Despite its sharp look and quick, elegant animation, this 1982 Walt Disney live-action production proves what should have been the most blatantly obvious rule in 80s Hollywood: the best visual design in the world doesn’t mean a thing unless there’s someone around with a rudimentary sense of story. Writer-director Steven Lisberger takes the computer world as a metaphor for totalitarianism, with plucky American individuals battling the glowing red forces of a Stalinist “Master Control Program.” It’s a simple idea that ought to serve, but Lisberger’s failures of pacing, structure, variation, and characterization ultimately make the film seem monotonous and distant. Jeff Bridges, playing the human hero sucked into the machine, has to carry the film’s entire burden of charm and appeal; he seems to have freaked out under the strain, turning in some surpassingly weird, alienating work. With Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan, David Warner, and Barnard Hughes.
PG • 1 hour 36 min • 1982