Tron (20th Anniversary Edition)

Tron took on the fantasy of having a person actually enter the electronic world, what we call today cyber space

Twenty years ago, in 1982, a groundbreaking film was released, Tron. Tron took on the fantasy of having a person actually enter the electronic world, what we call today cyber space. This was to be a completely new type of filmmaking. It was neither pure animation nor was it completely live action. The animation was created on the computer, not by an army of animators. While many may feel that Tron is primitive but instead of thinking of it that way try to appreciate the film for the pioneer that it was and the classic that it has become.

Tron follows Flynn (Jeff Bridges) a former employee of a large, multinational computer firm, Encom. Flynn created several popular video games that were stolen by another employee Dillinger (David Warner) that used the programs to rise to being a senior executive vice president. Flynn runs a video game parlor in order to make enough to live and to fund his hacking attempts to find the evidence that he wrote the games. When Dillinger and the tyrannical MCP (Master Control Program) shuts down access to the system current Encom employee Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) sends a program Tron to see what is happening. Tron is crashed and Alan is summoned to Dillinger’s office. Seeking help to get into the system he takes his girlfriend Lora (Cindy Morgan) to visit her ex boyfriend, computer master Flynn. They break into a high security lab in Encom where Flynn is digitized and brought into the system. Once there Flynn finds himself an anthropomorphized computer program. Many programs are imprisoned by the MCP and forced to play video games on the dreaded Gaming Grid. There he meets Alan’s alter ego Tron and Lori’s other self, Yori. They go up against the MCP in order to free the system.

The strength of the story is the fact that it draws from such classic film genres and mixes them into a (then) modern parable. The underlying story is a typical gladiator film with the innocent conscripted programs force to risk they lives and often die playing computer games. The programs have an outlawed religion where they believe in their users. The director has stated that much of Tron was influenced by Spartacus. Themes like freedom of information, computers existing to help not control and how each program has a bit of the humanity of its programmer permit this story to transcend the early eighties and remain a timeless classic.

Jeff Bridges did not fit the usual computer geek personae. He is athletic and handsome, in possession of a great deal of charisma. As the commentary explains the writers envisioned a much older man at one point. Good thing they didn’t go with that plan. Bridges is an actor of considerable talent and he brings life to both his real life and computer personas. There is an energy that he brings to Tron helps to carry the film. One thing that comes across is Bridges, as well as the rest of the cast, took this project seriously. Here they have to wear strange costumes and play much of the movie against a black screen. Boxleitner also delivers a classic performance here. His role in the computer world is more fleashed out (no pun intended) than his real life counterpart. He plays the role of Tron as if it was in a religious sword and sandals flick. Warner is as always, great as a villain. With his distinctive deep voice he commands the virtual set. The one aspect that is really missing is a female viewpoint. Cindy Morgan is not given a chance to really develop either of her characters. Perhaps this is a side effect of the computer world’s heavy domination by men, especially in those early days.

Steven Lisberger was ground breaking in his directorial style of this film. Made long before CGI he had to help develop an incredible number of new techniques to get this film made. Tron was done in 65mm stock and much of the computer work was filmed by means of many passes of sticking a camera in front of a high-resolution video display. Lisberger does a great job in making a fantasy like this feel like a real life film. This is especially difficult since the style he is emulating is the venerable gladiator flick. The audience finds itself caring about the freedom of the programs. While this film borders on just a vehicle for special effects Lisberger gives his actors the chance to really show some talent.

Although the original prints of Tron are over two decades old the anamorphic 2.20:1 transfer is flawless. I am very familiar with Tron having owned it on VHS and have watched it many times. Still, I found details I never noticed before. Nothing big, just a shadow here or a character’s face there but I was impressed. Many say Tron is a bit grainy. Due to the focusing limitations of the 65mm camera this is to be expected. It was part of the original and I’m glad it was not digitized out of this release. The Dolby 5.1 audio remix is among the best ports of am older film I have heard. The speakers are extremely well balanced. The sound flows evenly from all the speakers. The rear speakers do far more than ambience and actually contribute to the overall sound stage. One thing is this DVD was mastered with a greater audio gain than most. It is loud. The sub woofer is a bit over done at times roaring out. The extras are spectacular. There is an audio Commentary with Steven Lisberger (director/writer), Donald Kushner (Producer), Harrison Ellenshaw (Associate Producer) and Richard Taylor (Visual Effects Supervisor). This commentary is a bit technical but will hold your attention. There is whole second disc of special features including a nice making of featurette that goes into more details than most. I got my first PC around 1979. By 1982 I was hooked on it. Tron reminded me of the initial fascination the personal computer held for us back then. For the younger viewer watch this to see where the CGI effects in the movies you love so well got there start. For us old timers, sit back and remember a simpler day.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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