Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Tron Legacy

You'd have to have been hiding under a rock not to have heard about it. For the last three years, the Disney machine has been leaking, teasing, hyping the follow-up to a movie that was admittedly a flop when it premiered in 1982. No matter that minor detail. This time around the numbers will add up: 1 cartoon, 2 videogames, 3-D glasses, and $170 million dollars have been deployed to make Christmas 2010 the season of "Tron:Legacy." As Adam Rogers writes in Wired, "Come December 17, when the movie comes out, your butt will be in a seat and your head will be plugged into migraine-inducing Urkel goggles like everybody else. You will like ‘Tron: Legacy.' That's not a prediction - it's a command."

If, like me, you remember the original, you are at least curious as to what that order will turn out to be about. Being the geeky type (and back then, that was a pejorative characterization as opposed to now), I anxiously queued up to see the movie with friends and remember being blown away by what it was trying to do. The story was OK... in fact, I can hardly recall much of it. But as the first film where computer graphics ruled the screen, it was a tantalizing view of what could be. The "The Matrix" and other CG films were still a dozen years in the future; "Tron" was the toe in the water of where it might all lead.

In some respects, my own experience with computers is a parallel one. My dad worked in information management, though he was hardly a techie. But at about the same time the movie came out he got a Timex-Sinclair. When I visited him he showed it to me, a plastic box with a membrane keyboard about the size of an open paperback book. This early personnel computer was cheaper than Radio Shack's TRS-80, the Commodore 64 and the Apple 1, but did almost nothing. You could program it in BASIC to play blackjack (using numbers, not cards) and not much else in black and white on your TV screen. But like TRON it was a window on what could be, might be, must be coming down the road.

Not long after that I went out on my own and bought my own first computer, a Kaypro II. Considered portable because it had a handle on it, it was a 30 pound metal box that included a keyboard, a glowing green 8" screen and a pair of 5 ¼ floppy disc drives. I remember taking it out of its box and setting it up on the floor. I turned it on only to see a winking cursor: nothing else. It took a while to understand the concept of programs and machine code and a language called CP/M. Eventually I was able to write on it (PerfectWord), create simple spreadsheets (PerfectCalc) and even play an Asteroid-like game of glowing green Martians (the letter "M") attacking glowing green guns (the letter "G") to be shot down by bullets (You guessed it... the letter "B").

Now, 28 years and several dozen desk and laptops later I'd sooner be without my arm than without my computer. I don't try and buy the most cutting edge device, but look for that sweet spot between performance and price. I invariably buy machines that I think are way more than adequate for my needs, than invariably stress them to the max. And I'm not alone. After all, who would have thought that my now 80-year old mother would almost require a machine that would enable her to swap email with her friends, load and manage her iPod and video chat with her grandson in Russia? That's about as far as you can get from her early tech encounters watching her Aunt Elizabeth tune her Gloritone radio to her favorite soap opera "Our Gal Sunday."

It's a road that's hardly ending. "Tron" may represent the next evolution in visual imagery, or it may be just another sci-fi flick that gives you a 3-D headache. Likewise, I have been on a parallel path, with no assurances where I'm heading. To be fair, I certainly haven't ridden a light-cycle to this point... more like a tricycle with training wheels... but I've made progress. Like Jeff Bridges in the new movie, I'm older and slower, not sure what's happening around me and sometimes it's hard to tell the bad guys from the good ones... but at least I'm still in the game.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is already tired of 3D movies. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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