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This 40-Year-Old Science Fiction Film Withstands The Tests Of Time

Special effects have always been a part of cinema to create fictional worlds on the big screen, whether it's a forced perspective to make something look far away in the distance, or prosthetics to create a grisly wound. But computer-generated visual effects have become a vital part of the modern Hollywood blockbuster, helping bring the most outlandishly grand ideas to life. However, because CGI is constantly evolving, it often means that older movies can look incredibly dated thanks to current advancements in technology.

Just look at how CGI characters are brought to life now, with actors wearing suits so that animators can create a 3D-rendered model over the top of their performance. Digital characters are commonplace in some of the biggest movies of all time, like "Avatar" and "The Avengers," but they wouldn't have been possible without a 40-year-old science fiction classic: "Tron."

The story follows Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) as he's transported inside a giant computer mainframe to go up against a nefarious Master Control Program that has started amassing other programs from the real world to bolster its own power. From there, Flynn is dragged into a virtual adventure to stop the MCP from gaining even more power. But considering "Tron" arrived back in 1982, it still stands the test of time for a very specific reason.

Exploring a virtual reality still resonates with the modern world

Yes, the blend of live-action and CGI pales against our high modern standards, but "Tron" paved the way for ambitious storytelling as well as unique visuals. The expansive world of the Encom mainframe imagines a virtual world with its own culture, its own games, and its own villains. But due to how gaming and technology have become such a huge part of society over the years, "Tron" feels like an evergreen adventure. It's not hard to imagine what it would be like to dive into a computer, because we do it all the time now with online gaming and VR headsets.

When Kevin gets thrown into the Light Cycle games, older audiences will instantly be reminded of classic arcade games of the 1980s, while the life-or-death tournaments will remind younger fans of battle royale titles like "Call of Duty: WarZone" or "Fortnite." This makes "Tron" feel accessible to viewers of all ages, 40 years after it originally arrived in theaters — which is a pretty impressive feat considering it only raked in $33 million domestically in 1982 (via Box Office Mojo).

It's worth pointing out that "Tron" predates "The Matrix" by over a decade — and although the Wachowski sisters have never revealed whether they were influenced by Steven Lisberger's 1982 stylistic adventure, the similarities are striking. After all, they both involve a virtual world where villainous programs try to wield more power over the human race.

Let's not forget that "Tron" is also about the dangers of dodgy megacorporations that have far too much access to vast amounts of data and potentially world-changing technology, but prioritize profit over benefitting the global population. Without naming names, that feels particularly relevant in an age of social networks and metaverses.

It led to an underrated sequel

Because technology has come on in leaps and bounds since 1982, it was only a matter of time before Disney revisited that world with modern eyes. And director Joseph Kosinski was the man for the job. He delivered the much-overlooked "Tron: Legacy" in 2010 — which follows Kevin's son, Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), who goes looking for his father, who's been missing since the '80s. The sequel's heart involves the tragic story between father and son, as Sam tries to rebel against Kevin's legacy by actively disrupting ENCOM's systems. But by doing this, he's acting exactly like his father did when he was a free-spirited hacker in the original movie.

It's eventually revealed that Kevin has been trapped in the Grid, and a program he created to help run the place, called CLU (Jeff Bridges), has turned the digital landscape into a fascist police state. Like any good legacy sequel, the 2010 film expands the "Tron" mythology by exploring its world past the games — it takes things further by introducing the idea that artificial life can spontaneously blossom inside the Grid. These beings are called ISOs — which stands for Isomorphic Algorithms.

One ISO, Quorra (Olivia Wilde), actually gets transferred out into the real world along with Sam at the end of the film — which means the possibilities are endless for the franchise going forward. If life that's created inside the Grid can be transferred into our world, what does that mean for civilization as a whole? Could the technology be used to bring digital constructs and supplies out of the Grid? How would that affect the global population? The answer to that has yet to be explored.

The door is still wide open for more adventures

Joseph Kosinski originally had plans for a third film, titled "Tron: Ascension," and he told Collider that it would've seen the digital world invade the real world after Quorra was able to get out of the Grid. The director explained, "the first act was in the real world, the second act was in the world of TRON, or multiple worlds of TRON, and the third act was totally in the real world." Unfortunately, the project stalled because Disney was focused on its bigger money makers: the Marvel Cinematic Universe and "Star Wars."

But the door is still wide open for more adventures. In fact, Jared Leto is set to star in a currently-untitled third film which he says is closer than fans might think. Hopefully, the digital world collides with the real world like in Kosinski's original script — but only time will tell. The most important thing is that it doesn't take away from what makes the original "Tron" great in the first place — groundbreaking effects and a story with heart.

The 1982 movie is ultimately about rebelling against the machine, before turning it into a force for good, and it's those themes that help it withstand the test of time. "Tron: Legacy" followed those concepts with Sam meddling with ENCOM's systems, but it would be interesting to see what that world would look like over a decade later. After Kosinski again proved that he can balance high-octane action with a heartfelt storyline in "Top Gun: Maverick," here's hoping that Disney gets him back on board for whatever lies ahead for "Tron."