If you are old enough to have seen the original Tron back in 1982, you know how much things have changed in the digital world since then. The block graphics of the film and subsequent game might have been state-of-the-art at the time, but it looks like something very primitive to the younger generation. Like all good science fiction, many of the incredible elements of the film have become quite commonplace. The idea that a person can be scanned by a laser and transported into a virtual world might still be out of reach, but it turns out that using lasers to scan objects is exactly how we get three-dimensional images of real-world items into the virtual world. When Flynn is communicating with his program, the program is represented by an image of Flynn himself. Today we’d call Clu an avatar, and it’s become quite common for people to socialize in environments like Second Life, where their avatar representatives engage in the same kinds of activities we do in the real world.
Tron wasn’t quite the huge box office film you might have expected. It did pull in about $5 million on its opening weekend, which was pretty respectable in 1982. The film ended its box office run with just under $40 million from a $17 million budget. That’s not where Tron found its biggest success. The film became more popular as the years went by and some of the content was getting more and more like reality. The game became a classic and is still found in the occasional arcade. That was another trend started by the film. It was one of the first films to spawn a video game, something almost every big-budget genre film does as a matter of course today. The movie was a milestone in computer-generated images combined with animation. It took nearly 30 years, but it really isn’t a surprise that Tron has finally gotten a sequel. It’s been a commanding presence for years at ComicCon. It’s the little big movie that wouldn’t die.
The new Blu-ray release from Disney is a pretty sweet 5-disc set. You get the Blu-ray for both Tron and Tron Legacy. There are DVD copies of each film with the digital copy options. This set throws in a rather nice bonus. You get the 3D Blu-ray (3DBD) for Tron Legacy. It’s a welcome change to provide all of these options in one package.
“When Flynn (Jeff Bridges) hacks the mainframe of his ex-employer to prove his work was stolen by another executive, he finds himself on a much bigger adventure. Beamed inside by a power-hungry Master Control Program, he joins computer gladiators on a deadly game grid, complete with high-velocity “Light Cycles” and Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), a specialized security program. Together they fight the ultimate battle with the MCP to decide the fate of both the electronic world and the real world!
The first film to venture forth inside the previously unexplored three-dimensional realm of computer imagery, Tron dazzles with revolutionary visual effects and mind-bending action sequences. Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a computer whiz who invents video games, finds himself at the mercy of the evil human forces who answer to The Master Control Panel – a powerfully corrupt computer presence that has beamed Flynn inside its deadly game grid. There, an electronic civilization thrives, and “Light Cycles” race at heart-stopping speeds. With the aid of his friends, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora (Cindy Morgan), Flynn’s only hope is to activate Tron, the courageous and trustworthy counter-program, in a heroic battle to save humankind!
The movie begins about 7 years after the events of Tron. It is 1989, and Flynn is telling his son stories of his adventures inside the virtual world. There are posters, video games, and even action figures around now. Flynn had created the Tron video game. and it has become the best-selling game ever. But Flynn has been secretly going back into the virtual world where he has attempted to rebuild a society there with the help of Tron (Boxleitner). He becomes trapped in that virtual world by his alter-ego Clu. Now 21 years have gone by. Flynn’s disappearance has created a power struggle in the Encom company. Alan has tried to hold it together, but it’s all about to fall apart. There is an underground movement that insists that Flynn is still alive. His son Sam (Hedlund) has become something of a rebel, pirating the company’s software and giving it out for free. His life is about to change when Alan shows up claiming to have been paged by Flynn to the old arcade. When Sam goes to check it out, he is hijacked into the system where he becomes part of a movement begun by his father to stop Clu from becoming the tyrant that the old Master Control Program once was.
It’s a more sophisticated world and Sam, like his father before him, is forced to play games. He is rescued by the mysterious Quorra (Wilde) who takes him to his father. Quorra is a special entity. She’s not a program or a user but the last of a breed of entities that have the power to transform both the virtual and the real world, if they can get her out of the computer in time.
It may be heresy to say this, but I do rather like the new look of the virtual reality. Gone are the silly hockey helmets. This new world doesn’t glow so much. There are still the circuit-board suits with the glowing lines, but it looks more real and a lot easier on the eyes. The original film relied on black&white photography that was hand-painted frame by frame with all of that glow effect. It might have looked cool in 1982, but watching it again here it looks pretty dang awful. I was happy to see that the film’s decision makers opted to make this world easier on the eyes. Add to that the quantum leaps in computer technology, and this has become a very cool world to explore.
The only flaw, however, is they didn’t take quite the advantage I was hoping for. The story’s actually quite a nice and natural follow-up to the original idea. In many ways this is a superior film. But there are too many scenes that are too obviously intended as a wink to the original and used more or less as throwaway stuff. The games have evolved, but they’re used here far too quickly and do not integrate very well into the rest of the film. It’s as though they felt certain requirements and put them there just to appease certain expectations. I think I would have preferred they just skipped them if they weren’t going to use these scenes to advance the story that is being told here. It was also disappointing to see Cindy Morgan kept from the mix here. I’m not sure why she wasn’t invited back for the sequel. Olivia Wilde is fine, and I liked the idea behind her character, but wasn’t there room for both?
I liked the addition of light planes that leave the same destructive trail but allow that strategy of cutting off your opponent to become multi-planed. It’s the best innovation of the “games” in the second film. The Clu performance utilized a motion-capture process with Jeff Bridges. A computer-animated reproduction of his 1982 looks is the result. It is not consistent, however, looking better at times than it does at others. The movie requires multiple viewings to really appreciate the nuances of the thing. Again, it’s a flawed film in so many ways. I did find it captivating enough to sit through twice.
Both films are presented in their original aspect ratios. The Tron Legacy disc presents the film in the original alternating aspect ratios of 1.78:1. and 2.35:1 to accommodate that footage which was filmed in IMAX format. This is much the same as was done for The Dark Knight presentations. The 1080p images are arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. The first film certainly shows its age. The image shudders quite a bit, and the effects are far more visible in high definition. It’s almost as if the added detail and sharpness might take away from the enjoyment. Still, that film looks stunning at times, and the print is in pristine condition most of the time. The sequel looks far more stunning for a number of reasons. It was filmed with high definition in mind, so the effects and the live action blend far more seamlessly. I found the film to be a little too dark. This is particularly true when watching the 3D disc. You lose some detail in exchange for very limited 3D effects. I actually enjoyed it more on the Blu-ray 2D version. There the detail and better lighting make for a far more crisp and detailed image. In 2D I was much better able to enjoy the wonderful job they did with the motion capture on Jeff Bridges to make him look 30 years younger. The black levels are also much better here. That’s significant, because as bright as the first film was, this is dark. The black uniforms against dark backgrounds are quite a change from the white on bright lights. The 2D Blu-ray offers much better shadow definition. It’s personal choice here, but this is exactly why I love the idea of including both copies in one release. I have the 3D when I’m interested in that novelty. But I have the cleanest, most detailed version of the film for the more frequent moments I’ll want that.
The first film sports a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; the second makes the jump to 7.1. Give Disney some serious credit here. They have really been at the forefront of the 7.1 format. It’s becoming common with all of their releases on Blu-ray. Don’t worry if you’re still at the 5.1 stage. You won’t really miss anything. The newer format mostly fills the effect and does not offer lost sounds. In any case, the sound here is pretty awesome. I was particularly pleased with the sub response of both films. You can truly rattle your home theatre with these films. The synth music of the first, and to some degree the second, comes through far clearer than the first ever did. The scores are dynamic. Surrounds are put to excellent use and you’ll find a very immersive experience. The ear candy adds that extra touch of believability to both worlds. Dialog comes through loud and clear at all times. Those light cycles really zoom along.
The Tron disc includes all of the original DVD features plus:
The Tron Phenomenon: (9:45) Cast and crew of both films talk about their own feelings of the original film and doing the sequel.
Photo-Tronology: (16:37) This is a very sweet feature. Original Tron director Steven Lisberger takes his son for a visit to the Disney archives to look over photos and artwork from the original movie. It’s a great piece that shows the father and son connecting with the experience. I loved this one.
The Tron Legacy disc features the following:
Disney 2nd Screen: This viewing mode allows you to synch the film with another device which will bring up features and images that take you behind the scenes while you watch the film.
The Next Day – Flynn Lives Revealed: There is no time code or ability to go back or forward during this webisode of the Flynn underground.
First Look At Tron-Uprising Animation Scene: (1:15) A promo for the animated show.
Launching The Legacy: (10:20) Cast and crew talk about the many years and hurdles it took to get the sequel off the ground. You see a trailer that was made to test the graphics and try and sell the film.
Visualizing Tron: (11:46) The focus here is on light. Take a behind-the-scenes look at the f/x.
Installing The Cast: (12:04) A quick look at the characters and the actors.
Disc Roars: (3:00) They did a very smart thing with this film. They recorded the arena crowd from a gathering of ComicCon attendees.
Music Video: (2:58) Derezzed by Daft Punk.
In the end, both films are fine technological achievements for each of their times. There is little doubt that fans will love the chance to see how far the first film’s virtual world has evolved. There’s enough recognizable in the shapes and functions that ties the two worlds together. I completely buy into the fact that the Tron Legacy universe evolved over 28 years from what we saw in the first film. It’s entertaining enough, to be sure. But I can’t help feeling that in trying to include specific elements in an attempt to please the fans and their expectations that there were plenty of missed opportunities here. The film didn’t do as well as hoped for. It just made back its budget in domestic box office. A tidy profit was made on the foreign screens, but I don’t know that it will be enough to continue the story. For Tron, this could and perhaps should be, “end of line”.