Tron: Legacy / Tron: The Original Classic Review

“It’s bio-digital jazz, man”

The best approach to Tron and its cinematic offspring Tron: Legacy would probably be to save yourself some time and money and ignore both films completely. In lieu of that, it’s not a half-bad idea to make a double feature of the two pictures. With the original Tron – now advertised as a “classic” by Disney – you can at least accept it as a unique viewing experience from a visual standpoint. The weird draining of color save for glowing reds and blues on the characters’ bodysuits was one of the more striking, if ugly, one-offs in the eighties. The Strokes served up an homage to Tron with their video for “12:51” but even it, done some twenty years after the film, was far more interesting to look at than its inspiration. The primitive graphics used in Steven Lisberger’s 1982 movie may now play as charming to some. Indeed, one has to wonder if the entire fascination with Tron is largely steeped in nostalgia given how silly and dull the film is for its relatively short running time. Those less inclined to view their entertainment through an ironic filter might admit Tron‘s awfulness.

The turd has now been polished and joined by a second, shinier dropping. Tron: Legacy looks far better than its predecessor but uses an even worse plot to match its level of tedium. Fathers and sons this time, and a second, dead-eyed Jeff Bridges. The new Bridges is really an older Bridges named Clu who’s actually computer-generated and seen as a malevolent computer program trying to gain the power of Bridges’ human character Flynn, who is also in the same virtual computer world. As with Tron, the plot of Tron: Legacy is rather convoluted but not impenetrable, and it hardly matters anyway. The older one at least was fairly novel with its computer hacking mission. Legacy tries to broaden its scope to epic-size musings but captures only the formulaic aspects, depriving the film of the original’s sense of purpose. The options are thus clumsy and dull or slick and turgid.

And, in that regard, you’re on your own, man, with all of the “bio-digital jazz” that can be mustered.

For my part, the real-life sections of Tron actually proved more interesting, as a brief portrayal of the young, determined computer geniuses at odds with the corporate-minded antagonist played by David Warner. That rebellious spirit, which bleeds over into the beginning of Tron: Legacy, is just about the only humanistic part of either of these movies. The love triangle, involving Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan, is terribly underdeveloped. Notice, though, how Boxleitner’s computer programmer Alan Bradley is a glasses-wearing nerd while his alter-ego program Tron is an alpha male stud.

Legacy clearly outdoes the original’s visuals with a very different Grid. It now looks like what most would call futuristic, meaning cold and drab save for an influx of neon. The early lightcycle battle in Legacy promises a far more exciting and attractive film than what follows, but it nonetheless stands out as perhaps the single most effective sequence in either of the Tron entries. Also worth putting in a good word for is Olivia Wilde, whose performance is less acting than posing. Even if she comes across as further concession to the sort of viewer the film would be intended for, she absolutely fits inside the world that’s been created. Maybe that’s another thing that deserves some praise – the establishment of this new form of reality that does satisfy some sense of escapism in itself. That’s not even close to being enough to warrant a recommendation for anyone except the especially curious who have too much time on their hands, but it’s nonetheless something we don’t see often enough in a medium that ideally should strive, at least partly, on the power of imagination.

(Note: Gavin Midgley covered many of the particulars in his Cinema Review of Tron: Legacy , most of which I couldn’t be bothered to relate here.)

The Discs

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment put out the Tron films (in North America) in no less than five separate Blu-ray iterations and two more DVD-only releases. The only way to get both Tron and Tron: Legacy on Blu-ray in the same package is to also pony up for the Blu-ray 3D of the latter, either in the regular (and expensive) five-disc set or by springing for a (more expensive) Limited Edition version in Identity Disc packaging. I have the five-discer with standard packaging here for review, but will not be taking a look at the Blu-ray 3D disc. It’s the region-free U.S. release.

The Blu-rays for both Tron and Tron: Legacy, as well as the DVD for the latter, begin similarly upon being inserted. Language options for menu operations of Tron include English, French, Spanish and Portuguese while Tron: Legacy allows for both English and English Descriptive Video Service plus French and Spanish. Roughly the same previews follow, starting with a teaser for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and also including a quick look at the Tron: Uprising animated series.

The high definition offerings of both of these films look exceptionally good, with the newer movie, as one would expect, outperforming its ancestor. Is Tron the oldest live-action film Disney has brought to Blu-ray? That might say something about the studio’s interests, especially considering it’s mainly here as a tie-in to a recent blockbuster. Still, Tron, in its proper 2.20:1 aspect ratio, has been cleaned up (including semi-controversial downplaying or removal of flickering) and cared for by its studio. Perhaps this is less of a good thing than some might admit since any charm retained from older, less technologically strict viewings of the past could dissipate by seeing HD images of what now resemble late ’90s screen savers. For the most part, the transfer does seem to be a faithful representation and one cannot deny its pleasing levels of detail and light grain.

Tron: Legacy gets a rock star transfer of deep blacks and neon blues, reds and orangey yellows. In an attempt to preserve the original IMAX viewing experience, the aspect ratio smoothly transitions between 2.35:1 and 1.78:1 throughout the film. This is done well enough to avoid distraction in my opinion, though some may notice the changing presence and absence of the black bars above and below the frame. The main attraction of Tron: Legacy is its distinctive visual appearance and Disney’s treatment accentuates that quite well. There are no problems or imperfections, either digital or inherent, to speak of, with detail easily at reference quality.

Lossless tracks have been offered for both Tron films. The original has only a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio option in English, plus Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in French, Spanish and Portuguese and equivalent subtitles. The DTS-HD is really rather impressive to the ear, both in terms of clarity and depth. Dialogue, while always easy to take in, doesn’t fare as well as the many noises and musical pieces on the soundtrack. These come through in a much more crisp, precise way than might be expected. Tron: Legacy again wins out in a technical comparison but that probably says more about the later film than its predecessor. Disney offers a booming DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track in English that is heavy on the Daft Punk. Also included are English Dolby Digital 2.0 and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Descriptive Video Service tracks, as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs. Subtitles can be accessed in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish. Rather than attempting further variations of praise, I’ll simply say that the listening experience, like its visual counterpart but in contrast to the overall creative elements, is as close to perfect as we generally get at home. The films are crap but at least they look and sound incredible.

The bonus material is truly exhaustive for Tron and much less so on Tron: Legacy. The former has just so much here, of which the vast majority has been ported over from a previous DVD release, that I’m going to mostly try to list it, with running times included, instead of attempting to offer comments on each individual piece. Overall, I can see the most devoted fans enjoying this but many others being intimidated or opting mainly for the fresher extras. Original DVD extras are in standard definition while the special features newly made for this set are all in HD.

New Tron supplements begin with “The Tron Phenomenon” (9:46), an appreciation featuring members of the cast and crew of both films. Next is “Photo Tronology” (16:37), which has Tron creator Steven Lisberger taking his son to the Disney photo archives for a trip down memory lane. Unlike Tron: Legacy, there’s an audio commentary available for Tron. It’s a busy track that features director Steven Lisberger, producer Donald Kushner, associate producer and visual effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw and visual effects supervisor Richard Taylor.

The original DVD features highlight several aspects of production. They are divided into categories and then further subdivided as follows:

Development – “Early Development of Tron” (2:37), “Early Lisberger Studios Animation” (0:30), “Computers Are People Too” (4:28), “Early Video Tests” (0:30), and Gallery, which is divided among Design, Early Concept Art, Publicity and Production Photos and Storyboard Art

Digital Imagery – “Backlight Animation” (1:39), “Digital Imagery in Tron” (3:44), “Beyond Tron” (4:00), “Role of Triple I” (0:34), and “Triple I Demo” (2:15)

The Making of Tron (88:21) – a feature-length documentary that covers, if not everything, almost everything you’d want to know about how Tron came to exist

Music – “Lightcycle Scene with Alternate Carlos Music Tracks” (2:46) and “End Credits with Original Carlos Music” (5:15)

Publicity – “Nato” (5:02) – a sample reel shown for National Association of Theater Owners, “Work-in-Progress” (1:25) – trailer for unfinished film, “Trailer #1” (2:36), “Trailer #2” (1:34), “Trailer #3” (1:01), “Trailer #4” (1:34), and a repeat of the Gallery

Deleted Scenes – “Introduction by Writer-Director Steven Lisberger” (2:17), “Tron and Yori’s Love Scene” (1:56), “Tron and Yori’s Love Scene #2” (0:44), and “Alternate Opening Prologue” (1:21)

Design – “Introduction by Writer-Director Steven Lisberger” (1:10), Vehicles section that includes “Lightcycles: Syd Mead Discusses Lightcycle Design” (1:52), “Lightcycles MAGI Animation Tests” (0:16), and “Recognizer: Space Paranoids Video Game” available in both Letterbox (0:16) and Full Screen (0:16) versions

Storyboarding – “The Storyboarding Process” (3:52), “Creation of Tron Main Title: Moebius Storyboards” (0:15), “Introduction by Storyboard Artist/Animator Bill Krover” (0:51) to a Storyboard to Film Comparison of the “Lightcycle Chase” in Storyboard Only (1:56) and the Final Film (1:56)

Galleries – same Design, Early Concept Art, Publicity and Production Photos and Storyboard Art found elsewhere in the original DVD features area

Extras for Tron: Legacy are generally more perfunctory. “The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed” (10:26) is a strange featurette covering some of the time between the two films that is also kind of like a semi-documentary mini-movie or something of that ilk. I enjoyed it. Plus there’s an arcade-type high score screen at the end where you can enter the letters “ALL” and see a couple of extra clips. The “First Look at Tron: Uprising, the Disney XD Animated Series” (1:15) is the same short preview available when the disc starts up. “Launching the Legacy” (10:20), “Visualizing Tron” (11:46), and “Installing the Cast” (12:04) are all pretty standard featurettes that explore different aspects of the film, from its beginning to technical wizardry to the actors involved. “Disc Roars” (2:59)” is the film’s director Joseph Kosinski letting Comic Con fans collectively voice the crowd heard during the film’s gladiatorial battle. Lastly, a music video (2:57) of “Derezzed” written, produced and performed by Daft Punk has been included.

Disney also has inserted its newish Second Screen technology, allowing for more information to be explored with an iPad or computer screen while viewing the film on your television set, onto the Tron: Legacy disc. Meanwhile, in addition to that Blu-ray 3D, the five-disc set also includes a Digital Copy disc of Tron: Legacy. And inside the case is a card with the “original TRON costume with back light compositing” that shows Bruce Boxleitner in character.

clydefro jones

Updated: Apr 14, 2011

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Tron: Legacy / Tron: The Original Classic Review | The Digital Fix