Judge Gordon Sullivan was sucked into his computer once, but his solitaire program didn't have nifty light cycles—or Quorra.
Our review of Tron: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition, published March 18th, 2002, is also available.
The game has changed.
The late '70s and early '80s were a dark time for the Disney Corporation. Sure, they made some good films (Robin Hood and Freaky Friday come to mind), but in that dark time, their leader Walt Disney was still only a decade dead, and video hadn't come along yet to allow the company to leverage its catalog of classic animated films. During that era (which was, coincidently, the golden age of video arcades), Disney started branching out, some might say desperately, trying new and different things to stay relevant. This included the move into PG movies (including the eventual release of Black Cauldron, their first PG animated feature) and the founding of Touchstone Pictures to release more adult fare. It also included the somewhat risky move of releasing Tron, a more adult-oriented film that relied on cutting edge visuals and burgeoning cultural interest in computers and video games. It was a minor hit and one of the bright lights of one of the darker eras in Disney history.
Fast forward almost three decades, and Disney is in an even stronger position. The Nineties ushered in another golden era, with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King ensuring the company's dominance once again. Since that five year span, Disney itself has ceded box office dominance to Pixar (which they eventually partnered with), and much of its focus for the last decade has been centered on making the back catalog shine on home video. It's no surprise, then, that Tron was due for a revisit. Computers have installed themselves in our lives in ways that simply could not have been predicted thirty years ago, and the retro-futuristic camp of the original seems more relevant today than it did in the Eighties. Thus, viewers were treated to the big-budget Tron: Legacy, and in 3D no less. Although not a surefire classic in the Disney canon, Tron: Legacy offers a nostalgia-laden blast of sci-fi action, and I challenge you to find a fault with this amazing five-disc Blu-ray collection.
Facts of the Case
Tron: Legacy opens not long after the events of the original. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart) has a young son who he leaves one night to go to the arcade to work on his "perfect system." Sadly, though, he doesn't return, and young son Sam (Garrett Hedlund, Troy) grows up without a father. Years later, Sam is a headstrong rebel who has let his father's company fall into the hands of soulless bureaucrats. One day he gets a page from his father's number, which leads him to the Flynn arcade. There he's sucked into the system that his father was working on. Not only is he sucked in, but he's immediately put in the middle of a war. Clu (Jeff Bridges again) has developed the perfect system under Kevin's orders, while trapping his maker in the system. Everything is so perfect, in fact, that he's turned Kevin's digital dreams into a fascist state inside the system. Now Sam must find his father and foil Clu's plans to expand from the system to the real world.
Let's face it: when thirty years have elapsed, no one is looking for a blockbuster sequel to a fondly-remembered sci-fi flick (unless, like Star Wars, there was already a structure in place). Still, I'm glad it happened. If not, the original Tron was in danger of a Lucas-style update, with new digital special effects replacing the old-school polygons of the original. Instead, fans can keep their memories of Clu and Tron pristine whether they enjoy Tron: Legacy or not.
Whether fans of Tron will enjoy Tron: Legacy or not is a very good question. Truth be told, they're basically the same film. The hero (in this case Sam instead of Kevin) finds himself inside the system. Rather than fighting the Master Control Progam, Sam is up against Clu. For allies he has his father and an "iso" named Quorra (played by Olivia Wilde). The basic idea is still a quest to get to the input/output tower and defeat the run amok program. We get the games, including the light cycles and disc wars, and all the pseudo-computer lingo as well. So, those who like the basic story and want to see it updated will almost certainly enjoy Tron: Legacy. Those who were more attracted to the original out of nostalgia or because of its old-school graphics and campiness will probably find Tron: Legacy a needless update that adds little to the old film.
I admit that somehow I missed out on the original Tron growing up, despite being part of the target demographic of computer-obsessed young males. So for me, Tron: Legacy stood on its own merits, especially since I watched it before watching the original included in this set. I can't claim to be the biggest fan of the story (more about that down below), but Tron: Legacy is an amazing technical achievement, and is worth watching for the sheer eye candy alone. I don't know how impressive the light cycles looked in 1982, but the updated graphics of Legacy look less like computer renditions and more like something you could buy in a showroom today. Just like the first film, everything in Legacy is well designed and looks both cutting edge and timeless (though Legacy has the leg-up on looking realistic. As a special-effects extravaganza, Tron: Legacy delivers on all fronts, providing exciting action and stunning visuals.
The acting is also surprisingly strong for this type of film as well. Jeff Bridges returns as Kevin/Clu, and he's appropriately scary and charming depending on the character. The writers have turned him into a Dude-inspired Zen mystic, which means he gets some of the lamest dialogue this side of an adult film. In fact at one point he's made to respond to something with "Bio-digital jazz, man!" Despite the sometimes horrific dialogue, he makes both his characters surprisingly well-rounded and compelling. Garrett Hedlund is similarly interesting as Sam. He's young and adventurous, and just everyman-looking enough to allow us to identify with him. Olivia Wilde gets the thankless job of playing the love interest (where her major qualification seemed to be the ability to fill out a skintight suit), but she brings a warmth and a humor to the role that's fun to watch. Some genius gave Michael Sheen a role as a club owner, and he's David Bowie meets Eddie Izzard in a scene-stealing performance that I wish would get its own spinoff film.
Then, there's this Blu-ray disc, billed as 2-Movie Collection. It's a five-disc release that includes a 3D Blu-ray disc, a 2D Blu-ray disc, a 2D DVD, a 2D Digital Copy, and the Blu-ray release of the original Tron. The Blu-ray presentation of Tron: Legacy is nothing short of stunning. Blacks are so deep you could fall into them, detail is tack sharp, and colors pop off the screen. There are no compression or artefacting problems to be found. There is a bit of grain in a few scenes, but it's well rendered and only serves to emphasize the filmlike appearance of the transfer. Fans should also note that that film preserves the original IMAX aspect ratio by switching between 1.78:1 and 2:35:1. The sound mix is just as good. It's a lossless 7.1 mix, and between Daft Punk's amazing score and the action soundscape of the light cycle races, this track impresses from first moment to last.
It's hard to even count the extras on this set. First up, there's the fact that we get four different versions of the film: 3D/2D Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Copy. Then there's the inclusion of the original Tron on Blu-ray with all its extras. Just for Tron: Legacy we get five featurettes that look at everything from the casting to the effects, as well as a Daft Punk music video and a preview for a Tron animated series. As of the time of this review, Disney's Second Screen capabilities for Tron: Legacy aren't up, but the preview they include looks amazing. The basic idea is that you download an app for your iPad or computer that syncs with the Blu-ray as it's playing, allowing you to view extras related to the specific scenes. They promise behind the scenes videos, rotatable models, and more. The included Tron Blu-ray appears to be a direct port of the standalone Blu-ray. Its transfer is amazing as well, especially for a thirty-year-old film, and all the extras appear to be intact. They include an audio commentary and even more featurettes covering effects, casting, and music for the film. A documentary on the film appears to be new to this edition, but otherwise everything you could want to know about Tron is here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Tron: Legacy is a tentpole sci-fi actioner. That means that deep characters, intricate plots, and anything other than black-and-white morality are right out the window. I happened to enjoy Tron: Legacy for what it is, but fundamentally it's the same movie as the original with updated graphics and slightly worse dialogue. There are some cringe-worthy moments, and the film doesn't even have the excuse of being old for its dated language. The story itself might as well be The Wizard of Oz, with The Grid replacing the Yellow Brick Road and the input/output tower as the Emerald City. It's a tried and true formula, but it feels a bit stale here. Nostalgia covers most of these problems, but there are definitely a few head-scratching moments in the film. Also, while the film is a technical triumph in almost every sense, the animation isn't quite there to make Clu look perfectly like a young Jeff Bridges. The human face is very difficult to mimic, and during dialogue, his lips often looked too stiff.
If I have one complaint about this Blu-ray edition, it's that the extras require a computer/iPad to access in many cases. The Second Screen technology is a cool idea, but to deliver the bulk of the supplements that way seems unfortunate. Sure, many people who have a Blu-ray player will also have a computer/iPad, but if the computer is in another room I imagine the technology becomes a bit frustrating.
Tron: Legacy is a fine attempt to bring the Tron franchise into the twenty-first century. It's got all the action, computer lingo, and sci-fi appeal of the original but wrapped in a much slicker-looking package. It's helped along by a tremendous five-disc release that offers multiple ways to view the film along with the original. Disney has once again demonstrated its mastery of releasing films on home video.
For introducing a whole new generation of kids to the light cycle, Tron: Legacy is not guilty.
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• 3D Version
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