I'd almost consider "Tron" to be one of the biggest cult films of all time. An early 80's picture that was largely regarded before release as a groundbreaking visual effects effort, the film did well ($33m gross, which isn't bad for the time), but not as well as many had expected for the Disney release. Over the 20 years since then, the film has gained a major following and even has been mentioned on such pop-culture offerings as "The Simpsons".
Watching it again today, there's still something fascinating about the picture. The real-world sequences look rather cheaply filmed and unremarkable, but once the film finally launches the audience into the computer world, there's a definite beauty to the primitive visuals. Watching the film and listening to the commentary, it's amazing that the directors were confident that these tricks (and shooting in 65mm) would work well enough to produce strong visuals.
Jeff Bridges stars as ace computer programmer Flynn, who angers the Master Control Processor after toying with it. The Master Control Processor has taken on a life of its own and digitizes Flynn, taking him into the computer universe to play games which could either win his freedom or cause his doom. The prime directive is for the Bridges character and his new friends to shut down the master computer, but the journey across this fantastic world is really a lot of fun. While the effects do look quite primitive, it's really amazing to consider what an enormous task that these scenes were to accomplish back then. The commentary on this DVD (which was also included on the previous laserdisc) gives a great deal of detail about the monumental tasks that were ahead of the visual effects artists.
Yet, there's got to be some discussion of the negatives. Similar to many of the effects pictures that are currently being released, there doesn't seem to be a great deal of thought put into "Tron"'s screenplay, which is a mixture of somewhat thin story and weakly written/developed characters. The actors don't handle the process much better, either - the performances are a bit corny, although Bridges generally fares well. While some people aren't exactly big fans of the electronic score by Wendy Carlos, I really think there's something majestic about a lot of it that gives the picture a bit of seriousness and grounding.
Still, this is one of those films that is still quite entertaining despite its flaws and - while the effects don't compare (even to most of today's video games), they're still almost arty and beautiful in their own cool, minimalist way. I'm definitely in agreement with the box cover that the film is a "milestone" in the way that films like "Final Fantasy" and "Shrek" are milestones today.
VIDEO: "Tron" is presented in this new "20th Anniversary" edition in 2.20:1, THX-approved anamorphic widescreen by Buena Vista. While there are a few minor faults here, the presentation is certainly an improvement over the previous non-anamorphic edition and very likely the best "Tron" has ever looked. The former editions of the film have looked somewhat soft and grainy, but this new edition is a distinct improvement in definition. While some scenes here and there do admittedly look noticably a bit soft, the picture still looks well-defined and crisp for the majority.
As previously mentioned, the film has appeared mildly grainy in the past, but that has been remedied here, if not entirely. Light grain does show up during a few points in both the real world and computer sequences, but I really didn't find the amounts to be that bothersome at all - the grain in the computer sequences is largely due to the effects. The print also was quite clean, as marks and other little instances of wear that had been noticed in prior editions are generally not seen, except for a few small instances. Edge enhancement and pixelation are also absent.
Colors looked richer and more vivid here throughout, especially the deep reds and blues that appear throughout many scenes in the film. There are a few slightly rough moments, but "Tron" and its early visual effects look otherwise terrific here.
SOUND: "Tron" is presented here in newly remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 (the previous presentation was 4.0). While not up to the standards of new sci-fi/action pictures, I thought the soundtrack of the old release was certainly satisfactory. The new soundtrack, of course, is even better and - while not outstanding - is still quite entertaining. While a good portion of the film's sound still takes place in the front speakers, the surrounds are quite nicely employed for the film's terrific (well, considering the age of the film) sound effects and occasionally for the score. The audio sounds a bit more rich and dynamic here, if not enormously so. Again, while not quite up to today's standards, I thought this new soundtrack was really very good for a 20-year old picture - enveloping, nice atmosphere and solid quality.
MENUS: The menus are absolutely wonderful, featuring terrific and quite impressive "Tron"-themed animation on the main and many of the sub-menus. Menus are also quite easily navigated.
Commentary: The first disc includes an audio commentary that, while taken from the film's special edition laserdisc (as most of the other supplemental materials have been, as well), is still quite good. Featuring director Steve Lisberger, Donald Kushner, Harrison Ellenshaw and Richard Taylor, the commentary track provides consistent and often extremely informative discussion of all aspects of the picture. I hadn't really pondered deeper themes at work in "Tron", but the four really do analyze the story in an interesting fashion. As expected, they also discuss the groundbreaking technical achievements in the film, chatting about working with the actors and the visual effects. While the effects of the film look primitive in comparison to the films of today, considering the time period, the effects work was enormous and the four go into good detail about how these effects were accomplished without their talk becoming too technical.
The Making Of Tron: The main piece of the second disc is this very extensive documentary, which is no less than 90 minutes in length (well, 88 minutes to be exact, but who's counting?). The documentary mainly offers interview footage, but there are some interesting looks at the history of director Lisberger's work, as well as some of the early tests that were done to capture the visual effects of "Tron".
Interviews are included with director Lisberger, as well as several of the visual effects arists and other members of the crew (such as director of photography Bruce Logan. Most of the cast members (including Bridges, who wears a "Tron" helmet at one point) share their memories about working on such a risky project, as well. Even "Toy Story" director John Lasseter appears late in the documentary to discuss his thoughts about how amazed he was to see the effects of "Tron" start to come together in such impressive form. While there isn't much in the way of behind-the-scenes clips to break up the interviews, the discussions are interesting enough so that I felt the 88 minute running time pass quickly and enjoyably. Both the cast and crew interviews combine nicely to form the complete picture - from the pre-history of Lisberger's animation work before "Tron", to the film's early development, to problems while producing to reaction after. It's all here.
Development: This is the first in-depth section included on the second disc. Inside there are 5 elements: "Early Development Of Tron", which is a featurette describing the work and planning going into production; "Early Lisberger Studios Animation"; "Early Concept Art and Backgrounds", which is a terrific gallery of stunning concept art and storyboards; "Early Video Tests", which is a clip of the test that the director shot to prove the look would work and "Computers are People Too", which is a clip from an older TV special that focuses on the groundbreaking visual effects of the film.
Digital Imagery: The first piece included in this section is "backlight animation", where the effects artists explain the role of this style in the picture and show examples. "Digital Imagery In Tron" is a very interesting featurette where we are shown the visual effects that were done by different companies and how the different efforts from the different effects houses thankfully smoothly blended together. "Beyond Tron" focuses a bit on the history of one of the companies that provided effects for "Tron". "Role Of Triple I" and "Triple I Demo" also showcase how Triple I was involved with the special effects in the film.
Music: This section provides an alternate edition of the lightcycle sequence - same events happening, just a background score added. The end credits with the original music are also included.
Publicity: The first section included here is "Trailers", which provides 4 trailers for the film and 2 work-in-progress trailers. The work-in-progress trailers are pretty fascinating, showing the rough versions of some scenes. The final trailers, on the other hand, are rather underwhelming. The next section is "publicity and merchandising", which offers images of poster concepts, posters, advertising art, games, toys and crew clothing. Last, but not least, there's a quite large production photo gallery. The DVD credits are also hidden in this section.
Deleted Scenes: Three deleted scenes (2 versions of a "love scene" and an "alternate opening") are included here, as well as an introduction from director Leisberger and members of the cast and crew.
Design: Starting off with an introduction, this section provides three different parts: "the programs", "the vehicles" and "the electronic world". Most of these sections provide a wealth of images (concepts, etc), but there are also some video clips contained within - some of the vehicle sections (such as "lightcycles") provide animation tests or other video material.
Storyboarding: The first piece of this section is a featurette that describes the storyboard process. Although certainly interesting, it's certainly not a new supplement. It's interesting - I'm so used to seeing these fully animated storyboard or storyboard-to-scene showcases on new DVDs, then to see a featurette where the storyboards are being picked up and pointed to while the camera watches. Anyways, it's still quite enjoyable to see the "Tron" storyboards and how they match up to the final scenes. Next in this section is a filmed storyboard sequence showing the opening titles. Also included is a "multi-angle" feature showing the storyboards for the lightcycle chase and the final sequence. View either: final scene alone, storyboards alone or split-screen of both. Rounding out this final section are two extensive storyboard galleries that provide some interesting looks at early concepts.
Final Thoughts: I think "Tron" still stands up quite well, not just as an interesting story, but as a fascinating early realization of cyberspace. "Tron 2.0" is in the works, as well. As for Disney's "20th Anniversary" DVD edition, it's a superb set, offering not only improved audio/video over previous editions, but a terrific set of very informative supplements. Definitely a must-see.