TRON: Past and Present

What does the sequel tell us about our own technological legacy?

Editorby Editor

The world has changed quite a bit since TRON hit theaters in 1982 and, not unlike the original film predicted, computers have been the driving force behind some of the largest technological leaps forward the past three decades. As influential as computers have been practically, though, their effect on mode and design has also been of incredible significance. It is that artistic edge that is fully embraced in the sleek, stylish world of TRON Legacy.

In the same way that modern computer design has adapted aesthetically over time, the production designers for the new film found a balance between form and function on the fluorescent world of the Grid. Just as 8-bit pixilation has given way to intense HD resolution on real-life computer screens, the shift within the world of TRON Legacy has transformed clunky computer renderings into tangible physical objects. While the light cycles of the original were completely animated, those in Legacy are fully-realized vehicles, designs that could almost be transferred into reality but that still have a foothold in the incredible, just out of reach, world of science fiction.

As much as futurism influenced the production, however, there’s also a retro quality at play, calling back the style of Syd Mead, who, beyond work on the original TRON, offered his talents to the building of other cinematic worlds like Blade Runner and Aliens. In this, technological advancements are paired against a classically neo-noir design, giving the sense of something that is both cutting edge and grittily familiar.

Within the narrative, the development of the Grid is somewhat of an interesting parallel to the progression of technology in the real world. After all, this isn’t a place that has been touched by modern gadgets like laptops, iPods, or even the internet. Constructed within a computer built by the character of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) two decades earlier, the Grid, as it appears in TRON Legacy, is the result of an evolution within the system, developing independent of the objects that it aesthetically apes.

What’s most fascinating about TRON isn’t where our worlds (be they fictional or otherwise) are headed or where they’ve been. It’s the expanse between the territories of our past and our present and the wonderful notion that they’re bridged not with tremendous leaps and unpredictable waves of fortune or failure, but with the tiny steps of persistence, determination and inevitability. Bridging the gap between a Commodore 64 and supercomputers small enough to hold in our pockets is an incredible beginning and ending point, but turning back and understanding where it is we’ve come from is what helps drives us forward is as important as the difference between a destination and a journey. One is our destiny and the other, our legacy.