For all computer geeks of a certain age (in which I include myself) one of the most fondly remembered films of the 1980’s is Tron, mainly because whilst it may well be a complete flight of fantasy from the real world of computers, it’s use of computer jargon and terminology was fairly accurate.
The story revolves around a young computer programmer named Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who used to work for a software corporation called ENCOM. Dreaming of running his own computer games company, he would design games on the ENCOM computer system after hours. Unfortunately another programmer, Ed Dillinger (David Warner) steals his designs and presents them as his own. This leads to Dillinger eventually becoming boss of ENCOM, whilst Flynn gets fired and ends up running an amusement arcade.
Obviously Flynn is annoyed by this, and he sets out to dig up the dirt on Dillinger. He hacks into the ENCOM computer system but is detected by the Master Control Program (MCP), an AI program developed by Dillinger from a chess computer program he had written. This results in all employees with the same security clearance as Flynn being locked out of the system. This affects another programmer named Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) who is working on a program named Tron that is intended to keep an eye on what the MCP program is doing, among other things.
After Bradley visits Dillinger to complain about his security lockout, he reveals the presence of the Tron program. The MCP program also learns of this programs functionality and blackmails Dillinger into allowing the MCP to take control of the Pentagon’s computer systems.
Bradley then goes to talk with his girlfriend, Lora, another ENCOM employee who is working on technology for digitising real world objects. As it turns out Lora is also Flynn’s ex-girlfriend, and the pair smuggle Flynn into Lora’s lab so he can try and regain access to the computer system. The MCP detects his attempts, and digitises Flynn himself into the computer system, so that he effectively becomes a computer program himself. From now on the majority of the film takes place inside the ENCOM computer system.
The computer world is depicted as a world of straight vector lines and grids, with computer programs being represented as humanoids with a blue neon glow. The programs tend to look identical to their “users”, in many cases the programmer who wrote that program. Upon entering this work Flynn is taken to a holding pit and told by a program called Ram that he is to play some games. He is taken to see a program called Sark (that looks like Dillinger) and is told that all programs are given the choice of either joining with the MCP or taking part in the gladiatorial style games until they are eliminated. Flynn is given an identity disc, which stores all the information about his progress, but can also be used as a weapon.
Eventually Flynn meets up with Bradley’s program, Tron, and finding that both have an ultimate aim of defeating the MCP they join forces, along with Ram. Before they have a chance to plan, they are forced into a game of light cycles. If there’s one thing people remember Tron from most it’s this game. Playing like a multi-player version of Nokia Snake, each player is driving a motorcycle like vehicle that leaves a trail behind it. The players have to try and get other players to crash into their trails to win. There have been countless versions of this game written over the years for various computers, mainly because it’s a fairly simple game to program!
Flynn, Tron and Ram escape the light cycle arena through a crack in the wall, and head for a I/O tower so that Tron can communicate with Alan in the real world to receive the instructions needed to shut down the MCP. Unfortunately the pair get separated when they are attacked by some security programs. Flynn manages to activate a damaged Recognizer program, one of the MCP defences, and rides it to the I/O tower whilst tending to Ram who was injured in the attack. Unfortunately Ram dies, but not before he realises that Flynn is actually a user rather than a program.
Meanwhile Tron has broken Yori (who looks like Lora) out of a simulation chamber, and the pair make it to the I/O tower to receive the necessary instructions. They meet up again with Flynn and make their way to the location of the MCP, and after a fierce battle disable it. Upon doing this Flynn is rematerialised in the real world to find a printer dumping out all the evidence he needs to confront Dillinger and gain his rightful position as head of ENCOM.