TRON (1982) — Fortran Favors The Bold

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On this week’s annotated deep dive, The Cultists present Steven Lisberger’s cult classic ‘TRON’ (1982). The story of a “scruffy” programmer (Jeff Bridges), who gets sucked into the glowing gridlocked world of The Computer, where avatars who remain devoted to their “users” are forced by the evil “master control program” to fight for their lives in gladiatorial combat, is, on the surface, your standard 80s action pitch—albeit with a shiny, future flair. And yet, what is often taken for granted is just how spectacular Tron’s physical production and lasting industry impact was. From filming in actual nuclear research facilities and utter black box voids, to employing old school stage magician styles of optical illusion, to pioneering the computer’s place in cinema at a time when no one else wanted to touch it, Tron stands alone as a remnant of a bizarre intersection of time and technique. A dazzling combination of practical lighting hacks, computer graphics, layered exposures, and backlit animation, no other film looks like Tron (and given how hard it was to make, it’s likely that nothing else ever will).

Deep Dives include: The “expert systems” revival and the thaw of the first AI winter; the Lawrence Livermore Lab locations; the benefits and drawbacks of shooting in 65mm; the trouble with lightcycles; the “neats” and “scruffies” of A.I. development; Dumont’s forgotten TV network namesake origin; and Alan’s ‘Day the Earth Stood Still’ (1951) not-so-hidden killer robot reference.

Episode Safeword(s): “off the grid”

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