by Alan Rapp on July 28, 2005

in Home Video

  • Title: Tron
  • IMDB: link

Remember when Frisbees were Cool?

Tron is something of a novelty.  The film was the first to rely heavily on CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) during a time when no one used computers in movies.  The technology was new and limited, but because the film was made at such a time the movie has a look and feel that no other film is likely to duplicate.  The way the the film was colored and backlight by hand frame by frame, is too labor intensive for our Star Wars / Jurassic Park world.  Rather than using CGI to create more believable images or other worlds, the creators of Tron realized the limitations of the technology and instead focused on using light against the black background to produce a one of a kind art form.  The difference is important.  Even after 20 years have passed the movie still holds up even though the technology used to create it has been passed by.

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) was a computer programmer, but the computer games he created for ENCOM were stolen by a rival technician named Ed Dillenger (David Warner)  who now runs the company.  As the movie opens Flynn is living over his self named arcade spending his time playing video games and trying to break into the system to find the proof that he created the programs that made Dillenger’s career.  His cause is not helped by the Master Control Program, or MPC, which controls and protects all of ENCOM’s information.  The MCP is more than just your average computer program, it has become self aware and has started to hack other systems to try and control them as well.  It has grown so powerful even Dillenger can’t control it any more.  With the help of two other technicians, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora (Cindy Morgan), Flynn breaks into the computer lab and tries to hack into the mainframe directly.  The MCP cannot stop his invasion, so it does the only thing possible; it digitizes him and abducts him into the computer world.

When Flynn awakes he finds himself inside the computer world controlled by the MCP and his lackey Sark (again David Warner), trapped and forced to play the games he created with life and death stakes.  He discovers friends Tron (again Bruce Boxleitner), Ram (Dan Shore) and Lori (Cindy Morgan).  They are all programs now forced to live under the control of the MCP.  Flynn decides to join them and work to help free the system of the MCP’s control, and hopefully find his way back to the real world.

There’s some great stuff here to enjoy.  The look of the world in black and three toned red, blue, and flashes of yellow is simple yet elegant.  We get some ideas about what life inside a computer would look like, and how a computer program would resemble its creator.  The effects still hold up under today’s standards, and the lightcycle sequence in particular is one of my favorite scenes from any film.  The performances by all the major actors and by Lisberger (a first time director) are outstanding.  Disney took a big chance of the new technology that was available to create this movie.  Although the movie was never the commercial success that was envisioned, it still holds a special place for the fans who first saw it over twenty years ago.  Video game and computer based plots have rarely worked well in film.  Tron is the exception, and all the more surprising because it did it first.

This 20th Anniversary Edition is loaded with extras.  We get new 90 minute documentary, which I would advise watching first to help understand some of the smaller features better.  There is a commentary track by the director, producers, and computer effects supervisor.  We get tons of storyboard and art from the development stage to the final stage, some of it very, very cool.  One feature examines the lightcycle chase in split screen showing the storyboards against the completed film.  There are design features on every aspect of movie:  the programs (characters), the vehicles (tanks, lightcycles, recognizers and more), and the electronic world itself.  We get some short extras on the development of backlighting (the effect that gives the programs their glow).  We get a deleted scene between Tron and Lori that examines their relationship and subtly asks, “Do computers have sex?”  This was pretty risque for Disney in 1982.  We get tons of publicity material such as trailers, photos, and a look at the marketing campaign and the Tron toy line.  There are also two original pieces of musical score that were cut from the movie but have can now be heard.  Wow!!  The amount of features and extras is just overwhelming.  There are interviews with all the major stars, the artists, the computer techs, the director, and the producers.  Let’s just say there is more than enough good stuff here to keep you busy for awhile.  Damn Cool!  The whole package runs for $19.99, but it’s been out for a couple of years and you can probably find it cheaper.  No matter what you pay though, you will get your money’s worth.

The movie still works for me.  Everything in the electronic world might even be cooler today than it was in 1982.  The technology used to create the film was time consuming and very difficult, and so it was really the only film ever shot in this style.  It’s a wonderful look at how you can create a complex world with simple color (red and blue) and geometric form.  The DVD is packed with more extras then you might find on many DVD sets two or three times this size.  I think it’s a great addition to anyone’s collection, and with computers so much more a part of our culture today it’s even more relevant than when it was released.  Walt Disney was known to take chances on new technology and new types of filmmaking.  In Tron his successors have assuredly made him proud.  On a side note I do find it interesting that the blue represents the freedom and liberty while the red represents control, censorship, and military might.  I don’t know if there was any political motivation that went into it, but maybe the filmmakers could see a little into the future after all.  End Trans.

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