Whatever Happened to... Tron?

We're still waiting for our lightcycles

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Eric Charbonneau/Le Studio/Wireimage

When it premiered on July 9, 1982, seminal sci-fi film Tron delivered a vision of the future that was equal parts dazzling and terrifying. In the movie, a gifted software engineer-cum-computer hacker named Kevin Flynn-played by future-Dude Jeff Bridges-is sucked into a computer and forced to fight the omniscient Master Control Program in a life-or-death video game.

Tron was the first feature film to use computer-generated imagery (CGI), and the storyline confronted of-the-minute themes like virtual reality and artificial intelligence. But for many viewers-especially young males-the lightcycles were all that mattered. These fictional futurebikes were nuclear-fast and left brilliant streams of neon light-"jetwalls," in Tron parlance-in their wake. Lightcycles were the basis of a gladiatorial game where Flynn's digital avatar raced around a virtual playfield and attempted to trap the other riders within his jetwall, causing their "derezzing," or digital death.

Tron exploded into a full-blown franchise, with a companion lightcycle video game, a Tron -themed Disneyland ride and a TOMY lightcycle toy that topped every boy's 1982 Christmas list. Today, almost 30 years later, those boys are men entering midlife-crisis mode, a dangerous moment where fervent nostalgia and irrational desire collide. A shiny red Corvette won't do-they want their lightcycles, and they want them now!

There's still nothing resembling a light-spewing superbike in the local dealership, but Hollywood-never failing to leverage fervent nostalgia for financial gain-will unleash the long-awaited sequel, Tron 2: Legacy, in theaters later this year. The YouTube trailer reveals a new-and-improved "fifth-generation" lightcycle re-imagined by Berlin-based futurist Daniel Simon, a former designer of Lamborghini and Bugatti supercars. Updates include a deleted canopy to more closely resemble an actual motorcycle, a jetwall off-switch to allow "stealth" operation and a chassis that elongates on the fly to enable even higher speeds. In the interest of safety, the lightcycle pilot no longer instantly "derezzes" on impact, but instead flies off and tumbles as in a real-world crash-a situation we assume is somehow less fatal.

In other words, enjoy the movie because it will be at least another 30 years until a real-world lightcycle replica appears on a game grid near you.

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