There's a line in an old episode of The Simpsons (back when y'know.. it was good), where Homer asks an assembled throng "Um, it's like, uh...did anyone see the movie "Tron?" - The entire cast say no. It was kinda funny, but only partially true.
Whilst Tron was not the massive success story that Disney hoped it to be back in 1982 (although it did go on to gross double its production costs), the more hardcore nerds amongst us kept the legacy of Tron alive, to the point where after an almost unbelievable three decades later, a sequel was produced. Whilst in some aspects the film has aged, the reason why the film has managed to stay popular for so long was because the core story concept was so far ahead of its time.
When ENCOM software developer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is passed over for a promotion after his hard work was stolen by a senior executive in the company, he searches for evidence to back up his claims. When the operating system bars his search, but Flynn continues to hack the system, the OS responds by transporting Flynn into the computer world of his design. The living, breathing ecosystem is a harsh world, but Flynn will have to play by the rules if he is to escape with his life and return to the real world.
It's hard to imagine, but in 1982 computers were only really found in schools, universities and some workplaces, still feared by the masses. Computer games were relatively new (Pong wasn't even ten years old yet) and were seen as the domain of kids. A film so intrinsically linked to both of these elements was almost inherently doomed to fail from the start. Whilst it was praised for some pioneering visual effects, audiences struggled to connect with the world because it was alien and unbelievable and certainly not helped by an electronic score that emphasized a clinical feeling which polarized audiences.
Fast forward to now and Tron is more relevant now than it ever was. Sure, the wire-framed CG effects are a nearly whimsical throwback to the past and the music will forever ground the film in the early 80's, but the film speaks to modern audiences far more universally than those of thirty years ago. And perennial relevance is not just forethought on the behalf of the producers; it's the very essence of quality filmmaking.
Tron is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.20:1 (its original aspect ratio) encoded with the MPEG-4 AVC codec.
The visual look of Tron will always be a product of the technical limitations of its production. With a film master that is so heavily reliant on layered, hand drawn cel animation, inaccurate rotoscoping and even problems with the original film stock means that the film will never look as good as a modern day production.
That said, the director approved new transfer for the film is pretty astonishing. Disney have gone back to the negative and produced a very film-like transfer that retains a healthy amount of grain, but reveals a level of sharpness and detail that's never been seen before. The neon lit colours pop like never before and the newly improved colour timing truly does wonders. Whilst an unfortunate error with faulty film stock which caused a strobing effect in certain scenes has been rectified, the filmmakers have resisted the temptation to alter the film to bring it in line with the sequel.
This is careful film restoration at its best. Simply put, Tron has never looked better, and it likely never will.
The main audio track is encoded in lossless DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, at 24 bits.
This Blu-ray re-uses the new 5.1 mix which was created for the 20th anniversary edition DVD some years ago. Upon comparison, I don't think any additional mixing has been done with this new audio track, but that's ok because it was a very good mix to begin with.
Dialogue is generally unproblematic save for a few lines of dialogue that are occasionally hard to make out. Sound effects scrub up well and the light cycle chase sequence is a really nice bit of aggressive remixing.
The Wendy Carlos score is mixed well, with plenty of bleed in the rears. I never did really like the score, but it's strangely fitting.
Overall, a pretty good track and again, a nice restoration from the original elements.
Disney's 20th anniversary DVD release was a lavish special edition release which helped to re-present the film with a bit more gravitas and to align it as a classic of the visual effects genre. Disney have re-purposed all the previous extras along with a few new ones. Let's jump in.
The crown jewel of the collection is the 90 minute Making of Tron documentary. As you would imagine from the length, it's extremely in depth and brings back many of the principal actors and crew for their vivid recollections. No matter how dedicated a fan you might be, you'll definitely learn something. Notably, this documentary was produced long before Tron: Legacy was even mooted, so that isn't discussed, although the possibility of a sequel is.
Next up are two newly produced featurettes (in high definition); The Tron Phenomenon which takes a look at the original through the prism of the sequel, and Photo Tronology which features Director Steve Lisberger and his son Carl return to the Disney archives to look at the extensive collection of behind the scenes and promotional photography from the film's production. Whilst viewing these, Carl prompts his dad for some behind the scenes stories and really gives the viewer a nice fly on the wall feeling of discovery. It's edited together extremely well and is a really touching feature.
More features can be found in the 'original DVD features' section, under the unimaginative headings of Development, which reveals early production tests from the six month pre-production schedule, Digital Imagery which looks at the cutting edge visual effects and backlit photography, Music presents segments of film set to Wendy Carlos music that was ultimately cut from the final film and Publicity which rounds up multiple trailers. Design reveal some of Syd Mead's concept art that heavily influenced the look of the film. Mead was hot off his stunning work in Blade Runner and was at the top of his game.
The Deleted scenes are pretty brief, but reveal the fabled 'Tron and Yori love scene', which will titillate some of the more... dedicated fans.
The Storyboards and Gallery features are re-purposed from the original DVD, but newly transferred in HD.