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A world inside the computer where man has never been. Never before now...
Enter its world.
Videogame developer Kevin Flynn, trying to prove that a Corrupt Corporate Executive has stolen his videogame programs, is sucked into the digital world inside the computer, where anthropomorphic programs are consigned to fight for their lives in gladiatorial games. With the help of Tron, an independent security program, Flynn must try to destroy the evil Master Control Program from within, bringing liberty to the cyber realm, and find a way of returning himself to the real world.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Although computer-generated special effects had appeared in film as early as 1974, TRON (1982) marked the first time that computers were used to create something "real", rather than to just represent computer graphics (sort of "real", anyway, since the story takes place inside a computer). Ironically, a large portion of the special effects in TRON were actually hand-drawn; even the computer-generated objects and environments had to have their geometry entered by hand for every frame, since no practical method of automating the process existed at the time. In general, the light cycles, tanks, recognizers and the Solar Sail were CGI -- however the huge amount of processing time required versus how much was available at the time required that they be rendered in black and white and hand-colored later.
Despite its bold look and bolder ambitions, especially for how the Walt Disney Company which was sinking further into irrelevance at that time, TRON was a commercial disappointment (it didn't lose money, but wasn't the hit they had intended it to be). To add insult to injury, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences considered it "cheating" to have used computers to create the special effects, resulting in the film not getting nominated for Best Special Effects. TRON's failure put CGI development on the back burner for years; while a few later productions made use of CGI elements (Young Sherlock Holmes, Flight of the Navigator and, most notably, The Last Starfighter), it would not be until 1989's The Abyss, and later 1991's Terminator 2: Judgement Day and 1993's megahit Jurassic Park, that computer-generated effects would become feasible in the eyes of Hollywood and the public. This development and the film's persistent cult fandom would cause the film to be popularly reevaluated as a bold experiment in computer visual effects.
TRON appeared as a level in Kingdom Hearts II (the game director's admitted first choice for the series, but couldn't find a way to put it in the first game).
TRON has spawned two (mutually exclusive) sequels, the 2003 video game Tron 2.0 (in which Alan and Lora's son Jethro is transported into the cyber-world) and the continuity consisting of (in order of publication) the film Tron: Legacy, the graphic novel TRON: Betrayal, the video game Tron Evolution, and the television series Tron Uprising.
TRON provides examples of:
- Advancing Wall of Doom: Near the end of the movie, an energy wall slowly derezzes Sark's Carrier, and Flynn and Yori must escape it while being trapped on board the carrier.
- AI Is a Crapshoot: While Master Control figures he can run things 800 to 1200 times better than any human, the free programs are being persecuted because they believe in the Users and want to continue serving them.
- Alternate Universe: Cyberspace.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: The laser lab and the big big security door are not sets and props, but an actual location, Lawrence Livermore Labs.
- And You Thought It Was a Game: Ram informs Flynn that he'll be forced to play video games. Flynn laughs it off, saying he plays those better than anyone. Unfortunately, those games turn out to be serious, lethal business.
Flynn: On the other side of the screen, they all look so easy!
- And You Were There: The programs are all dead ringers for the people who wrote them: Clu for Flynn, Tron for Alan, Yori for Lora, Sark for Dillinger, Dumont for Gibbs... and, down at the level where you'd need freeze-frame to notice, Sark's henchman for Dillinger's PA and Ram for Alan's cubicle neighbor (Flynn Lives in Tron: Legacy gives his name as Roy). The MCP, a product of numerous man-hours by various people, has a geometric abstraction of a face, but when it falls apart at the end, the original core program can be briefly seen, and it has Gibbs's face.
Word of God: All of the programs retain their user's personality. For example, Cindy Morgan was told that Yori retains some vague memory of her user (Lora) having a romance with Flynn at one time.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: For programs.
- Arcade Sounds: Justified for once. Journey is also playing on the PA for atmosphere.
- Attack of the 50 Foot Whatever: Sark at the climax.
- Attack Reflector
- Audience Surrogate: Flynn
- Big Bad: The MCP
- Big Damn Heroes: Flynn gets one at the end when he jumps into the MCP's beam.
- Big No
- Flynn screams this when Sark orders him to finish off Crom.
- And Tron has one when it seems Flynn and Ram have been killed.
- Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word: Or "Embezzling" in this case.
- Boom! Headshot!: During their battle in front of the MCP, Tron takes out Sark with a disk attack that splits Sark's disk... and his head. We even get some gibs.
- Brain Uploading: Word of God says that programs' resemblance to their Users is not a result of this, but is simply a reflection of their personalities.
Gibbs: You can remove men like Alan and me from the system, but we helped create it. And our spirit remains in every program we designed for this computer.
- Color Coded for Your Convenience: Blue denotes free programs, red is programs controlled by the system (in this case, the Big Bad MCP). The different colors of the light cycles is due to a change in the movie's script, where gold was good and blue was bad.
- CLU has the old color scheme of yellow, but might be Justified as he was an infiltration program. However, considering what his successor became, it also works as accidental Foreshadowing.
- Gold/yellow was later retconned into being for independent programs.
- This is also the reason the insides of the tanks chasing the escaped light cycles, and the programs driving those tanks, are blue (actually more blue/green). The scenes were finished before the red=bad blue=good edict was handed down.
- Convenient Color Change: Users like Flynn can change their color scheme. Likewise, the Recognizers show the color of whoever is controlling them.
- Cool Bike: And how. Check out the concept art sometime.
- Cool Plane: The Encom Helicopter, with real life Tron Lines!
- Cool Ship: Sark's Carrier, even if we only see one side of it.
- Cool Train: The Solar Sailer Simulation.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive. Edward Dillinger, who stole Flynn's programs, got promoted, then fired Flynn.
- Crucified Hero Shot: Sark tortures disobedient programs by "crucifying" them on a wall with electric impulses.
- Cyberpunk Is Techno: The original TRON score was by electronic music pioneer Wendy Carlos.
- Cyberspace: Trope Codifier. Had at least as much influence on how fiction portrays it as Neuromancer -- and TRON was released two years before Neuromancer. However, William Gibson hinted at the idea of cyberspace in his short story "Burning Chrome", which was published shortly before TRON was released although after the film had been made. In fact, it was first published in an issue of Omni magazine that also had an article about the making of TRON.
- David Versus Goliath: Tron vs. Sark; Flynn vs. MCP.
- Deadly Disc
- Deadly Euphemism: Programs don't "die"; they "derez" (short for "deresolution"). Averted whenever Sark or the MCP talk to or about Flynn, for obvious reasons. Also averted by Yori speaking about Tron's supposed fate when Sark's Carrier rammed through the Solar Sailer.
- Deadpan Snarker
- Bit, despite only being able to say "yes" and "no".
Flynn: [while driving the recognizer] Pretty good driving, huh?
- Kevin Flynn is a major snarker as well.
Flynn: I never should have written all those tank programs.
- Deep-Immersion Gaming: The Trope Maker?
- Defictionalization: The "Light Cycle" game became a popular arcade game pretty quickly, which is somewhat recursive considering that it itself was based on one of the first arcade games. Inverted with the TRON arcade game (whose cabinet is briefly seen) which was released just shortly before the movie (and spawned both a sequel and a few home games). Eventually played straight with Space Paranoids, which was released as an online game in 2009.
- Deleted Scene: The "love" scene between Tron and Yori, including Yori getting a new outfit before they head for the I/O Tower. Described in detail in the novel.
- Deus Est Machina: The Master Control Program, obviously.
- Did Not Get the Girl: Flynn does not get back together with former girlfriend Lora although he does kiss her counterpart Yori before his would-be Heroic Sacrifice.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Sark's reaction to the news that MCP has captured and enslaved a User.
- Disappears Into Light: All programs
diederez this way. Somewhat justified, being in the computer system.
- The Dragon: Sark
- Dramatic Pause: Ram gives a particularly good one when Flynn first meets him.
Ram: You're a... (pauses, thinks for a moment, stands up and walks over to the wall to lean against it while half-smirking) ...guest of the Master Control Program.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Flynn turns himself red (but not evil) by absorbing the energy from one of Sark's warriors, derezzing him. He uses this disguise to blend in with Sark's other troops and approach the Solar Sailer. It almost fatally backfires on him when he charges more troopers boarding the Sailer, causing Tron and Yori to mistake him for an enemy boarder and almost push him to his death.
- Duel to the Death: --er, Deresolution.
- The Eighties: In its purest form. Ironically, 1990's Theme by Journey sounds like an early 1980's song (which it is).
- Electric Torture
- Inverted. The MCP tortures Sark by "depriving him of cycles". In this case, he RUNS on electricity, so this requires the opposite action to get the desired effect.
- Also played straight, when the MCP captures Clu and threatens him with total de-resolution if he fails to tell the MCP who his User is.
- Dumont the I/O Tower Guardian is also given this treatment when he was captured by Sark and brought on board his Carrier.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Dillinger is horrified to learn that the MCP wants to hack the Pentagon and Kremlin, but continues to appease it to save his own ass.
- Evil Brit: David Warner plays the trifecta of the movie's villains: Dillinger, Sark and the MCP.
- Evil Overlord: The MCP, again.
- Expose the Villain, Get His Job: At the end of the movie, Flynn has Dillinger's old job as vice-president of Encom. More justified than some instances of the trope, since it probably wasn't just exposing Dillinger that got him the job: the work that got Dillinger the job in the first place was all really Flynn's.
- Fan Service: Yori; Flynn; Tron. Put it this way: Cyberspace has mirror images of the attractive users from our world and slips them into lit-up skintight spandex.
- Forced Prize Fight: Gladiator combat.
- Force Field Door: The holding cells for the competitors at the Gaming Grid are bounded by the kind of force field that's invisible until touched. Flynn discovers this by walking straight into it.
- Future Spandex: A particularly noteworthy example.
- Genre Motif: Wendy Carlos intentionally scored all scenes set in the real world only with orchestral music, saving the electronic music for cyberspace. (Daft Punk doesn't follow this convention in Tron: Legacy.)
- Gladiator Games: Ranging from Lightcycles to Killer Frisbees.
- Glasses Pull: Alan, when he's complaining to Lora about Dillinger and the MCP.
- God in Human Form: What happens to Flynn to get the plot in full gear, except that in this case humans are the "god" level and programs are the "human" level.
- God Is Flawed: Flynn being a fallible human being is no surprise to us, but to the programs...
Tron: If you are a user, then everything you've done has been according to a plan.
- God Was My Co-Pilot: Flynn himself, from the point of view of his program allies.
- Good Colors, Evil Colors: Red vs. Blue.
- Go Out with a Smile: Ram after realizing Flynn is a User.
- Healing Spring: Doubles as I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin!.
- He Didn't Make It: Flynn says it about Ram.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Flynn intends his jump into the beam to be this trope, but he is returned to the analog world instead.
- Hold Your Hippogriffs
- "Who does he calculate that he is?"
- "I knew you'd escape. They haven't built a circuit that could hold you!"
- Hollywood Hacking: One of the earliest instances of this trope in film. Arguably, Flynn's methods aren't too unrealistic compared to other examples. While at Laura's terminal he was getting ready to put the MCP into a logic loop so he could search for his file uninhibited. Had he not been sitting in front of the digitizing laser, he might have succeeded. Furthermore, Clu is an actual hacking program, albeit a custom one.
- Huge Holographic Head: Master Control Program
- Humans Are Cthulhu: And/or Gods
- Humans Are Flawed
- Humans by Any Other Name: "Users"
- Humongous Mecha: For lack of a better category, the Recognizers go here.
- I Don't Pay You to Think: Sark tells an underling, "Don't think anymore. I do the thinking around here."
- I Know Mortal Kombat: Flynn succeeds at the games inside the computer partly because he's so good at them outside. Justified in the novel by saying that he based the ones he wrote on real-life skills he was familiar with.
- Indy Ploy: Flynn does not know what he's doing, and is clearly making it all up on the fly. He only survives the games because of what he knows about video games, and his User abilities are invoked only by guesswork and "this might work." Of course, the apple won't fall all that far from the tree.
- Inside a Computer System
- Instant AI, Just Add Water: The MCP started as a chess program, then various people gradually rewrote it to perform sysadmin duties on its own hardware. After this, it continued to gain intelligence by assimilating other programs' code into itself. That still doesn't explain why every other program seems to be an A.I. too, even when they don't need to be. Ram, for example, calculates insurance premiums, and Tron is basically just a firewall. May be a case of Science Marches On. There was a time not too many decades ago when the simple tasks of playing chess or recognizing speech commands was seen as the benchmark of intelligence. We now know actual intelligence consists of much more.
- Kiss Me, I'm Virtual: Flynn says goodbye to Yori, a program within the System, with a kiss.
- Last Kiss: Flynn kisses Yori just before his attempted Heroic Sacrifice.
- Like Cannot Cut Like: Identity Discs are the only thing that appears to be capable of blocking Identity Discs, although Tron does succeed in breaking Sark's disc in two during their final battle.
- Logic Bomb: Flynn attempts to use this to hold off the MCP while searching for evidence. He ends up provoking the MCP into firing the Deep-Immersion Gaming Laser at him, which was for some reason conveniently positioned directly behind its control panel.
- Ludicrous Precision:
Master Control Program: There's a 68.71 percent chance you're right.
MCP: Sark, all my functions are now yours!
- Master Computer: MCP
- Master of Unlocking: Flynn
- Mega Corp: Encom. They make cool Arcade Games and have a Digitizing Ray.
- Messianic Archetype: Flynn, intentionally, within the system.
- Mickey Mousing: Several instances, notably during Sark walking to the MCP core, where his footstep punctuations are actually in the score, not sound effects. According to the liner notes of the CD release of the soundtrack, composer Wendy Carlos actually used this much more in the original drafts of the score, but was requested to lessen it by the production staff.
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Fairly soft.
- NameTron. According to Lisberger, TRON is a shortening of the word elecTRONic. He didn't learn until years later that there was a BASIC command that was also TRON (a debugging tool, short for "trace on"). 
- Nay Theist: The MCP and Sark, although their public position on the matter is less Nay Theist and more "Users don't exist, period".
- Nerds Are Sexy. Kevin Flynn, Alan Bradley, and Lora
- Nerd Glasses: Alan Bradley's large and unflattering spectacles. (Most of his co-workers too, actually. Apart from marking them as computer nerds, it helps keep them visually distinct from their electronic counterparts.)
- Nice Hat: As is typical of costumes designed by Moebius. All programs wear helmets, but special mention goes to Dumont's hat, which resembles both a bishop's mitre and the abdomen of an insect.
- No OSHA Compliance: The digitizing laser should have been constructed and installed in such away that it could never target anything that was outside of a clearly-marked danger area, let alone one of the computer terminals that control it.
- No Plot, No Problem: Deconstructed -- the games played at Flynn's gaming hall are this trope in the physical world, but once you are inside the Grid you discover that these simple games are surrounded by all kinds of drama.
- Oh My Gods: The inevitable, "Oh, my User!"
- Pac-Man Fever: Flynn's handheld. Justified, since this is the '80s. It's actually Coleco's "Electronic Quarterback" handheld game.
- Physical Religion
- Power Glows: Have we mentioned this yet?
- Prepare to Die: Sark to Tron before their final battle.
Sark: I don't know you survived, slave! It doesn't matter! Prepare to terminate!
- Product Placement: Flynn's computer is an Apple III.
- Pure Energy: (Sort of) justified.
- Recursive Canon: The TRON arcade game from the 1980s appears in both the Legacy and 2.0 continuities; the explanation is that Kevin Flynn created a game based on his adventures in the film, which was later published by Encom.
- Red Lines, Take Warning: Sark's lines burn a rather brilliant light orange when he gets pissed.
- Robot Buddy: Bit qualifies.
- Robots Enslaving Robots
- Sacrificial Lamb: Clu to prove that the MCP is a jerk, Crom to prove that the Game Grid is truly dangerous, and Ram just to piss us off.
- Scenery Porn: The original film is full of it, which was almost the entire basis for Roger Ebert's rave review.
- Screams Like a Little Girl: Clu.
- Secondary Character Title: Because calling this movie "Flynn" wouldn't have fit the themes nearly as well.
- Serkis Folk: MCP
- Shirtless Scene: In a movie that takes place mostly in a computer system where the characters are programs who technically aren't wearing clothes to begin with, they still managed to sneak one in.
- Easter Eggs: Pac-Man and a "hidden Mickey Mouse".
- Mickey Mouse is outlined in a single shot in the canyon as the Light Sail glides overhead.
- Don't forget Colossus: The Forbin Project (see Turned Against Their Masters below).
- An old, half-abandoned communications program named DuMont.
- The words "Gort, Klaatu Barada Nikto" are visible on the wall of Alan's cubicle.
- "Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for, 3 years ago..."
- According to the DVD commentary, Alan was named in honor of computing pioneer Alan Kay.
- Sinister Geometry: Again, the MCP.
- Smoking Gun: The evidence that Flynn and the others were looking for would supposedly be undeniable proof that Dillinger stole Flynn's program. And they were right!
- Stealth Pun
- Supporting Leader: Tron
- Sweater Girl: Lara's white angora sweater in the last scene of the movie.
- Take My Hand: Tron pulls Flynn to safety while he's hanging off the Solar Sailer.
- Take Over the World: The MCP informs Dillinger that it's planning to do this, establishing that Flynn's success matters in the real world, not just to the oppressed programs.
- Talking to Himself: Computer programs resemble their users. Tron communicates directly with Alan. Also, the MCP talks to both Sark and Dillinger, all played by David Warner.
- Tank Goodness
- Tech Marches On: Sort of -- the film is based in an 80's supercomputer, and the angular look was a deliberate aesthetic choice to make TRON look like a 16-bit world.
- Technology Porn: The whole damn movie qualifies.
- Thank the Maker: The blue programs hold their Users in awe in a manner akin to worship; the red-tinted MCP denies the existence of the Users (publicly, anyway), claiming that nobody has ever seen one, and wants to establish rule over the computer system in which "liberated" programs no longer believe in something so archaic as Users.
- Threesome Subtext: Has to set a minor record, despite being a Disney flick.
- First, Alan and Lora show up at Flynn's arcade. Flynn acts a little overly familiar to them both (even though Lora's his ex), snarking that "nothing classes up the joint like a clean-cut young couple." Once they're upstairs, he casually changes his shirt in front of them, remarks Lora isn't one for small talk, and asks Alan if she still leaves clothing on the floor. The end of the scene is Lora brandishing a set of car keys and asking, "Shall we dance?".
- Once Flynn's in cyberspace, there's buckets of subtext when he allies himself with Ram and Tron. The scene at the Power Pool? Three pretty men in skintight, neon-lit spandex gasping and giggling over how good power from a "pure source" is.
- And after Ram dies and Flynn's found Tron and Yori? Well, see the arcade scene above. Tron and Yori are doppelgangers of Alan and Lora and in an established relationship already. Doesn't slow down any of the subtext from earlier, nor does it stop Flynn from giving Yori a very passionate Last Kiss before making what he believes to be a Heroic Sacrifice to save them all.
- Trapped in Another World
- Tron Lines: The Trope Namer.
- Turned Against Their Masters. Yet again, the MCP, who intends to hack into the Pentagon and take control of the US's missile defense system, using it to force the world to obey.
- Twirl of Love: Tron to Yori after he helped her off of Sark's derezzing ship.
- Unbuilt Trope: TRON was cyberspace before cyberspace was invented.
- Upload the Sky. One of the original theatrical posters, complete with near-Leg Cling.
- Verbal Tic: The MCP's "End of Line."
- Year Inside, Hour Outside. They kind of got this one right; computer processes are so fast that subjectively, the perception of time would be vastly different. Programs reference time in "microcycles" and "nanoseconds".
- While You Were in Diapers: Dumont is one of the programs created by Walter Gibbs, one of Encom's founders:
Dumont: What do you want? I'm busy!
- In a similar conversation in the real world, Gibbs admits he occasionally wishes he was back in the garage where he started the company. Dillinger darkly implies "that can be arranged, Walter."
- World-Healing Wave: The MCP's death.
- You Will Be Assimilated: The MCP has expressed an interest in assimilating you.
Ram: (on the MCP's directives) If he thinks you're useful he'll take over all your functions so he gets bigger.
- You Have Failed Me: The MCP keeps threatening to pull this on Sark, but never goes through with it.
- Zeroes and Ones: Bit, who can only say "yes" and "no". He also has a "neutral" state, corresponding to the high-impedance state of a tristate electronic output.
End of Line.
- The computer graphics were calculated on a small mainframe, Digital Equipment Corporation model PDP-10. That 36-bit computer has a TRON instruction (Test Right half, set to Ones, skip if any were Nonzero). Trivia: the numeric value for that opcode, in octal, is 666.