In the early eighties, just as computers were mounting their gradual front to infiltrate the home, Disney Studios financed a band-wagon-jumping film that would appeal to the growing number of young tech-nerds obsessed with all things computer-orientated. The film was named Tron and was the brainchild of talented animator Steven Lisberger, who had slowly built himself an impressive animation studio due to producing some good commercials and a slot filler for the 1980 Olympic Games called Animalympics. Lisberger was excited about experimenting with characters fuelled entirely by light as opposed to ink and pen. After listening to the passionate claims of computer programmers, who fully believed that computers would one day make it possible to create cinematic worlds at the touch of a keyboard, Lisberger conceived Tron, and twenty years later the film has proved to be quite prophetic.
In essence, Tron exhibits a postmodern world in which Lang's Metropolis and Orwell's 1984 meet and are rendered through binary means. The infinite world of cyberspace is given a vast, repressive tech-noir decoration that is almost a digitised polygon rendering of Los Angeles from Blade Runner. Inside this cyberspace, the visual identities of a programmer, dressed in gladiatorial yet hi-tech costumes comprising of colourful neon electrical tracks, represent programs designed by that programmer. The story tells of a video arcade owner named Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who is determined to prove that excellent video game programs that he designed, were stolen from his then colleague Ed Dillinger (David Warner) at ENCOM, a large computer software corporation. Dillinger had passed the programs off as his own work, and became the eventual boss of ENCOM, firing Flynn in the process. Whilst the boss, Dillinger has implemented a fierce Master Control Program also known as MCP that not only guards important files but has also been designed to 'assimilate' other programs not aligned to the company's ideology.
Due to MCP's imperial nature, many cyberspace systems have been swallowed up by ENCOM, and the system has since grown more than two thousand times more intelligent. Worse still, MCP now has a life of its own, and is determined to take over the Kremlin and the Pentagon. Using the help of two insider friends Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora (Cindy Morgan), Flynn breaks into the ENCOM building in an attempt to find the evidence to prove Dillinger's program theft. Once inside however, Flynn manages to annoy MCP, who in turn uses a transporter-like laser to 'beam' Flynn inside cyberspace. Disorientated due to being trapped inside the computer, Flynn learns that programs are being punished by MCP due to their stubborn faithfulness to their original programmers. Unless the programs pledge allegiance to the MCP and become its slave, and in turn renounce their programmers, they are forced into gladiatorial contests (in a homage to Spartacus) on the Game Grid until they become de-rezzed (tech jargon for erased). Realising that Flynn's quest involves stopping MCP, he aims to find Tron, a program that is designed to restrict programs becoming too monstrous.
Twenty years later, the plot is still slightly incomprehensible in places (imagine what it was like in 1982!) and the acting is slightly stilted, but Tron is essentially a journey into the realms of computer machinations. Obviously, CGI effects have become the norm in Hollywood nowadays, and have helped produce seamless effects in some films, but rarely has a film looked so fresh and innovative as Tron. You could argue that no film has blended animation and real-life together so expertly since Mary Poppins. Director Steven Lisberger has with the help of an excellent production team created a unique visual stamp for his film, that is such sweet candy for the eyes it could exist as a silent movie with a piano accompaniment. What makes Tron such a visual cyber-epic is the unique use of bright, neon colouring mixed with dark polygon graphics that many eighties youngsters can relate to, having owned their Spectrums, Commodore 64's, Atari's etc. These basic home computers were renowned for their lengthy program loading times and deathly lack of speed whilst operating. Tron maintains the minimalist aesthetic quality of these operating systems and yet provides it with frenetic energy so breathtaking that it almost seems 'real-life' virtual reality. Ironically enough, the film was refused an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects because the academy claimed that the filmmakers cheated by using computers!
Worth noting is the excellent synthesiser/electronic score by Wendy Carlos, that is perfectly in keeping with the video games of the early eighties. Carlos is also the noted arranger of A Clockwork Orange, although this was when she was known as Walter Carlos as she had yet to undergo her sex change.
The inner system of cyberspace represents a sort-of electronic bureaucracy system like in Brazil or even the futuristic city in Things To Come, and it's doubtless that it will make you wonder about the inner confines of your computer whilst watching it. Yes, the film has brilliant computer-generated imagery, fused with flawless animation and real-life elements, and yet Tron still has some funny techno-nonsense that seems naïve in hindsight. The innovative technology the film predicts has mutated in its design over the years, but it still is tremendous fun and a fantastic visual odyssey into an imaginative world entirely man-made. End of line.
Academy Awards 1982
Academy Award Nominations 1982
Best Costume Design - Eloise Jensson, Rosanna Norton
Best Sound Recording - James LaRue, Bob Minkler, Lee Minkler, Michael Minkler
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.20:1 (the film's original aspect ratio), the transfer is splendid overall with vibrant primary colours, despite exhibiting some grain, though this may be more due to the film's original and time consuming effects processing. As this is the second release of Tron, this version also beats the previous release's non-anamorphic transfer, which suffered from occasional artefacts. The 'light-cycle' sequence has certainly never looked better, with some nice smooth images and computer effects that seem first generation in their lack of degrading reproduction quality.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix is excellent, sounding fresh and new for a twenty-year-old film. The use of directional channelling for the sound effects are put to extensive use, and even the music appears nicely spread out spatially. It's also refreshing to note the use of some low bass tones for some of the effects, which adds to the overall feel of the film.
Menu: One of the best menus currently available on DVD. The menu system is designed like the inner-labyrinth of cyberspace in Tron, with each extra being apportioned to a different area in the vast cyber-spatial area. Comes complete with Wendy Carlos music score and a fully moving environment. Each section is given a unique moving menu, which adds to the infinite vastness. Also, the second disc's menu makes it feel like you are the character Flynn as you hack into the system and are then beamed into cyberspace.
Packaging: As it is Tron's twentieth anniversary, Disney have given the packaging a stylish and minimalist black finish with silver-metallic lettering. Comes in a double amaray casing, with a one page chapter listing insert. The film is given two discs, with the extras featured solely on the second disc.
Screen-Specific Audio Commentary With Steven Lisberger, Donald Kushner, Harrison Ellenshaw, Richard Taylor: A very technical commentary that suits a very technical film. Featuring the director, producer and visual effect supervisors, the commentary is actually two commentaries edited into one, and directly imported from the Laserdisc version. Due to the expansive collection of extras on this release of Tron, nothing new is gained from listening, but it is interesting to note director Lisberger comment on parts of the story and dialogue that he would have liked to have changed had he made the film now.
The Making Of Tron - Documentary: An excellent lengthy documentary that lasts for just under ninety minutes, which details every stage of the film's production, and doesn't leave any stone unturned. From the elaborate special effects to the tightness of the costumes, the documentary is a fabulous extra and covers everything a Tron fan could ever want. The most interesting anecdote is that Peter O'Toole had begged Lisberger to let him play Tron! Presented in fullscreen 4:3.
Deleted Scenes: Three sequences are included, along with a good two and a half minute Introduction that seems to be snatched away from the Making Of and explains why the scenes were removed. These sequences are: Tron & Yori's Love Scene - A love scene that was cut very late in the day by Lisberger, despite the sequence being one of the most intricate of the production. Contains full audio and music elements, and presented in non-anamorphic 2.20:1. Tron & Yori's Love Scene # 2 - The 'morning after' scene, Contains background audio but lacking dialogue tracks, and presented in non-anamorphic 2.20:1. Alternate Opening Prologue - An opening textual prologue explaining the difference between the real world and the electronic world of Tron, and employed for overseas markets. Again presented in non-anamorphic 2.20:1.
Development: A good short anthology of photo galleries and short featurettes/advertisements demonstrating the development stages of Tron. These are: Early Development Of Tron - a two minute 1982 interview with Steven Lisberger commenting on what inspired him to make Tron. Early Lisberger Studios Animation - This is the first screen appearance for the Tron character and is a logo for Lisberger Studios which also was incorporated into some radio ads. Early Concept Art And Background Concepts - Some good stills featuring artwork from the design stages of the film, with a good user navigational menu resembling an eighties video arcade machine. Computers Are People Too - Featurette - A segment from a television featurette aimed at exploring the state-of-the-art computer graphics, which has a feature on Tron and lasts five minutes. Early Video Tests - A good thirty second clip of video test footage designed to persuade Disney Studios to commission the film.
Digital Imagery: Some short featurettes exploring the digital imagery processes in Tron. These are: Background Lighting - A short featurette lasting two minutes and exploring the background lighting process of the film which enabled multi-coloured costumes and locations for the film despite initially being shot using black-and-white stock. Digital Imagery In Tron - A four minute featurette documenting the different companies (MAGI & Triple I) involved in the digital effects for the film and the sequences they contributed. Beyond Tron - A four minute excerpt from a television special which explores MAGI's involvement with Tron, and documents the company's origins and showcases some of their work. Role Of Triple I: A thirty-five second interview with visual effects supervisor Richard Taylor on why Triple I were important to Tron. Triple I Demo: A very good two minute demo reel of Triple I's digital work.
Storyboarding: A selection of small features designed to illustrate Tron's storyboarding process. The Storyboarding Process - A four minute featurette hosted by Bill Kroyer, Tron's Computer Effects Choreographer, as he talks about how the film was storyboarded, using the 'Light Cycle' sequence as an example. Creation Of Tron Main Title - Moebius Storyboards - A seventeen second roll of storyboards for the main title sequence. Moebius Misc. Storyboarding Artwork - A vast collection of storyboards from various scenes of the film, complete with user navigation. Early Storyboard Artwork - Another vast collection of storyboards, but this time focusing on the early conception stage of the film. Storyboard-To-Film Comparison - A good comparison between the storyboard and final film version, available in three different angles (Original storyboard, Final Film Version or split-screen) and featuring introduction by Bill Kroyer. The sequence chosen to demonstrate is the 'Light Cycle' Sequence.
Design: This is the most extensive category with regards to extras. Introduction To Design - A two minute interview with Steven Lisberger the director on the way the 'Light Cycles' were designed and why. The Programs - A good collection of sub-menus containing design artwork for all of the major programs/characters of Tron. The Vehicles - An excellent section detailing the design stages of each of the computer vehicles in the film, complete with artwork and test footage. Electronic World - An excellent collection of design artwork for the various 'real' and 'computer' locations of the film.
Music: Two sequences of alternatively scored music from the film. The Light Cycle Sequence - This was originally scored by composer Wendy Carlos in a riveting synthesiser cue that was dropped from the final version. The scene is presented with Carlos' score as originally intended. End Credits - Carlos' end credit theme was cut halfway through to make way for one of Journey's songs, and so the end credits are presented here with Carlos' theme intact.
Publicity: All elements that helped serve to publicise Tron. Trailers - Four original trailers are included, as well a five minute demonstration reel presented to the National Association Of Theatre Owners Convention and a Work-In-Progress trailer that contains original black-and-footage from the production. Production Photos - A large selection of mostly black-and-white photos from the production, with user-navigation. Publicity & Merchandising - A good selection of stills featuring poster artwork and various merchandising.
Tron is a thoroughly entertaining film on a visual level, remastered compared to the original bare-bones release, and given a magnificent array of extras in every department, including an extensive documentary. It would have been nice if the actors had provided a commentary, but that is the only flaw in an excellent DVD package. Tron is certainly one to own if you spent your youth playing video games in the eighties or watching sci-fi classics that seem more relevant in hindsight. If you own the bare-bones release, sell it quickly, or keep it just in case you overuse this new version.