Monday, July 1, 2013

Without a Clu

The ubiquity of special effects as a digital tool is such nowadays that we almost take it for granted.  Digital effects are relatively cheap, user-friendly, and accessible: ask Freddie Wong, who had dreams of getting into the movie business, but now makes a living making short, special-effects-laden mini-movies on YouTube. Thus it is rather stunning to think of a film which was under-appreciated for its time: Tron.  In fact, it is downright eye-popping that it was under-appreciated in two ways.

First, the notion of computer-generated special effects was literally inconceivable to mainstream Hollywood.  Indeed, I am not using the word "literally" in a figurative sense, as many knuckle-draggers are wont to do: the film was not nominated for a best special effects Oscar due to computer use being looked upon as cheating.  Though computer effects advances throughout the 1980s exist with notable guideposts, the general starting point for the modern use of CGI seems to be Jurassic Park, which was released in 1993 (and it is worth mentioning that Spielberg started preproduction on the film with the full intention of using go motion for the film).  Thus it is astonishing to think that Tron, released a whopping 11 years previous would be so far ahead of its time--and indeed to receive damnation by no praise from a Hollywood effects industry that was entering its final decade.

Second, Tron foresaw a degree of human/computer integration that seemed not analogous, but fantastic in the classical sense of the word.  Now, to be clear, I am not claiming that the basic premise of the film (our computers have little humanoid electronic chaps who carry out functions as part of their daily labors) is, or likely ever will be, the case.  But rather, if one looks at the film as a metaphor, have we not become "sucked in" to our computers?  People sit at them, typing away like mindless automatons (indeed, sometimes we mindlessly type away about how we mindlessly type away...); people stare into the screens to find romantic encounters or sexual release; people become entrenched in never-ending games: people increasingly live their lives in computers.  Tron foretells this world of being pulled into a computer, not only for the "computer geek," but for most of us.  Indeed, the idea that one isn't on Facebook arouses mild suspicion; the idea that one doesn't have an email is looked at as being low class.

In conclusion, I must admit that the film itself isn't really that compelling as either entertainment or for though provocation.  Nonetheless, the vision that it had, both in terms of its production and message, is absolutely astonishing--and it paid a price for being ahead of its time.

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