and visually stunning piece of science fiction that represents a
landmark work in the history of computer animation."
In the year it was released, the Motion Picture Academy refused to
Tron for a special-effects award because, as director Steven
Lisberger puts it, "The Academy thought we cheated by using
computers". The film did, however, earn Oscar nominations in the
categories of Best Costume Design and Best Sound (Michael Minkler, Bob
Minkler, Lee Minkler, and James LaRue).
Ken Perlin of the
Mathematical Applications Group, Inc. won
Academy Award for Technical Achievement for his invention of Perlin
noise for Tron.
The film, considered groundbreaking, has inspired several individuals
in numerous ways. John Lasseter, head of
Pixar and Disney's animation
group, described how the film helped him see the potential of
computer-generated imagery in the production of animated films,
stating "without Tron, there would be no Toy Story."
The music video of the song "Abiura di me" of the Italian rapper
Caparezza is based on Tron. The two members of the
French house music group Daft Punk, who scored the sequel, have held a
joint, lifelong fascination with the film. In the music video for
the song "Feel Good Inc." by Gorillaz, Russel, the fictional drummer
of the band, can be seen wearing an Encom hat.
Tron developed into a cult film and was ranked as 13th in a 2010 list
of the top 20 cult films published by The Boston Globe.
The Disco Biscuits, a Philadelphia-based jam band heavily influenced
by electronic music, played an entire free-form set to correspond with
the movie "Tron", which was projected onto a partially transparent
curtain in the front of the stage for their 12/31/2015 New Year's Eve
show from the PlayStation Theater in Times Square, New York city.
In 2008, the
American Film Institute
American Film Institute nominated this film for its Top
10 Science Fiction Films list.
A novelization of
Tron was released in 1982, written by American
science fiction novelist Brian Daley. It included eight pages of color
photographs from the movie. Also that year,
Disney Senior Staff
Publicist Michael Bonifer authored a book entitled The Art of Tron
which covered aspects of the pre-production and post-production
aspects of Tron. A nonfiction book about the making of the
original film, The Making of Tron: How
Tron Changed Visual Effects and
Disney Forever, was written by William Kallay and published in 2011.
Tron made its television debut, as part of The
Disney Channel's first
day of programming, on April 18, 1983 at 7:00PM (ET).
Tron was originally released on VHS, Betamax, LaserDisc, and CED
Videodisc in 1983. As with most video releases from the 1980s, the
film was cropped to the 4:3 pan & scan format. The film saw
multiple re-releases throughout the 1990s, most notably an "Archive
Collection" LaserDisc box set, which featured the first release of
the film in its original widescreen 2.20:1 format.
Tron saw its first DVD release on May 19, 1998. This bare-bones
release utilized the same non-anamorphic video transfer used in the
Archive Collection LaserDisc set, and did not include any of the LD's
special features. On January 15, 2002, the film received a 20th
Anniversary Collector's Edition release in the form of a special
2-Disc DVD set. This set featured a new THX mastered anamorphic video
transfer, and included all of the special features from the LD Archive
Collection, plus an all-new 90 minute "Making of Tron" documentary.
To tie in with the home video release of Tron: Legacy, the movie was
finally re-released by Walt
Disney Studios Home Entertainment on
Special Edition DVD and for the first time on
Blu-ray Disc on April 5,
2011, with the subtitle "The Original Classic" to distinguish it from
Tron was also featured in a 5-Disc Blu-ray Combo with the
3D copy of Tron: Legacy. The film was re-released on Blu-ray and DVD
in the UK on June 27, 2011.
Tron: Uprising (TV Series)
Main article: Tron: Uprising
"Tron: Uprising takes place during the time period between the story
lines of the two movies
Tron (1982) and Tron: Legacy (2010). In the
series, young program Beck becomes the leader of a revolution inside
the computer world of The Grid, tasked with the mission of freeing his
home and friends from the reign of Clu and his henchman, Gen. Tesler.
To prepare for the challenge, Beck is trained by
Tron - the greatest
warrior The Grid has ever known - who mentors Beck as he grows beyond
his youthful nature into a courageous and powerful leader. Destined to
become the system's new protector, Beck adopts Tron's persona to
battle the forces of evil." 
Main article: Tron: Legacy
On January 12, 2005,
Disney announced it had hired screenwriters Brian
Klugman and Lee Sternthal to write a sequel to Tron. In 2008,
Joseph Kosinski negotiated to develop and direct TRON,
described as "the next chapter" of the 1982 film and based on a
preliminary teaser trailer shown at that year's San Diego Comic-Con,
with Lisberger co-producing. Filming began in Vancouver, British
Columbia in April 2009. During the 2009 Comic-Con, the title of
the sequel was revealed to be changed to Tron: Legacy. The
second trailer (also with the [Tron: Legacy] logo) was released in 3D
with Alice In Wonderland. A third trailer premiered at Comic-Con 2010
on July 22. At Disney's D23 Expo on September 10–13, 2009, they also
debuted teaser trailers for Tron: Legacy as well as having light cycle
and other props from the film there. The film was released on December
17, 2010, with
Daft Punk composing the score.
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