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TRON

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 of all time. Unfortunately for Flynn a devious co-worker by the name of Ed Dillinger (David Warner) stole the programs and took all the credit, earning himself a fat big promotion and getting Flynn fired in the process. Flynn now finds himself the proprietor of a video games arcade that is, ironically, home to many of the games he created.

 Tron's lightcycles
Although he has tried time and again to hack into ENCOM’s systems to recover the data he needs to prove Dillinger’s deceit, Flynn has been thwarted at every turn by the MCP (Master Control Program) that guards the system. As Dillinger's brainchild the MCP was designed to control the daily operations of the company, but things are starting to get out of hand. The MCP’s intellect has increased two thousand fold since its 'birth' and it is no longer satisfied with running the day-to-day operations of its own system. Instead it is assimilating all non-aligned programs into its own database and is even planning an attack on 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. Recognising an opportunity to take back what was stolen from him Flynn 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. Unfortunately Flynn’s hacking attracts the attention of the MCP, which uses an experimental laser to transport him into the computerised grid where Flynn learns of the true extent of the MCP’s tyranny. All programs that refuse to denounce their ‘superstitious’ belief in the 'users' are sent to the game grid to be pitted against others in gladiatorial combat. It is here that Flynn meets Alan’s security program Tron, 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 compete in some very lethal computer programs. Flynn doesn’t plan on dying playing one of the games he invented and with Tron's help he escapes to combat the MCP and reclaim the system for free programs everywhere.

 Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan)
I last reviewed Tron over nine years ago, which apart from making me feel extremely old means that we're fast approaching the film's thirtieth anniversary. That it's still relevant after all of these years is no small wonder, and it's even more impressive that it spawned a sequel after such a long time. Although clearly a flawed piece of work the original film is still a favourite many, many years after I first saw it as a wide-eyed child. Back then personal computers were not a household fixture and there was an air of mystery surrounding the sort of technology featured in Tron. In many ways the film was way ahead of the pack in dealing with the sort of terminology we take for granted nowadays, what with the references to various computer initialisms and concepts like avatars and the Internet. It presented a future full of possibilities and inspired an interest in technology that carried through into adulthood.

Even so, if one takes off the rose-tinted specs then the cracks begin to show. The innovative visuals that captivated me as a child are no longer cutting edge, which forces the adult viewer to pay closer attention to the story itself. Unfortunately Tron just doesn’t have much of a story beyond the admittedly cool concept. The ‘real world’ segments feel terribly rushed and in many ways they are simply there to facilitate the transition to the ‘computer world’. Very little attempt is given to provide the sort of development that would make us really empathise with the characters. With the possible exception of Flynn, they are simply good and bad archetypes with none of the shades of grey that make for interesting protagonists and antagonists. The standard of acting is also variable at best. 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. Of course as most of you know, when it comes to films there really is no accounting for taste and whatever Tron’s problems I still can’t help but smile every time I watch it. A timeless classic it is not, but it is a genre classic and one that should be respected for opening the door to computer generated effects on a large scale.

 Sark (David Warner) communicates with the MCP
TRON: Legacy

Many years after the destruction of the MPC, Kevin Flynn has disappeared and his son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), is the sole heir to his ENCOM empire. However, Sam chooses to eschew his corporate responsibilities in favour of thrill-seeking, at least until his father's old friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) pays him a visit. Alan brings news of a mysterious message purportedly from Flynn senior, which originated in the old abandoned videogame arcade. Intrigued, Sam decides to pay a visit to the arcade and accidentally stumbles upon his father's hidden computer network.

After activating the machinery Sam is transported to the grid where he is rounded up and forced to compete in the games. When it becomes apparent that Sam is no mere program, but a user, he is brought before the supreme ruler of the computer world, Clu. Originally designed by Kevin Flynn to help him create the perfect system, Clu betrayed his creator and seized control of the grid for himself, destroying its former champion Tron in the process. Now Clu plans to use Sam to lure Kevin Flynn out of hiding so he can gain access to an identity disc that will enable him to travel from the grid to the real world.

Given that it’s likely to have been seen by far less people than the original movie that’s as far as I’ll go with the plot synopsis for the sequel. However, I will say that in some ways Tron: Legacy  is more coherent than Tron. Although it follows a remarkably familiar path the basic framework is better and the characters are slightly more rounded. Don’t get me wrong, the story is still pretty flimsy, but everything flows a little bit better and there’s less of the jargon for the sake of jargon (although not by much). Unfortunately it still suffers from many of the problems that afflicted its predecessor, such as an overreliance on effects to pave over the cracks in the screenplay. There are also entire story arcs that feel like they go nowhere, possibly because they are being set-up for the anticipated third film in the series, but that’s not really an excuse. The original’s sense of fun is also sadly lacking and then there’s also the odd notion of a film called Tron: Legacy that doesn’t really feature eponymous character.

 Ram (Dan Shor) Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and Tron (Bruce Boxleitner)
Of course the main selling point is the ground-breaking visuals, which really are something to behold. I’d be lying if I said that the grid 2.0 had as much of an impact on me as the virtual world of the original film, but that’s more to do with the prevalence of CGI in today’s films than anything else. When compared to other films of the modern era the digital universe created for Tron: Legacy favours extremely well. Rather than starting from scratch the designers made the right decision in taking established designs and updating them for modern sensibilities. I love the look of the new recognizers and lightcycles and the vast digital city is populated by innumerable constructs that look absolutely marvellous. In fact I would go as far as to say that the CGI is among the most convincing I’ve seen, save for one notable exception: Clu. Unfortunately when it comes to realistically animating a human character computers are still far from perfect. The attempt to roll back the years on Jeff Bridges’ face simply doesn’t look convincing and although I hate to throw around overused terms like ‘uncanny valley’ it really is applicable in this instance. Even so, if you can get past that distraction and accept the film for what it is you should find plenty to enjoy, but I don’t expect anyone to be taking about it with the same kind of reverence as the original feature in thirty years’ time.

Video


Tron

Disney presents Tron in its original 2.20:1 aspect ratio using the AVC codec at 1080/24p. Originally shot using a mixture of 65mm and 35mm film, Tron’s leap from standard-definition DVD to high-definition Blu-ray is an impressive one. The ‘real world’ live action sequences are particularly noteworthy as the level of detail found in these scenes is a dramatic leap forward from the old DVD transfer, which was itself a very attractive effort. I found that I was able to pick out all manner of picture information that just wasn’t visible in the DVD, including things like the lettering on characters’ name badges. That might not sound particularly exciting, but it does illustrate the jump in quality between the old 408i image and this new 1080p effort.

 Flynn (Jeff Bridges) flies the recognizer
Visually Tron’s computerised sequences are like nothing else I’ve seen and still impress to this day. Although the computer models are very crude by modern standards there’s something very pleasing about the simplistic, rudimentary designs of the vehicles and landscapes. Originally shot in black and white and later hand coloured, the computer scenes benefit the most from the improved colour rendition afforded by Blu-ray, with the reds and blues of the digital world appearing more vibrant than ever. That’s not to say the real world sequences are poor, as they also feature a colourful, varied palette with natural skin tones. The neon lights of Flynn’s arcade are a particular highlight of these sequences. Blacks are very deep, particularly in the real world sequences, while contrast is handled very well across the board.

Disney also appears to have been quite respectful to the grain structure of the original image, as although it’s possible that some filtering has been applied it has not eliminated the natural ‘film look’ of the piece. This is especially true in the high contrast computer world sequences, which are much grainier than the real world shots. Those who have been following this release might remember director Steven Lisberger’s intention to remove much of the ‘shimmering’ effect seen in the computer sections. The shimmering was an artefact of the cinematographic processes used at the time and was never actually intended to be in the completed film. In fact several techniques were used to try and mask the artefacts, including adding even more of them by hand! Diehard fans will probably notice that the shimmering has been removed for this Blu-ray release, and while I appreciate that this sort of tampering isn’t usually warranted or wanted the fact that it was the director who requested and personally oversaw the changes negates much, if not all of the criticism I might have had. In any event, when the end result looks as good as this it’s hard to complain. Tron isn’t the best looking Blu-ray I’ve ever seen, but it is one of the best looking presentations of a film of this particular vintage and a fine example of how to properly transfer a catalogue title to BD.

Oh, I did spot one bit if tinkering that obscures picture information that was previously visible, as seen in the fourth screen capture on this page. That blue bar at the bottom of the frame never used to be there and it isn’t textured. I can only speculate as to why it was added, but my guess is that it was done to fix some sort of perceived perspective issue or to cover up a flaw in the original elements that wasn’t visible on the slightly cropped TV/DVD versions.

 Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) receives his identity disc
Tron: Legacy

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Tron’s restored analogue transfer we have Tron: Legacy’s cutting-edge digital effort. Presented as a variable aspect ratio transfer encoded with AVC at 1080/24p, the sequel looks absolutely stunning. Before I move on to the rest of the critique allow me to expand upon the variable ratio comment. To put it simply, the film was presented theatrically in a variety of ratios, much like The Dark Knight and Avatar before it. While the bulk of the film appears in the regular 2.40:1 scope ratio that was used for the majority of screenings, numerous scenes switch ratio to 1.78:1 for an ‘epic’ sense of scale. This first happens when Sam arrives in the grid and the effect is actually less distracting than it was on The Dark Knight Blu-ray, possibly because of the digital environments. Whatever the reason I found that I was able to accept the shifting ratio more readily with this film and its use during the more action-packed moments was very effective. I was always aware of the change, but it didn’t make me want to shout at the screen.

The rest of this analysis is going to be a lot shorter than the original film’s equivalent evaluation, simply because I don’t want to waffle on when I can pretty much sum things up with a single word: perfect. Okay, so maybe I need to say a little more than that, but it should give you some indication of just how great Tron: Legacy looks on Blu-ray. The level of detail is phenomenal and the digital origins ensure that there are absolutely no film artefacts to spoil the image. Compression appears to be pretty much spot on and I didn’t see any other obvious digital artefacts during normal viewing. The eerie blue glow of the grid is wonderfully reproduced, as are the other bright primaries, while blacks are solid and contrast is very stable. It’s definitely one of the best looking discs I’ve seen in a while and will probably serve as the demo disc of choice for a lot of people for some time to come. There, I said I’d keep it short.

 Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) fights Sark (David Warner)

Audio


Tron

The original film arrives with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that ticks all of the right boxes. Of all my childhood favourites Tron is up there with the Star Wars films when it comes to memorable sound effects, and the track provides ample opportunity to showcase them. Although relatively lively in the real word the track really springs to life once Flynn enters the computerised world. The various computerised vehicles sound fantastic, from the high-pitched whine of the lightcycles as they speed across the gaming grid, to the distinctive ‘warbling’ sound of the recognizers as they patrol the system. Although not as immersive as some tracks there is ample surround utilisation, with plenty of atmospheric ambient effects and some effective discrete pans. The identity discs are particularly memorable as they zip around the soundstage derezzing programs. Dialogue is generally easy to discern, although as with many features of the time it often lacks fidelity, but the programs’ modulated voices are very effective, especially the booming, omnipresent MCP. The DVD release of Tron had some fairly potent bass and the Master Audio track is no different, be it the opening of a massive security door, the roar of the recognizers, or the low rumble of the MPC tower.

However, for all of the memorable sound effects possibly the most memorable thing about Tron, at least from an audio perspective, is Wendy Carlos’ fantastic score. It’s astounding to me how the music sounds as good today as it did back in 1982 and it’s a testament to the composer’s talent that it still stands out from the crowd all these years later. I mean honestly, how many of today’s film scores are truly memorable? Okay, so there are the odd few that stand out, but so many movies have incredibly generic scores that I spend much of my time longing for someone to do something a bit different. Well Carlos was doing things differently years ago and tracks such as ‘Tron Scherzo’ ‘The Light Sailer’ and ‘Anthem’ still have a place on my MP3 player today. Tracks from the rock band Journey do date the film somewhat, but then this is a period film so much as in it is supposed to take place in the eighties, not the random, non-specific timeframe favoured by many films. Anyway, a little cheese never hurt anyone and the songs brought back fond memories. All things considered Tron’s audio is just as impressive as its restored visuals and I can’t see there being any complaints from long-time fans.

 Tron: Legacy's disc wars
Tron: Legacy

As with the video Tron: Legacy’s audio is a step up from the original, offering as it does a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. As you’d expect fidelity is much better than the original feature, with each and every sound coming across in pin sharp clarity. The track also offers a greater immersion, with plenty of ambient effects including some pretty fantastic crowd chants during the disc wars segment. Discrete utilisation is also superior, with more natural panning between channels. As we move through the virtual world recognizers pass overhead with a throaty growl, while in the gaming arena identity discs hurtle around the soundstage and lightcyles streak across the grid. Dialogue sounds far more natural than the Tron soundtrack and it’s placed perfectly in the mix, never becoming lost amongst the other elements (although the score does do its best at times). I initially though that bass was perhaps more restrained than it should be, but I swiftly changed my mind as the film progressed. It provides a more than solid reinforcement during the action sequences and the music in particular benefits from some powerful LFE.

I was having a bit of a moan about the lack of memorable film scores in the audio section for the original film, but I’m happy to say that the sequel has at least made an attempt to produce something that’s a bit different. French electronic wizards Daft Punk were drafted in to create the score for this film and they have delivered a contemporary companion to Wendy Carlos’ earlier score. Thematically it’s very in keeping with the film, which also takes an old concept and updates it to appeal to modern audiences while at the same time paying deference to the work that inspired it. Even so I wouldn’t say that Daft Punk’s score is up there with Carlos’ for me, largely because electronic scores are far more prevalent today than they were back in 1982 and apart from maybe ‘Derezzed’ none of the music is truly memorable away from the confines of the film. Even so, it doesn’t detract from what is a very impressive soundtrack.

 Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) visits Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund)

Extras


Tron

The 25th Anniversary Collector’s Edition DVD release of Tron was a feature-packed set and I’m happy to report that all of the content is replicated here. First up we have a commentary track from Steven Lisberger, Donald Kushner, Harrison Ellenshaw and Richard Taylor. The track is chock full of fascinating information about all aspects of the production and the participants keep things very interesting. However, it appears that some (all?) of the contributors were recorded separately and then stitched together, rather than everyone being in the same room. Even so it’s still well worth a listen.

Next up we have a number of featurettes divided up into separate sections, each with their own subsections. Here’s a brief rundown of each section with a short description of what you can expect to find.

Development

  • Early Development of Tron: An interview with Steven Lisberger in which he discusses the origins of Tron
  • Early Lisberger Studios Animation: A very early incarnation of what would go on to become Tron
  • Computers are People Too: An excerpt from a programme on CGI that originally aired around the time of the film’s release
  • Early Video Tests: A series of unfinished video from Tron, with alternate character colours
  • Gallery: Contains design, early concept art, publicity and production photos, and storyboard art

Digital Imagery

  • Backlight Animation: Details the procedure used to make the characters’ distinctive glow
  • Digital Imagery in Tron: Richard Taylor talks about the various companies who had a hand in creating the stunning visuals
  • Beyond Tron: An excerpt from a TV special that explores MAGI’s involvement with the film.
  • Role of Triple I: Richard Taylor talks about the company’s involvement with the film
  • Triple I Demo: This is a showcase for some of the company's work

 Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) arrives on the Grid
The Making of Tron

This is probably the standout feature on the disc. It’s an hour and a half long ‘Making of’ that includes interviews with Lisberger and pretty much everyone else involved with the production. They talk about all aspects of the film and footage from various stages of the filmmaking process is included, chronicling all stages of production from the very beginning right through to the final release. This is an entertaining piece and considerably more thorough than most documentaries.

Music

  • Lightcycle Scene with Alternate Carlos Music Tracks: Deleted pieces of music originally written for the iconic lightcycle scene
  • End Credits with Original Carlos Music: This is what we would have heard if not for the Journey track

Publicity

  • NATO: A sample reel produced for the National Associate of Theater Owners
  • Work-in-Progress: This unfinished trailer contains the original black and white footage
  • Trailer # 1: An early trailer for the film’s theatrical release
  • Trailer # 2: Another theatrical trailer, similar to the first
  • Trailer # 3: A slightly different, shorter trailer
  • Trailer # 4: Yet another trailer
  • Gallery: Contains design, early concept art, publicity and production photos, and storyboard art

Deleted Scenes

  • Introduction by Writer-Director Steven Lisberger: A self-explanatory introduction
  • Ton and Yori’s Love Scene: The so-called love scene in Yori’s apartment with complete effects
  • Ton and Yori’s Love Scene # 2: The ‘morning after’ scene, without audio tracks
  • Alternate Opening Prologue: alternative set of opening titles

 Clu (Jeff Bridges)
Design

  • Introduction by Writer-Director Steven Lisberger: Another self-explanatory introduction
  • Gallery:
  • Lightcycles: Syd Mead Discusses:
  • Lightcycle Design:
  • Lightcycles MAGI Animation tests
  • Recognizer: Space Paranoids Video Game: Letterbox
  • Recognizer: Space Paranoids Video Game: Full Screen

Storyboarding

  • The Storyboarding Process:
  • Creation of Tron Main Title: Mobius Storyboards:
  • Gallery:
  • Introduction by Storyboard Artist/Animator Bill Kroyer
  • Lightcycle Chase Storyboard Only
  • Lightcycle Chase Final Film

Galleries

All of the galleries can be accessed from one central location using this option.

 Quorra (Olivia Wilde) the isomorph
To complement the archive material the disc also includes some new material. Although not quite as extensive as the older stuff it’s still fairly interesting. Here’s a brief rundown:

The Tron Phenomenon: An affectionate look back at the film with the creators and stars, who reminisce about what is was like to shoot a film that was, in many ways, years ahead of its time.

Photo Tronology: Writer-director Steven Lisberger and his son Carl take a trip to the Disney archives to view some of the Tron materials stored within. It’s actually pretty fascinating to view the archives in this way, as there’s a genuine sense of discovery as Lisberger and son come across some long-forgotten artefact from the original production.

Tron: Legacy

Moving on to the sequel we find a less comprehensive selection of bonus material, but that’s not to say that it is any less enjoyable. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to find:

The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed: A short film that expands upon the events of the main feature and includes appearances from several cast members (both new and old).

 Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) meets Castor (Michael Sheen)
First Look at Tron: Uprising, Disney XD Animated Series: An early look at an animated show that bridges the gap between films. It looks to me to be somewhat similar to the Clone Wars television series.

Launching the Legacy: Focusing on the genesis of the production, this featurette includes the famous ‘proof of concept’ trailer screened at Comic-Con as a means of guaging the public’s appetite for a sequel.

Visualising TRON: Fans of production design should make this featurette their first port of call, as it deals with the film’s impressive set design, costume design, CGI and so on.

Installing the Cast: A look at the actors involved in bringing the virtual world of the Grid to life, including Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde and Michael Sheen.

Disc Roars: Short featurette that shows how Skywalker Sound technicians recorded crowd noise at Comic-Con for later use in the disc wars sequence of the film.

Music Video – ‘Derezzed’ Written, Produced and Performed by Daft Punk: The complete music video for the French electronic duo’s movie tie-in as seen in the film’s club scene.

Discover Blu-ray with Timon &  Pumbaa: Learn more about the Blu-ray 3D format with the animated characters from The Lion King.

I’ve read that the US Tron: Legacy disc contains some Easter eggs, but unfortunately they don’t appear to be on the UK disc (or they’re not accessible by following the US instructions).

 Rinzler (Anis Cheurfa) attacks!

Overall


Narratively neither Tron or Tron: Legacy lives up to the standards set by their ground-breaking visuals, but I still feel that both films are worthy of your time. I recommend the original because it’s an important piece of filmmaking, in so much that it is one of the earliest examples of the sort of computer-generated effects that we now take for granted. The sequel also deserves a chance if only because it demonstrates just how far things have come in thirty years by showcasing some truly striking imagery. Although both stories are flawed they are enjoyable enough if you go in with your eyes open and the quality of the Blu-ray audio-visual presentation really is exceptional. Extras might be a bit thin on the ground for the sequel, but Tron comes with hours of fascinating bonus material that is a genuine cut above the usual promotional fluff. The cost of this set is such that it makes economic sense to pick up two films for little more than the price of the individual Legacy Blu-ray. The package is a Tron fan’s dream and for everyone else it’s a fine example of how two films separated by almost thirty years can look and sound utterly fantastic in high-definition.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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