Review of Tron: 20th Anniversary Special Edition
I`m not a fan of Disney. The blue-eyed animated heroes that have sung their ways on many an adventure rarely impress me. Most Disney animations sanitise their subject matter. What`s usually left is a homogenised blueprint of blandness that is perfectly tailored for a demographic that I left decades ago. That said, I wouldn`t deny that I`m partial to a little Jungle Book or even Aladdin. I also have a blind spot when it comes to Disney`s distribution arm Buena Vista, associated with titles like Pulp Fiction. Then there are the Pixar movies, brilliant and amazingly successful animations that are currently box office gold. So that`s my "Disney is naff" theory shot to shreds. I also conveniently forget that without Disney, there would never have been the influential and groundbreaking Tron, the world`s first CG movie.
ENCOM is a massive technology company that thrives thanks in part to the efforts of one man, Kevin Flynn. Unfortunately Flynn was never able to reap the rewards of his work as Ed Dillinger stole his carefully crafted games software. Dillinger converted this success into an Executive Vice Presidency. Flynn ekes what living he can from an arcade he runs, and in his free time he hacks into ENCOM`s mainframe to retrieve the evidence he needs to remove Dillinger. However his attempts are met with fierce resistance as the Master Control Program runs the ENCOM mainframe and guards its digital kingdom ferociously. The MCP is a monster piece of software that is highly intelligent and boasts a human ambition making short work of other systems and absorbing other companies` software with impunity. Alan Bradley, an ENCOM employee has developed a piece of software, TRON that will independently police the mainframe, but when Dillinger learns of this, he restricts Bradley`s access to the mainframe. Bradley`s girlfriend Lora is a scientist in ENCOM, working on the digitisation of matter into electronic information, and when she learns of the restrictions placed on computer access, she immediately infers that Flynn, her ex-boyfriend`s hacking has been noticed. Alan and Lora go to Flynn`s to warn him, but when there they concoct a plan to break into ENCOM. Flynn can use a forged access to activate Bradley`s TRON program from the inside, putting a stop to the MCP`s meteoric rise to power as well as finding the evidence that will implicate Dillinger once and for all.
Once in ENCOM, Lora sneaks Flynn into her lab where he goes to work at her terminal while Bradley waits to activate his TRON program. But, face to face with the MCP at last Flynn is in mortal peril. As Flynn effortlessly accesses the mainframe, the desperate MCP activates the lab`s equipment, striking Flynn with a laser beam and instantly converting him from matter into electronic information. A disoriented Flynn wakes in a strange electronic world, where the mainframe is made physical. Computer programs have human form with familiar faces and are terrorised into submission by the tyrannical MCP. The MCP`s general, Sark has been tasked with putting Flynn on the game grid, where he will fight for his life in the very video games that he created. Flynn learns of the programs belief in the mythical and godlike users, and that all their hopes for freedom are invested in one program, an unbeatable warrior who fights for his life at the MCP`s whim on the game grid, Tron.
Tron is presented in a 2.20:1 anamorphic transfer and it is immaculate. There is no evidence of artefacts or compression and the colours are rich and strong and the image is as clear as it gets. The 65 mm print itself is in good condition with the picture clean and pristine. It`s apparent that much care has been taken with the original material and there is very little dirt or print damage and only minor grain. Any flaw in the image, such as flickering is down to the convoluted process used to make this film. The complicated composites used in the special effects sequences are effective but do come with the telltale matt lines associated with the process. After a while this does become subliminal as it begins to feel as part of the movie rather than an effect. This is all for the best as the sheer value in Tron is the visual impact. The amazing world is showcased to best effect on this disc with the designs of Moebius and Sid Mead looking amazing when compared to the measly prints that we usually see on the television.
Tron used CGI when it was in its infancy and in 1982, in a movie where the protagonist was sucked into a computer was perhaps the only place where CGI would have worked. The imagery looks remarkably primitive 20 years on but back then, they were on the edge of the new frontier. It all fits together well and looks seamless in the film. What really amazes me is that even with the computer world at the heart of this film, there is only about 15 minutes of CGI in the whole movie, with much of the imagery created by what we would today call traditional animation techniques. Lisberger studios who made Tron, developed a backlight technique as opposed to the usual cel animation that allowed them to literally animate light, allowing for the glowing vivid imagery at the heart of the movie. The live action segments of the computer world sequences were shot in Black and White, and then each frame was individually treated as a frame of animation. Animation artists created the backgrounds and many of the special effects much in the same way as for any traditional cel animation with colours and backlight animation painstakingly produced by hand. It is impossible to even conceive of a film being similarly made today.
You get a choice of DD 5.1 tracks in either English or Spanish. The surround track is effective, especially in the computer world, where the sound is used effectively to bring to life the strange environments. The Lightcycles, and Sark`s carrier as well as the MCP and the energy discs are all given their own characteristic sounds and are another aspect of the unique nature of Tron. The soundtrack by Wendy Carlos is similarly special. It`s very memorable and very eighties. It`s rare for electronic music not to sound dated and cheesy, but in Tron the music is perfectly suited to the story.
When you put the discs in, you are instantly presented with an example of how far technology has advanced. Where the film was a painstakingly constructed amalgam of animation and CGI, these discs are presented with nicely rendered CGI animated menus in the style of Tron. A CG Tron introduces the main movie, while the extras disc has menus lovingly rendered in the style of the computer world. Technology, huh?
Tron itself comes with a veritable feast of extras.
The main extra on the movie disc is the commentary. Presented in DD 2.0 Stereo, Director Steven Lisberger, Producer Donald Kershner and effects guys, Harrison Ellenshaw and Richard Taylor talk about the film. It`s an involving commentary as all aspects of the film are discussed, from conception to production. They go into detail about the difficulties of filming on 65 mm, as well as the steep learning curve they had bringing the world of Tron to life. It does get quite technical at times, and there are no subtitles.
Disc 2 is the comprehensive extras disc.
The meatiest morsel is the Making Of Tron retrospective documentary, weighing in at a hefty 90 minutes rivalling the movie itself. It naturally looks at the concept and genesis of the film, as well as the production and filmmaking processes. There is input from all the cast minus David Warner and it is thoroughly engrossing.
The Development is a collection of 4 featurettes as well as a concept art gallery looking at the early development process of Tron. There is a total of about 8 minutes of footage here.
Digital Imagery has 5 featurettes that look at the animation techniques used in Tron although it focuses mostly on the CGI contribution to the movie. This totals about 13 minutes or so of footage.
Music comprises 2 scenes with alternate music tracks that were changed for the final release. The three-minute lightcycle sequence is shown here with its music track intact and the original end credits sequence minus the pop track are both shown in their entirety. (8 mins)
Storyboarding is just that. A 4-minute featurette looks at the storyboarding process, while a 20 second sequence examines the creation of Tron in the main titles. There is a 78-picture gallery with some Moebius artwork as well as a 94-picture gallery showing some early storyboards. Finally there is one of those multi-angle storyboard to film comparisons focussing on the 3-minute lightcycle sequence that allows you to exercise that rarely pressed button on your remote.
Design has a quick featurette, but there are oodles of images chronicling the design of the programs, vehicles and the electronic world from Moebius and Sid Mead. The Vehicles section also has an interview as well as some test footage. If the world of Tron impresses you then this section is an obvious draw.
There are 3 deleted scenes, presaged by an introduction giving the reasons for deletion. This section totals 7 minutes.
Finally there is the publicity material. There are an amazing 5 trailers with this movie, none of which suit the film at all. There is also a test reel as well as a Work In Progress trailer. Finally there are the copious amount of production photos as well as publicity and merchandise.
Now a smidgen of bad news, the extras are all subtitled in Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish, but there are absolutely no English subtitles.
You`ve no doubt guessed by now that I`m a fan of Tron, and a fan of this disc. The film has its drawbacks and I`ll be the first to admit that the story isn`t up to much. The heroic and intrepid rebels going up against a totalitarian dictatorship of gargantuan proportions is the kind of simplistic tale that appeals to the youth of any age. Give your hero special powers and throw in a little romance for good measure, and you can see the production line nature of the plot. The cast do much to enliven the pedestrian story though, and Jeff Bridges as Flynn manages to convince as a hacker despite his healthy complexion and Bruce Boxleitner as Bradley/Tron is the archetypal lantern jawed hero. David Warner delivers the goods as Dillinger/Sark and they manage to keep the story entertaining.
The biggest draw has to be the sheer visual spectacle of Tron. When it comes to discrete and imaginative future worlds created for the screen, Tron is on a par with movies like Blade Runner and The Fifth Element. The degree of thought and design that went into creating the computer world of Tron is evident in the rich and detailed imagery that comes across in the movie. Steven Lisberger brings a philosophical style to the screen that equates the inner workings of a computer with the macroscopic world. The programs in the film are of course anthropomorphised, but the movement of information is equated to the ebb and flow of urban life. The striking imagery in the real world, of a stark and sterile computer firm, with it`s soul sapping infinity of open plan office cubicles governed form above by a god like Vice President is echoed in the society of the mainframe itself. Up until the final scene, the city is shot only at night, giving an obvious parallel between the real world and the electronic. Lisberger also attempts some spiritual commentary, with the programs of the mainframe worshiping all powerful and deified Users. The insertion of Flynn into that world could be seen as a metaphor for the messiah, and his final sacrifice all too symbolic. All of this on occasion does seem at odds with the target audience for the movie, but it does add a dimension and resonance to the film that works on more than one level.
The eighties heralded an explosion in computer technology, at a pace that was breathtaking. In today`s world where powerful PC`s and consoles are the norm, and mobile phones possess greater processing capacity than any home computer available twenty years ago, it`s easy to take the amazing technology at our fingertips for granted. In 1982 however, the general public remained wary of the new technology and the massive explosion in computer gaming was yet to take place. Tron was years ahead of its time in its depiction of computer games as a social technology. Had the film been released a year or two later, it would have been a phenomenal success, but the world where programs, discs, data and bits and bytes were commonplace was yet to come. Now 20 years on, audiences are familiar with the vernacular of the electronic age, and watching Tron is effortless. Some of the imagery and concepts even look a little dated. Nevertheless, that Tron was an influential movie is impossible to deny. While the backlight animation techniques this film pioneered were rarely used again. The film`s design and style influenced many early computer games. It wasn`t long after this film that games incorporating 3D vector graphics began to appear in arcades and on home computers. But far more influential was the use of fledgling CGI imagery in this film. Primitive and limited, and only briefly on screen the wonderful visualisations of the Lightcycles and the Recognisers as well as Sark`s Carrier opened the eyes of filmmakers to a new tool. It wasn`t long before the film industry embraced the new technologies, and a mere two years separated the hybrid CGI/cel animation Tron and the first movie with full CGI effects, The Last Starfighter. Naturally we are all aware of what followed, and just the mention of Jurassic Park, Star Wars or The Lord Of The Rings reveals the entertainment industry`s reliance on computer effects. However in an interesting development, Tron has come full circle. The original was a movie based on an imagined computer environment, but 2003 sees the release of a sequel of sorts. After 20 years, computers are finally powerful enough to create in real time what took thousands of man-hours to painstakingly create in 1982. Tron 2.0 is set for release for your humble PC with Sid Mead revisiting his wonderful designs. Ironically the demos of the new computer game look even more stunning than the film.
The 20th anniversary edition of Tron is splendid. Presented in ideal condition the film is an absolute joy with excellent sound and picture. The story is a tad lacking, but don`t let that dissuade you from a visual spectacle that is unique and truly edgy considering its Disney origins. While the film is presented in excellent condition, the extras are a treat and really help make this release irresistible. You`ll know if you are a fan, and if you are not, give it a rent, you may just find yourself converted.