Just watched Tron for the first time in 20 years…

I just watched Tron for the first time in 20 years. The movie wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected it to be, but it was still pretty hard to sit through.

There were a couple of memorable moments.

1) The meatspace bad guy (“Dillinger?”) says “The system isn’t there for user requests. It’s there for BUSINESS.”

Well, yeah. He’s RIGHT. User requests need to be brought in line with business reality. The system exists as a solution to business problems at the macro level, hopefully holistically approaching the matter, rather than simply letting users do what they usually do a little faster or more efficiently.

It’s amusing to listen to that and find that I agree with the bad guy (at least in one interpretation).

2) The credits… there’s a sequence where they credit the Taiwanese animators, and we have chinese characters running in vertical columns, green on black. If that’s not where the brothers Wachowski got the idea for their “Matrix” visual I’m a hairless gracile ape.

Jay, if you’re reading… good costume, dude. Capturing the “flow” effects of their circuitry would have been perfection, but you did fine without it. Besides, how many people have seen the film recently enough to compary?

–Howard

18 thoughts on “Just watched Tron for the first time in 20 years…”

  1. Mostly I remember the lightcycle races, myself – that and everyone was blue or red… and it looked really odd on them. But virtual reality was cool.

    And you’d be amazing how many Tron geeks are left to compare the costume effects… which could possibly be done with LEDs now.

  2. I suspect I enjoyed this viewing of Tron a lot more than Howard did. In my house Tron was one of those movies that got recorded off of Disney Channel and then got re-watched until the tape wore out. I’d assumed that it was one of those childhood experiences that simply wouldn’t stand up to reinspection. I was both right and wrong. There were moments where I thought “wow that’s still cool!” and there were moments where I thought “wow that’s really hokey!” Both were fun.

    Link, Howler, and Gleek watched it with us. They spent a lot of time confused. We had to simplify it to “Red guys are bad. Blue guys are good.” And then Flynn (a good guy) turns himself red so he can sneak around. The kids all gasped “Oh no! He’s BAD now!” Mostly we didn’t want to have to explain everything so we just let them watch the eye candy. They claim they liked the movie. We’ll see if they ask to watch it again tomorrow which is the true test.

  3. The movie holds up pretty well, even today. The effects are primitive by today’s standards, true, but I think that conveys the real difference of the world inside the computer.

    Dillinger’s both right and wrong. Yes, the computer is there to satisfy the business needs of the enterprise, but in the final analysis, it’s the users who express those needs through their requirements. (Sound familiar?) True, the users often don’t know what they really want until they see what they get, but it’s equally true that very few companies that have computers are in the computing business.

    Yes, I agree there’s room for improvement in the costume, speaking theoretically. Translating that to something that can be done in the real world – especially, something that can be run through a real-world washing machine, or else easily transformed into something that can – is much, much harder. (On that note, I got in two more unitards today, and plan to start experimenting with airbrush and stencils on some fabric that I can waste before painting them up.)

    1. I can’t believe I’m acting as if TRON was this deep…

      As to user requirements… most engineers don’t understand them holistically, and make the mistake of over-engineering the simplification of tasks that should be eliminated altogether. State of the art these days is a contextual inquiry where UI experts and process architects watch what users do, and then design systems to eliminate wasted steps (and, as often as not, people’s JOBS). They then hand those requirements to engineers who have to be preached to before they “get it.”

      (If I hear “But that’s not what our customers are asking for” one more time I’m going to… well, I’m going to have to RESPOND one more time with “we KNOW that. And they’re going to love what you’re GOING TO BUILD RIGHT NOW because it will solve deep-seated problems they’ve become blind to.”

      Point is, Dillinger was on the right track with the MCP. He had a system that was subsuming the functionality of point-of-operation programs, with the goal (I assume) of making Encom more efficient, and doing away with lots of now-redundant positions. After all, he could remove all Level 7 access (okay, what’s THAT?) and the worst that happened was researchers complaining that they couldn’t do their projects. Business still seemed to continue just fine. Granted, the MCP was an Evil Computer Program From Hollywood, so Dillinger was doomed to fail, but as I’m saying, he was on the right track.

      Keep in mind, you don’t have to fire the redundant folks. You can now put them to work on something new and potentially profitable. That’s what healthy companies DO.

      –Howard
      p.s. I didn’t mean to slight the costume at all. There was just more “fluidity” to the lights than I remember there being.

      1. Re: I can’t believe I’m acting as if TRON was this deep…

        I saw an interesting article on the Amazon press clips list recently. Apparently the idea of “one-click shopping” was completely unpopular among users when they were first doing studies to see if it would be useful. But Bezos basically said that he believed he knew what the customers wanted better than they did, and implemented it anyway. It’s very widely used now…

        Sorta the same idea. Often, success in a customer-oriented business (as opposed to what? I’m not sure.) has a lot to do with having a better idea of how to please your customers than they do. And that’s fine – if the customers knew best what they wanted most, they’d find it themselves.

      2. Re: I can’t believe I’m acting as if TRON was this deep…

        Oh, I knew you weren’t slighting the costume. I was just geeking out because I know it can be better…and, one day, I’ll figure out how.

        The design process you mention sounds right, but you have to be careful not to produce, say, a Microsoft Word, where the program is huge and bloated (much more so than my TRON universe persona) with things that marketers decided users wanted which, in fact, never get used.

        No, you’re not getting deep. You want deep? Consider something the movie assumes for the purposes of plot, but is very much an open question: Can a person be downloaded into a computer? This is very much an open question in the AI and brain research communities. Is what makes a person a person represented in the structures, impulses, and chemical reactions in the brain? Is there, in fact, something more? Christianity, as with most religions, says yes on faith without having anything to really back it up. This question, unlike most having to do with religion and philosophy, has the potential of someday being answered through scientific inquiry. Either way, the answer leads down all sorts of interesting paths.

        The movie is, superficially, not a lot more than eye candy, but there’s food for plenty of philosophical argument in there.

        1. Uploading people.

          Can a person be downloaded into a computer? This is very much an open question in the AI and brain research communities. Is what makes a person a person represented in the structures, impulses, and chemical reactions in the brain? Is there, in fact, something more? Christianity, as with most religions, says yes on faith without having anything to really back it up. This question, unlike most having to do with religion and philosophy, has the potential of someday being answered through scientific inquiry.

          It’s late, so of course I’m going to spend time pontificating online that would be better spent sleeping :).

          It’s straightforward to show that if we assume that everything that makes us what we are is part of the material universe, then what makes us what we are can be reduced to a finite amount of information (c.f. Beckenstein Bound). This says copies of people could exist that are indistinguishable from the original. Play quantum entanglement games and you can probably set things up so that you wouldn’t be able to tell even in principle which was the original and which was the copy. This argues for uploading being a realistic possibility. At worst, you’d get an as-good-as-matters copy of yourself in the machine, and at best you wouldn’t be able to prove that it wasn’t the “real you”.

          The only way around this is to say that our manifestation in the physical universe is not all that we are. This turns out to be a difficult proposition, as you either have to say that the non-physical part doesn’t interact with the physical universe in any way (in which case it’s a redundant hypothesis, and so better assumed to not exist), or you have to prove that there’s something affecting the universe that is not derived from material phenomena within it (which among other things would violate a whole raft of conservation laws).

          At least, that’s my view of things. I put uploading technology about 50 years away, possibly varying by a factor of two in either direction, at least for the kind that’s based on my own field of engineering.

          Now, more squandering of the free evening I should be spending sleeping…

    2. LEDs are one possibility, especially if you wore them on the ‘cuirass’ part or on the disc and helmet. Parts like that could be velcro’d on, perhaps… but then you’d probably have to program an EPROM or something to turn all those lights on and off in proper sequence. 😀

      1. I hadn’t considered sequenced LEDs. You’d have to place them under a diffuser with some fairly heavy texturing to make them look reasonable, but it’s probably not that far off. Power might get to be an issue at the quantities of diodes needed. The sequencer is no big deal; simply throw a one-chip microcontroller or two at the problem.

        1. I suspect the power’s not going to be TOO big an issue, given the voltages most of them run on, especially if you don’t need flashlight-level LED lighting; and there are those 4.5V flat-battery packs for use in headlamps which might give you enough voltage.

    3. About the costume, I did have one idea that was intended for another project, but Howards comments about fluidity reminded me of it.

      The EL string you use is fairly low voltage right? it occured to me that if you threaded it thorugh some clear pvc pipe, the kinda flexiable stuff they use in fish tanks and so on, then filled it with water, but taking care to leave some bubbles in it.

      the water would turn the pipe into a lens, seemingly making the el look brighter, so as the bubbles ran round the system you’d get a ‘fluid’ effect. You could even have the water pumped round by the simple expideant of attaching some rubber bladders and then simple body movement would do it. The sort of concertina-type thing you find in sqweeky toys should be ideal.

      It’s a little complicated, but the effect would be stunning, and since it’s low voltage dc, leaks and shorts aren’t really a problem [as long as you use distilled water.]

      As for the light strips over the rest of the body, how about the sort of reflective fabric that cyclists use, painted slightly [those transparent ‘glass’ paints work well on it, I know.] Don’t even need to sew, hot glue guns work just as well!

      It should all survive a washing machine too, at least, on a coolish wash.

      1. The EL stuff starts out at low voltage, but there’s an inverter along with the batteries that produces the actual voltage across the wire: about 100 volts AC at between 1600 and 2000 Hertz. (Very low current, though, which is why on 9-volt battery can power the wire on the helmet for about 6 hours.) I think the outer jacket is watertight, although the ends certainly are not – but that can be worked around by simply making sure the ends are not within the pipe (and making sure that no splices are needed within the pipe, as well – something I’d recommend with el-wire in any case).

        Instead of clear pipe, though, I’d probably want to use frosted, to make the bubbles less obvious.

        Scotchlite might work; it’d have to be glued on (or temporarily tacked down, then sewn on later) while the unitard was being worn, though, to allow the proper amount of stretch.

  4. I don’t want to suggest that anyone go buying computer games where none is needed, but if you’re on the way to turning into a complete TRON zealot, the TRON 2.0 game is a good way to continue the trend, and a fairly good homage to the series. Even the lightcycles are fun, yet still as simplistic.

    In North America at this time, it’s most often found in bargin bins and clearence shelves.

    Anyway, one movie viewing does not crazed fandom make, but all things considered, it’s a pretty logical place to start.

  5. The making of

    I know a guy who actually worked on the movie itself (not to mention Stargate, X-Men, and X-Men 2). I believe he was responsible for the credits and for the tunnel sequence (which, by the way, was copied by other movies after it). One interesting fact is that in the computer world, all of that color on the suits and stuff were hand-drawn onto the frames (at least, so I’ve been told).

    1. Re: The making of

      A lot of the color was hand-drawn (which is how they got the flowing effect Howard talks about). They shot those scenes in black and white, then used photolithography to produce negatives, then positives, of various parts (the bodies, the faces, and so on). The color was painted onto the circuit patterns, then sandwiched with the bodies (with a filter to produce the green tint), then with the faces…each shot had a minimum of 6 layers, and as many as 25.

      This is explained better than I can in the “making of” video, which they included in the 20th Anniversary Special Edition. If you haven’t gotten it yet, and are at all interested, you should.

  6. “2) The credits… there’s a sequence where they credit the Taiwanese animators, and we have chinese characters running in vertical columns, green on black. If that’s not where the brothers Wachowski got the idea for their “Matrix” visual I’m a hairless gracile ape.”

    Also, a similar effect was used in “Ghost in the Shell” quite a while before the Matrix movies came out.

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