Review: ‘Tron’ and ‘Tron: Legacy’
As computers were getting faster and significantly more sophisticated, some producer was going to be the first to have computers handle the special effects in a movie. As it turns out, Walt Disney, which pioneered feature-length animation, took the plunge in 1982 with Tron. The film, starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, and David Warner, was visually stunning in its day as you felt immersed in the emerging video game world. The mediocre story took a backseat to the imaginative light cycle races and glowing disc battles. Audiences were intrigued, just enough to rake in $33 million at the box office for a $17 million production so it almost made money using the math of the time.
Flashfoward 28 years and as computers have taken control over special effects in all media, the time struck many as right to go back and revisit the world of Tron. Disney moved cautiously, wanting to retain the original look and feel then enhance it. When the test footage was shown at Comic-Con International in 2009, they knew there was a potential blockbuster on their hands. The green light was flashed and production began in earnest.
Disney is once more leading the way, releasing this week a five-disc combo package that contains not only the Blu-ray debut of Tron, but the 3-D Blu-ray release of Tron: Legacy plus offering the movie on Blu-ray, standard DVD, and also a digital copy. Five discs offering something for everyone.
It is really a shame Tron: Legacy is such an awful movie. The first film was a tidy 96 minutes setting up the world, introducing the digital avatars, telling a story of good vs. evil, duking it out with the computer animation and fading to black. This bloated sequel weighs in at over two hours and doesn’t have an original plot point to offer audiences. Just larger, brighter, and more complex digital imagery that is as thin as the script, which took five guys to botch (screenplay by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis from a story by Horowitz, Kitsis, Brian Klugman, and Lee Sternthal). Director Joseph Kosinski was making his feature debut here and should have held out for a better story.
Time has passed and Kevin Flynn (Bridges) has gone missing, leaving his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) lost and grieving. ENCOM, the Microsoft-like company Flynn ran, is now in the hands of others although longtime ally Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) remains on the board. The company has chosen to ignore Flynn’s legacy and is a monolithic greedy operation. Circumstances, though, lead Sam to find his father’s hidden office and is digitzed and brought to The Grid, the world his father invented. There, he is thrust into gladiatorial combat without explanation and without any preparation not only survives but thrives, bringing him to the attention of CLU, the evil overlord of the Grid, who is of course Flynn’s evil avatar (and thanks to so-so CGI, looks like a young Bridges, who does the voice). Flynn has lured Sam to the Grid in his ongoing game against Flynn, who has opposed him with Gandhi-like patience and non-confrontational manner. Aiding Flynn is Quorra (Olivia Wilde), his chief acolyte and lithe muscle.
CLU has found a way to enter the real world and intends to do so, wreaking havoc. Sam and Flynn have to stop him as Sam tries to rescue his father in the process. Not a bad premise, but the style over substance script and filmmaking make this an incredibly boring movie to watch, despite the bright lights and blurring action. There’s not a single plot point you can’t predict and you stop caring less than a third of the way through.
Bridges does a game job of playing a Zen Master in Obi-Wan’s borrowed robes but he’s not helped by the wooden performance by Hedlund. Wilde’s wide-eyed action heroine is underdeveloped, but fun to watch.
The Grid itself is sleek and stylish, visually arresting at times, but such a far cry from the elegantly simple world of the original that there’s little to connect them which is a shame. And Disney once more pioneers with the motion-capture Bridges to animate CLU – it doesn’t entirely work and looks plastic but you have to begin somewhere.
From those with 3-D players, I’m told the transfer and viewing experience is excellent. I can attest that the Blu-ray transfer for the 2-D version is wonderful although the sound mix doesn’t help the computer-generated voices. Otherwise, the overall sound is strong.
The Blu-ray comes chock full of extra goodness beginning with the ten minute “The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed” which is clearly a teaser for the anticipated third film in the series. It also harkens back to events and players from the first film. Pay attention because there’s more footage to be had if you enter a special code.
Tron’s film legacy is explored in the ten minute “Launching the Legacy” which briefly looks at the thinking that went into envisioning the sequel. Furthering that theme is the slightly longer “Visualizing TRON” which looks at the digital designs. Turning to the humans, you have the twelve minute “Installing the Cast” which nicely spotlights the performers, new and old, as they visited the Grid. The Comic-Con International crowd becomes a sound effect as seen in the three minute “Disc Roars” when Kosinski recorded the fans to fill in his crowd sounds. There’s also “Derezzed“, a music video featuring Daft Punk, which provided the unmemorable score. The world of Tron will be enhanced via a 2012 Disney XD animated series and you get your “First Look at ‘TRON: Uprising‘”.
This is the second DVD offering to include the new Disney Second Screen with the downloadable “Second Screen App” that allows you access interactive features from Disney’s website which will work on a PC, Mac, or iPad.
Tron on Blu-ray is another experience entirely. The soft colors and blurred edges harken back to those early pioneering days and look, well, quaint in high-definition. The basic story has Flynn toiling as a video game developer, annoyed that his game creations were stolen by ENCOM’s Ed Dillinger (David Warner). Flynn, Bradley and Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) conspire to hack the mainframe and take on the Master Control Program. As they enter cyberspace, each becomes an avatar as Tron (Boxleitner), Ram (Dan Shor), and Yori (Morgan) face off against Sark (Warner). Writer/director Steven Lisberger created a brand new world reflecting real world issues that were just bubbling up in the collective consciousness. It was a good film at time although feels somewhat dated today. The earnest performances carry you forward unlike its bloated sequel.
There has been love and attention lavished over the transfer so the colors and glowing effects are brighter and play better on today’s screens. It makes seeing the movie after all these years feel fresh and alive.
The movie comes complete with its own set of Blu-ray extras including a nearly ten minute look at “The ‘TRON’ Phenomenon”. Lisberger and his father Carl visit Disney’s legendary archives in “Photo Tronology” (16:37) which offers a fond look back. The remainder of the extras come from previous releases including the 1995 audio commentary by Lisberger, producer Donald Kushner, associate producer and visual effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw, and visual effects supervisor Richard Taylor; 2001’s “The Making of TRON”, which run almost as long as the film itself, “Development” (8:06) including a 1982 television report titled “Computers are People Too”; “Digital Imagery” (12:12); “Music” (8:01);”Publicity”; “Deleted Scenes” (6:19) with two Yori and Tron scenes plus an alternate opening; “Design” (2:40) ,”Storyboarding” (8:51) and “Galleries”.