WELCOME TO THE MACHINE: On Dec. 17, the Disney film “Tron: Legacy” picks up the story of the 1982 movie “Tron,” which was neither a critical nor commercial success but somehow still echoes in pop culture as an early signpost of the digital era’s glowing frontier. “Tron” is remembered more for its ideas and images (and its namesake video game) than for its story or characters, and that is a challenge presented to this new film, which is directed by Joseph Kosinski and stars Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde. We’re counting down to the release date, now with a guest essay by “Tron” super-fan Jay West, who explains the meaning and heritage of the identity discs.
“Star Wars” has light sabers, the “Harry Potter” wizarding world has its wands, and “The Matrix” has, well, cool sunglasses. In the world of “Tron,” which returns to theaters this week with “Tron: Legacy,” the signature possession of the heroes and villains are their identity discs, which essentially looks like high-tech Frisbees.
“You will each receive an identity disc. Everything you do or learn will be imprinted on this disc. If you lose your disc, or fail to follow commands, you will be subject to immediate deresolution. That will be all.”
These lines from the original “Tron” movie were said by the villainous tyrant Sark (David Warner) when addressing a group of warriors in the digital world, including the movie’s protagonist, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges).
These same lines are echoed via a computer voice in “Tron: Legacy” — when the son of Bridges’ character, Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), is outfitted in warrior attire and assigned his own identity disc. Identity discs are extremely personal devices used by the programs (as the denizens of the digital world are called) for three purposes — they record life events, they contain special codes from the user (that would be the program’s actual human counterpart “on the other side of the screen”), and they are used as a weapon that is a combination boomerang and shield.
Go see a 3-D screening of “Tron: Legacy” on opening night and you might feel like a disc is flying by your ear. If you feel one actually hit you, it is probably one of the Spin Master toy versions that some especially fervent fans brought along. The discs have a special place in the hearts of “Tron” fans, and the makers of the new film decided early on that the discs were a key part of the mythology and that a important part of the new film is the struggle to possess Flynn’s identity disc, which is a holy totem of sorts in the world of the Grid and a receptacle of world-changing information.
Although identity discs in the original “Tron” were completely solid and whole (the production used actual Frisbees that were modified with a sci-fi look for shooting), the identity discs” in “Legacy,” while retaining the circular rim shape, are devoid of any material in their centers, making them more agile in handling. An actual disc prop used in “Tron: Legacy” was recently sold by Profiles in History for $8,500 after intense bidding. As Sark said in the first film: “Wait … I need that! …”
— Jay West