Fans of Disney's "TRON" (1982) and "TRON: Legacy ought to be happy that the two films have been bundled together in a five-disc collection featuring the Blu-ray 3D of "TRON: Legacy," a Blu-ray of "TRON: Legacy," a Blu-ray of "TRON, the Original Classic," a DVD of "TRON: Legacy," and a Digital Copy of "TRON: Legacy."
My family watched both films in a double-feature evening, and while the action and visual design held their interest--both films look fantastic on Blu-ray--there were plenty of quizzical looks and whispers of "I don't know what's going on."
Neither film gets too deep into the world of speculative science-fiction insomuch as there are no attempts, really, to explain the technology, the technological plot twists, or some basic questions people might have about a world in which computer "programs" are anthropomorphized and appear to exist in a hierarchical world in which they move about doing things their human counterparts programmed them to do . . . but also seem to be under the rule of an überprogrammer tyrant who presides over gladiator-style games the way that Roman emperors did. So when your computer is frozen or that actuarial program isn't pulling up any data, it's because the program was either fighting some other program with discs that look like Frisbees, or else he/she is sitting in the audience cheering? Or rounding up programs for the "games"?
If these discs on their backs that they remove and throw at others during these games in order to try to destroy them are "Identity Discs," and if you lose your identity disc you've lost your identity, why would anyone want to throw it at someone else? And when the discs appear to destroy someone and they reach back for a second disc, what's that all about? Later, in "TRON: Legacy," when our hero has apparently been inside a computer for 20 years, what did this human eat? Food that he programmed? Apparently so, because this guy also lives in a white mansion with furniture that he apparently programmed into existence . . . and wine, lots of wine. Behold: The Creator.
Both films are cautionary tales and social commentaries, either offering the computer world as a microcosmic analogy for life itself, or putting a different spin on "gaming" addictions or the concept of Frankenstein's monster--a creation that gets away from its creator, long a warning for scientists who would play "God."
Interestingly, both films star Jeff Bridges in his thirties--with CGI trickery aging him backwards ala Benjamin Button for the more sophisticated second installment. "Tron, the Original Classic" was made on a budget that was reportedly $17 million, and while it made back that amount and more, it was a disappointment at the box office. Over time, though, "Tron" became a kind of cult favorite, producing fans that were vocal enough to request certain characters and elements be carried over into the follow-up film. How has moviemaking changed? The budget for "TRON: Legacy" was reportedly $200 million, and so it took a worldwide gross ($397 million) to push it into the black column.
"TRON, the Original Classic"
Until corporations and corporate climbers start to care about humanity, they're going to continue to be the villain in films, as they are in this 1982 outing starring Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes, and David Warner. The plot begins simply enough: Ed Dillinger (Warner) got promoted and became CEO of ENCOM because he stole and took credit for several freeware video games that Kevin Flynn (Bridges) designed. Bridges is no longer at the firm, but as Warner and the Master Control Program he instituted start to show signs of becoming completely tyrranical, Fynn's friend and former partner, Alan Bradley (Boxleitner), hunts him down so he can help him prove that the games were really designed by Flynn, not Dillinger-and, of course, oust Dillinger from office. As with all things computer-related, the paper trail lies inside the computer itself. So Flynn gets zapped inside the computer, where he encounters "replicas" of people who helped program the ENCOM computer, including a stooge named Sark who is the Master Control Programmer's right-hand man and enforcer. Along the way he meets another program (Dan Shor) in the "games," as well as Dr. Baines' look-alike program Yori, Bradley's program Tron, and the old man in the office's program who's now relegated to serving as a tower guardian.
After a long set-up, the bulk of the film is mostly a chase, with MCP's thugs pursuing the good guys as they ride motorbikes and access different levels inside the computer main frame. This was, after all, the era when there was one massive computer and all of the keyboards and monitors were hooked up to that enormous thing. By today's standards the effects look positively primitive, but for the time they were actually cutting edge. And I have to say that in 1080p "TRON" looks so much better that it gives the film a boost.
"TRON: Legacy" kicks it up quite a few notches, as you'd expect. It's more contemporary in both its looks and its sensibilities--a more diverse movie, too, with some black characters and more than just the single female we saw in "Tron." The pacing is crisper, and there are younger characters, too, so as to appeal to a younger demographic as well as those who grew up with Jeff Bridges as Flynn. Mostly, though, the costumes and inner worlds of TRON get a 21st century makeover. What was a blocky, angular trail left by the motorbikes in "Tron" now becomes more freeform, like the vapor trails left by jet-propelled vehicles. Suits that looked like they had glowworms stitched to them now look as if they're outward extensions of inner energy. And the computerized version of a program that Flynn designed (CLU) is a relatively good image of Bridges in his thirties--a neat piece of technological sleight-of-hand in a film that's about technology. But in trying to make him look as washed-out as Sark from the first film, the filmmakers only succeed in making us think that this was the best they could do with Benjamin Button technology. The stunts are more spectacular, but what's perhaps more important for a popcorn movie like this is that a son (Garrett Hedlund as Sam Flynn) searching for his father inside a computer game adds a little emotional currency that ups the ante a bit from the righteous indignation and revenge of the first film.
But there are things that are lost with the new film, too. CLU is the program that's gotten thousands of times smarter than its creator in "TRON: Legacy," and while it's fun seeing that Bridges' computer reconstruction, CLU simply isn't as menacing as MCP and Sark, the right-hand-man who looked a lot like a "Star Wars" cantina character. The logic behind the plot gets even muddier the second time around, and our understanding of the virtual utopia Flynn apparently tried to construct isn't helped one bit by the introduction of Isos, a "whole new life form . . . digital DNA" that was supposed to be the aging computer whiz kid's "gift to the world." But they don't seem to have much of an existence beyond plot points, beyond providing more humans (most notably a female) inside a crucible filled otherwise crammed full of "programs."
William David Lee wrote in his theatrical review that "'TRON: Legacy' definitely needs to be seen in theaters based on the visuals alone," but I'd have to add that for 3D there are no scenes designed specifically to throw things at the audience--well, other than those ID Frisbees--and I appreciate that. But if there was a film made for 3D, it's "TRON: Legacy," because the world is artificial and contrived and the virtual guts of a computer system. It's ALL imagination, it's ALL surreal, and yes, it's ALL gimmicky . . . and that's the way that 3D has always struck me. Well, finally the style matches the content. It's a great experience in 3D.
Still, in Blu-ray, on a 50" HDTV, "TRON" and "TRON: Legacy" make for a pretty good evening of home entertainment--especially since both films are rated PG. When was the last time you saw a series so squeaky clean? Just don't expect true, logic-based sci-fi, because these films provide more action than they suggest how future technology might work.
Simply put, "TRON: Legacy" looks gorgeous in Blu-ray--both 3D and standard--and "TRON" looks better than it ever has. The blue and red colors that emblazon program uniforms look more like the circuitry they were designed to be, in the sequel, and the set design and art design are interesting in both films. The lighting and industrial look of the film could have led to concert-style halos, but there's a clarity here that still allows for the kind of edge delineation that drives 3D and Blu-ray. I saw no problems with the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, and the dual aspect ratio of the second film--2.35:1 and 1.78:1--seemed effortlessly normal. "TRON" is presented in 2.20:1 aspect ratio. In both films, skin tones (when we get them) look normal, and colors are techno-bright. The films were transferred to 50GB discs, and packaged in a slipcase that features a lenticular hologram on the cover.
For "TRON: Legacy," the featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 7.1 (48 kHz/24-bit), with additional audio options in English 2.0 and 2.0 DVS, and French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish, and French. The soundtrack is pretty well mixed, with FX loud but not so loud that the dialog is reduced to whispers. When the revved up bikes tear across The Grid you really get a nice sense of sound moving across the field. The subwoofer is kept pretty busy during the film's action sequences
No bonus features on the 3D disc, and on the standard Blu-ray there's precious few. And what's here is a mixed bag. On the perfunctory end of the scale there's "Installing the Cast," a 12-minute feature that basically praises the actors. Same with a music video ("Derezzed"/Daft Punk), a First Look preview of the animated TV series that's really a 60-second commercial, and "Disc Roars," which finds the director using Comic-Con to record crowd ambience for the film. They're all footnotes, at best. Better is "Visualizing Tron," a 12-minute look at the conceptual art and visual design of the film, and how they achieved the desired effects with $60,000 costumes and other set-design tricks. There's stuff about Bridges' younger self too in this brief feature. "Launching the Legacy" (10 min.) is also more substantial. It incorporates interview clips and Comic-Con footage to basically show how a sequel took shape. Finally, the Blu-ray interactive exclusive "The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed" delves into what Flynn Lives is.
This is the package to get, if you buy "TRON: Legacy." You get both films in Blu-ray, the second in 3D, and a DVD and Digital Copy "Legacy" for when you're on the go.