It came from 1982: with its studio in a floundering state, Disney found itself willing to take a gamble on a property that might appeal to the arcade-going youth of the day. This turned out to be the perfect opportunity for animator Steven Lisberger to get big-time support for his developing dream project Tron, an unusual blend of live action (mostly shot, in black and white, with an unconventional backlighting process) and CGI animation in its infancy. There's an undeniable cart-before-the-horse aspect to Tron (as with so many spectacle films), but Lisberger's film will always stand as a touchstone in the development of CGI as a storytelling tool, and almost thirty years later, it would be the basis for a surprising franchise revival, beginning with the big-budget theatrical sequel Tron: Legacy.
Tron is predicated on the sentience of computer programs, which the humans in the film are only beginning to understand. Writer-director Lisberger personifies the inner workings of a computer mainframe: programs walk and talk within a surreal, geometric gridscape. More to the point, they compete in gladiatorial games, employing light cycles and frisbee-sized discs. Humans living outside of the computer have been, for the most part, blithely unaware of the intricacy of the computer world, though one Ed Dillinger (David Warner), senior executive of ENCOM, has grown the business based on the counsel of the Master Control Program (also Warner). The dastardly Dillinger squeezed out "the best programmer ENCOM ever saw"—talented software engineer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges)—by out-and-out stealing his five video games, including "Space Paranoids," and thereby winning the credit for their huge success.
Now the proprietor of Flynn's Arcade, the gaming god has turned secret hacker, trying to restore his name by infiltrating the system with renegade programs. Shortly after confiding in his former co-workers (Bruce Boxleitner's Alan Bradley and Cindy Morgan's Lora), Flynn gets scanned into his computer, where he meets programs they created: Tron (Boxleitner), who famously "fights for the users," and Yori (Morgan). Badly paced and narratively clumsy as it is, Tron is basically a video game exploitation picture from the era when they first became plentiful (think War Games).
At times, Lisberger comes tantalizing close to making something interesting: a suggestion of the John Henry myth of man versus machine, and a religious motif informed by those gladiators, inquisitions, the existential meeting of programs and their creators, and the notion of systematically wiping out "religious fanatics" who believe in human "users." Conceptual artists Syd Mead, Jean "Moebius" Girard, and Peter Lloyd contribute to the film's trippy visual impact; indeed, Tron is probably best approached as a silent movie, a junior-league Metropolis with Boxleitner as square-jawed hero. (Bridges, obviously in an adventurous mood, labors to make Flynn an amusing eccentric.)
Tron's 2011 sequel Tron: Legacy makes marginally more sense and has a bit more character development than its predecessor-one can hardly ask for more. Lisberger serves as producer, handing the directorial reins over to Joseph Kosinski and the writing duties to fanboys and Lost scribes Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. The film begins in 1989, with Kevin Flynn (a not-very-convincing digital Bridges) entertaining his son Sam with tales of the grid; meanwhile, Kevin pursues his "dream of ‘a digital frontier to reshape the human condition.'" This dream takes him back into the computer, and one day (or night), he doesn't return.
Hence, the grown and orphaned Sam (a very capable Garrett Hedlund) has turned into a bitter adrenaline junkie (and ENCOM principal stockholder) who annually pranks ENCOM while leaving the responsibility for protecting his father's vision mostly to Bradley (again, Boxleitner). Thanks to the electronic Daft Punk score and a base-jump from the top of ENCOM headquarters in "Center City," Tron: Legacy tries initially to replicate The Dark Knight's style, and succeeds. But it doesn't take long for Sam to get sucked into the computer, where most of the film unfolds in the digital realm, a sunless world of blue.
Sam faces his own initiation through disc wars and Light Cycle races before finding a false father (Clu, played by digital Bridges) and his real father (Bridges, at last in the flesh). Dad's been living in an austere outpost mansion with Quorra (Olivia Wilde), a program with a Louise Brooks bob (again, shades of the silents). Given the fetishization of the women (the men have personality; the women are zombies), the sequel seems like a sexual regression--which is saying something-in that sort of benign way we've come to expect from video-game-inspired cinema. Anyway, Kevin is delighted and disturbed by the arrival and jeopardy of his son ("You're messing with my Zen thing, man"), but they find a way to work together to set things right.
Tron: Legacy is basically a fanboy's dream, honoring what's worth honoring about the original while adding as much as the premise will bear (Light Planes! Michael Sheen as a program doing Ziggy Stardust, vaudeville-style!). Above all--above all the corn and nonsense, that is--Tron: Legacy is a visual feast, worth the price of admission as a snazzy 3D movie, IMAX optional.
Protecting its investment, Disney pulls out the stops for the Blu-ray debut of its new-old Tron franchise. Available separately and in a Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray 2D + DVD + Digital Copy 2-Movie Collection (and a collector's edition gift set variant), 1982's Tron and 2010's Tron: Legacy make their hi-def debuts in style, with terrific transfers and a wealth of bonus features. The image quality for Tron is basically impeccable, maximizing the source while staying essentially faithful. Detail and texture have never looked better on home video (with film-like grain intact), colors are truer, and the crucial black level and contrast are calibrated correctly for an image that recreates the filmmaker's intentions from 1982 with no heavyhanded digital tampering. It should be noted, though, that director Steven Lisberger supervised a remastering tweak to the original film, correcting a flicker error that he was previously unable to correct; if you're ultra-sensitive to such changes, google away before making a purchase: to my eye, Tron now looks its best.The audio comes in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround that does its best to adapt the source material for modern home theaters; it's hard to imagine this sounding any better without invasive tinkering—suffice it to say it's clear and makes some use of rear channels for a measure of immersion.
Of course, Tron: Legacy is relatively dazzling in its own A/V credentials, with two brilliant hi-def transfers that toggle between 2.35:1 and 1.78:1 IMAX aspect ratios to maximize resolution throughout the picture (think The Dark Knight on Blu-ray). The eye-popping 3D transfer proves that any minor bugs previously limiting the Blu-ray 3D format have been vanquished: in terms of true color, perfectly calibrated contrast, deep blacks, and exceptional texture and detail, it's every bit the match of its 2D equivalent. Just as in theaters, viewers must wear their 3D glasses throught playback, even though not all sequences are in 3D, but this never detracts from the viewing experience. This five-disc set is going to move some 3D HDTVs. The only word for the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix here is "perfect"—this is reference-quality cinematic audio, with mind-blowing immersion and tack-sharp discrete separation that never overwhelms dialogue prioritization (and the pulsating Daft Punk score sounds beautiful).
First, let's check out the Tron extras. The nifty new featurette "The Tron Phenomenon" (9:45, HD) includes comments from writer/director Steven Lisberger, Jeff Bridges, conceptual artist Syd Mead, Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski, and Tron: Legacy writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, among others, about the "legacy" of the original film and the excitement to keep it alive.
Also new: "Photo Tronology" (16:37, HD), with Lisberger and his son Carl touring the Disney archives and digging up buried treasures.
The bonus features from the 2002 20th Anniversary Edition DVD also return, beginning with audio commentary by Steven Lisberger, producer Donald Kushner, and visual effects supervisors Harrison Ellenshaw and Richard Taylor.
In the Development section are vintage promo "Early Development of Tron" (2:37, SD), "Early Lisberger Studios Animation" logo (0:30, SD), the Tron segment from 1982 TV special "Computers Are People, Too" (4:28, SD), and "Early Video Tests" (0:30, SD).
Digital Imagery includes more vintage material: "Backlight Animation" (1:39, SD), "Digital Imagery in Tron" (3:44, SD), "Beyond Tron" (4:00, SD), "Role of Triple I" (0:34, SD) and "Triple I Demo" (2:15, SD).
The best of the Tron extras, by far, is the extensive "The Making of Tron" (1:28:21, SD), a complete oral history of the project's inception, development, production, and post-production with rare early animation and raw live-action footage, as well as interviews with Lisberger, Pixar head John Lasseter, former Disney chairman Dick Cook, and actors Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan, Dan Shor, and Barnard Hughes.
In the Music section, one will find Wendy Carlos's unused music for the "Light Cycle Scene" (2:46, SD) and "End Credits" (5:15, SD).
Publicity comprises a five-minute preview assembled for NATO (National Association of Theatre Owners), a work-in-progress trailer (1:25, SD), and four other trailers. Three deleted scenes come with an "Introduction" (2:18, SD) and optional filmmaker commentary: "Tron and Yori's Love Scene" (1:56, SD), "Tron and Yori's Love Scene #2" (0:44, SD) and an "Alternate Opening Prologue" (1:21, SD).
Design includes a Lisberger intro (1:10, SD), Syd Mead on the light cycle sequence (1:51, SD), a MAGI light cycle animation test (0:16, SD), and Recognizer footage from "Space Paranoids" (0:16, SD).
Storyboarding includes "The Storyboarding Process" (3:52, SD), "Moebius Storyboards" (0:15, SD), storyboard-to-film comparison with Bill Kroyer introduction (0:52): light cycle chase scene in a storyboard/final film mix and final film only (both 1:56, SD).
Rounding out the disc are four interactive art galleries in the new Disney style, with lots of bells and whistles: optional film score, "favorites" capability with star ratings, and view options including "flow," "thumbnail" and "smart indexing" by keyword. The images are separated into Design (130 images), Early Concept Art (9 images), Publicity and Production (33 images), and Storyboard Art (44 images).
Tron: Legacy also serves up a large numebr of bonuses, beginning with "The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed" (10:26, HD), a short film that summarizes the new film's backstory and, in the process, Disney's viral marketing campaign.
The film lands us at a Tron high scores list, with a menu of three-letter codes that take you to HD "Easter Eggs" (entering "ALL" gets you all nine clips, totalling 10:30): "Dillinger Chat" (DJR), "Alan Bradley Tapes" (CEO), "Alan Bradley CEO Interview" (MKT), "Sam Flynn Drops in on ENCOM Press Conference" (SAM), "Flynn Lives Guerilla Video Tagging Encom Headquarters" (TAG), "Flynn Lives Recruiting Video" (FLV), "Kevin Flynn and the Digital Frontier" (DFB), "Flynn Lives ARG and the Re-Opening of Flynn's Arcade" (GAM), "Vintage TV Commercial for Space Paranoids Home Video Game" (SPC).
Disney has loaded Tron: Legacy up with Disney Second Screen, complete with informative clip "What is Disney Second Screen?" (0:40, HD). Again, the bugs seem to have been worked out (since the Bambi release), allowing the viewer to use an Internet-connected computer and downloaded app to match up the movie to synchronous BD-Live bonus material: filmmaker annotations by director Joseph Kosinski and others, production photos, design art, storyboards, 360-degree turnarounds, and behind-the-scenes video (no audio).
"First Look at Tron: Uprising, the Disney XD Animated Series" (1:15, HD) will excite fans with a glimpse of what's next (and a list of the voice talent involved).
"Launching the Legacy" (10:20, HD) discusses the franchise re-launch and incorporates the short test film made by director Joseph Kosinski (with Jeff Bridges involved) that debuted at the 2008 Comic-Con.
The self-explanatory "Visualizing Tron" (11:46, HD) and "Installing the Cast" (12:04, HD) focus on two appealing aspects of the film.
The mysteriously titled "Disc Roars" (3:00, HD) turns out to be an excerpt from the 2010 Comic-Con Tron: Legacy panel, at which Kosinski directed the crowd to provide crowd roars heard in the film.
Last up is the pretty cool "Music Video for Daft Punk's 'Derezzed'" (2:58, HD)
Tron fans will need a few days to themselves with this five-disc set, and Disney has made a good case for what looks to be a few years of continuing the Tron "legacy."
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer