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I’ve said it before in my reviews, and no doubt I’ll say it again, but nostalgia rules. Since I got into DVD I have bought a lot of films that hold special meaning from my childhood. Whether it be Krull, The Dark Crystal or Transformers: The Movie, I love revisiting those old films. Tron was one of my favourite movies when I was a youngster, and I purposely held off getting it on DVD until this all-new Collector’s Edition release. Question is, will the film live up to my childhood memories or not?

Tron: Collector's Edition

Feature


While working for the ENCOM Corporation, computer genius Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) was responsible for the invention of some of the most popular video games ever. Unfortunately for Flynn one of his co-workers, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), stole the programs and took all the credit, earning himself a big promotion and getting Flynn fired in the process. Flynn now finds himself the owner of a video games arcade that is, ironically, home to many of the games he designed.

Flynn has tried time and again to hack into ENCOM’s systems to uncover the data he needs to prove Dillinger’s treachery, but is thwarted at every turn by the MCP (Master Control Program) that guards the system. The MCP, brainchild of Dillinger, was designed to control the daily operations of the company, but things are starting to get out of hand. The MCP’s intellect has become over two thousand times greater since its 'birth', and it is no longer satisfied with running the day-to-day operations of its own system. The MCP is assimilating all non-aligned programs into its own database, and is even planning on taking over the Pentagon and the Kremlin!

Flynn is approached by his old colleagues, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora (Cindy Morgan), who are concerned about the activities of the MCP, which has locked them out of ENCOM’s system. Flynn, recognising an opportunity to take back what was stolen from him, agrees to help the pair break into ENCOM and gain access to Alan’s new security program, Tron, which will stop the MCP dead in its tracks.

Flynn’s hacking incurs the wrath of the MCP, which dislikes Flynn poking around in its memory. Using an experimental laser it transports him into the computerised world of the programs, where Flynn learns of the MCP’s tyranny. All programs that fail to denounce their ‘superstitious’ belief in the Users (the programmers who created them) are sent to the game grid to be pitted against others in gladiatorial combat. It is here that Flynn meets Tron (Alan’s security program), a warrior who fights for the Users.

Only Sark, the MCP’s sadistic second in command, is aware of Flynn’s true identity, and he forces him to play some very lethal computer games. Flynn doesn’t plan on dying playing one of the games he invented, and with the help of Tron and another renegade program he escapes. Together they seek to destroy the MCP and put an end to its dominance of the system…

Firstly, it’s very hard to review a film like Tron, mostly because of the rose-tinted specs I’m wearing. I loved this movie when I was younger, for its fantastic visuals and innovative storyline. Twenty years on I’m hopefully a little harder to please, and it is now that the chinks in Tron’s armour start to show. Firstly, the standard of the acting isn’t as high as it could be. Jeff Bridges puts in a spirited performance as Flynn, and David Warner is suitably maniacal as Dillinger/Sark/MCP, but the rest of the cast fail to live up to the standards set by the pair, and the movie just seems to leave them behind.

Another, possibly more disastrous failing is the lack of plot. What is there is pretty thin, especially the ‘real world’ segments, which feel rushed. It’s as if they’re simply a way to facilitate the transition to the ‘computer world’, and I guess in a way that’s true.

TRON: Collector's Edition
With all of that said, Tron is still an entertaining film. It’s plot may be a little hard to follow at times, but once you get into the swing of things you’ll figure out what’s going on quickly enough. The visual style of the film is unique, even to this day, and this really helps to set it apart from other movies of this ilk (although I can’t really think of any films quite like Tron). Once the dazzling computer imagery appears, and you catch your first glimpse of Tron fighting enemies with his code disc, you’ll be on your way to being hooked. By the time the Light Cycle sequence arrives, you’ll be totally converted. Basically, even twenty years on, Tron is still inexplicably cool!

Video


This collector’s edition comes complete with a newly restored 2.20:1 anamorphic transfer, which looks very nice indeed considering the age of the source material. The segments set in the real world are relatively free from grain (although not entirely so), with good flesh tones and nice bright colours. Inside the computer world things are radically different. The image is very grainy, with brilliant, often garish colours and radically fluctuating contrast levels. This is not the fault of the transfer however, but more a by-product of the various processes used to bring the film to the screen. Blacks are solid and the level of detail is generally good, with little in the way of compression artefacts and print damage. For those interested in the technical side of things, Tron has an average video bitrate of 8.32Mb/sec.

It is a testament to the originality of the film that it still looks fresh today. There really is nothing quite like Tron in the visuals department, and even if the computer graphics are starting to show their age, the film is still visually impressive. I actually like the simplistic graphics, which lock the movie firmly into a specific timeframe when computers weren’t as powerful or accessible as they are today. With the recent quantum leaps in processing power we can only assume that the rumoured sequel, Tron: Killer App, will feature stunning visuals, the like of which have never been seen before…

Audio


For this collector’s edition we are given an all-new Dolby Digital 5.1 sound track to go with the restored visuals. As far as remixed soundtracks go, Tron is a winner. Dialogue is perfectly clear throughout and, whilst most of the action takes place at the front of the soundstage, there is some nice use of the surround channels at key points. A good example of this is when Flynn and his fellow prisoners are being address by Sark. The way Sark’s voice moves around the soundstage depending on the camera angle is brilliant, and adds a new dimension to this aging film.

As someone who frequented video game arcades in the early 1980s, I can remember the old Tron arcade game like it was yesterday. You could tell if an arcade housed a Tron machine the second you walked in, so instantly recognisable was the music. Scored by Wendy Carlos (who used to be Walter Carlos for those of you interested in such things), Tron fuses synthesised music with orchestral instruments to create a soundtrack that perfectly fits the nature of the film. It sounds as great today as it did way back in 1982. In fact, it sounds better on this DVD than it ever has!

The sound effects also conjure up images of smoky arcades, and sound better than ever here. The Light Cycles, Recognisers and other craft have a suitably ‘computery’ sound to them, and are just as unique as the visuals. My one criticism would be that the mix is perhaps a little heavy on the bass sometimes, but this niggle aside it is a very nice example of a remixed soundtrack.

Tron: Collector's Edition

Extras


The first thing that you’ll see when you insert disc one into your machine is a promo for the new game, Tron: Killer App, due in 2003. After this sequence has played out you’ll be treated to some of the best menus of any DVD I’ve yet seen. Not only are they fully animated, but they are also based on the computer-generated imagery found in the film. This helps to provide a fantastic transition from the menus to the movie, and it really puts you in the right frame of mind. In fact, the menus actually look better than the original CGI in the film!

Tron is no slouch when it comes to supplemental material, and the two disc set is packed full of bonus features. The first disc houses the commentary track, featuring Steven Lisberger, Donald Kushner, Harrison Ellenshaw and Richard Taylor. The commentary track is chock full of fascinating information about all aspects of the film, and the participants are very interesting to listen to. However, it appears that some of participants were recorded separately and then stitched together, rather than everyone being in the same room.

Disc two is where the bulk of the supplements are housed, as is becoming the norm with most high-profile releases. Again, the disc features some excellent animated menus, with eight separate subsections for the various special features.

The first section is entitled ‘Development’ and this in turn has five subsections. The first of these, called ‘Early Development of Tron’ is an interview with Steven Lisberger in which he discusses the origins of Tron. ‘Early Lisberger Studios Animation’ shows a very early incarnation of what was to go on to be Tron, while ‘Early Concept Art and Backgrounds’ is a series of pages of still photographs showing early artwork and background tests for the imagery used in the film. Next is a segment entitled ‘Computers are People Too’, which is an excerpt from a program on computer graphics that was originally aired around the time of the film’s release. Obviously the segment included here deals specifically with Tron. Finally in this section we have ‘Early Video Tests’, which shows a series of unfinished video from Tron. This is interesting if only for the fact that many of the characters are different colours than in the final movie. Sark, for example, is blue here.

The next section on the disc is entitled ‘Digital Imagery’ and features a number of segments dealing with the effects in the film. ‘Backlight Animation’ details the procedure of making the characters ‘glow’ the way they do in the film. In ‘Digital Imagery in Tron’, Richard Taylor talks about the various companies who had a hand in creating the stunning visuals. ‘Beyond Tron’ is an excerpt from a TV special that explores MAGI’s involvement with the film. In ‘Role of Triple I’ Richard Taylor talks about the company’s involvement, with the final segment ‘Triple I Demo’ showing off some of the company's work.

TRON: Collector's Edition
The ‘Music’ section of the supplements disc contains two finished, unused pieces from Wendy Carlos. The first is the Light Cycles scene, with alternative Carlos score. The second is the complete score as originally written for the end credits, before the track from rock band Journey was used.

The best of the special features, for me at least, is the hour and a half long ‘Making of Tron’ feature. This contains interviews with Lisberger and pretty much everyone else involved with the production talking about all aspects of the film, as well as footage from various stages of production, from the beginning right through to the final release. This is an entertaining piece, and more thorough than most ‘Making of’ featurettes.

Next we have ‘Storyboarding’. This menu contains five subsections detailing the storyboarding process. The most interesting of these is the ‘Storyboard to Screen Comparison’ section, which shows the Light Cycle chase scenes from the film in slip-screen mode, complete with the original storyboards so you can chart the evolution of the scene. You can also choose to watch just the storyboard or video.

‘Design’ concentrates on the artistic aspect of the film, with submenus containing stills of the evolution of the programs, vehicles and the electronic world. Each of the individual segments contains subsections and it will take you some time to view all of the available stills.

Also included in the supplemental material is a small ‘Deleted Scenes’ section. These are the famous deleted “love” scenes between Ton and Yori, as well as an alternative set of opening titles. The scenes are interesting to watch, but only one has fully realised special effects and audio.

Finally we have the ‘Publicity’ section, which houses some of the most interesting features of all. Contained in this section are six trailers, hoards of production photos and merchandising stills. The merchandising section contains everything from clothes and toys to the Tron arcade games themselves. A bit of useless info for you:  I still have the original figures from the first release of the toys! Tron, Flynn, Sark and the Warrior are all minus their various weapons, but they’re still a nice bit of my childhood to hold on to. I never did manage to get hold of a Light Cycle (although Forbidden Planet has started selling replicas of the original toys, so who knows)…

Tron: Collector's Edition

Overall


If you’re unfamiliar with the film you may find it slightly hard to get into, but for fans this is a dream come true. This is the best ever presentation of Tron; a cult-classic with fantastic visuals, audio and a stunning array of quality extras, combined with some very slick presentation. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or simply have fond memories from your childhood, do yourself a favour and get your hands on this disc. Highly Recommended.


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