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review added: 9/6/02



TRON
20th Anniversary Collector's Edition - 1982 (2002) - Disney

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

TRON: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
96 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.20:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Steve Lisberger, producers Donald Kushner and Harrison Ellenshaw and visual effects supervisor Richard Taylor), trailers for Return to Neverland and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, film-themed menu screens, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
The Making of TRON documentary, deleted scenes with introduction by Bruce Boxleitner, 4 trailers, publicity gallery, storyboard galleries, storyboard-to-screen featurettes, early computer graphic demos, 2 alternate scores, still galleries of design artwork, 5 digital imaging featurettes, development featurettes, film-themed menus


"On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy."

One of those 80s "classics" that, despite not being very good from a story or directing standpoint, still lingers in our collective memories is TRON. The unique, groundbreaking nature of this film's visuals cannot be understated. At the time, CGI was non-existent, and this film was actually slighted for an Academy Award in special effects, because its use of computers was viewed as cheating. Twenty years later, much has changed, yet TRON, despite its flaws, remains an ever-popular piece of nostalgia.

The problem for DVD fans was in the original release, a tepid movie-only release with weak sound and defective video. Now, that travesty has been rectified courtesy of Disney's new twentieth anniversary edition, a full-blown two-disc set with oodles of extras and improved presentation on the whole.

Of course, before discussing the release, mention should be made of the film itself. The truth is that TRON, although a pioneer in special effects when it was released in 1982, was a flawed movie. The emphasis was always on the concept and the visuals. Because of this, little things like the plot and directing the actors never got the attention they should have. The problem was compounded by the technical limitations of the time. Compositing the actors often meant they had to perform not just against an imaginary computer world, but also without their co-stars in the same shot. The end result was a visually overwhelming film of enormous impact sitting on top of a flimsy bit of plot with actors struggling to dig their way to the surface. That shouldn't detract from what the film was, of course. Younger viewers raised on feasts of CGI may look back with disdain on the simplistic images, but the fact remains. TRON paved the way for literally dozens of films that would follow, popular flicks like Toy Story and Shrek among them.

That flimsy plot, such as it was, involves Jeff Bridges character as a computer game developer who had his highly successful software stolen some years back. In order to find evidence of these nefarious doings, he attempts to hack into the corporate computers of ENCOM, but the even more nefarious Master Control Program decides to take him out. He finds himself digitized, literally downloaded into the computer world that occupies most of the film. In order to get back to the real world, our hacking gamer must lead a mini-revolt against the MCP. Sound far-fetched? Downright silly? Good. You've pretty much got the feel of things.

Now that the film, glitches and blemishes included, is out of the way the DVD is a much superior product. It manages to achieve as much as is possible in cleaning up this films visual look. Before even getting into the visual quality, it should be noted that some defects aren't going anywhere. Absent full-blown CGI, the makers of Tron had to use photochemical and layered animation processes that left considerable amounts of grain. It could successfully be argued that Disney could probably have cleaned up this print a tad more, but at the end of the day you'll never get it to look as crisp as modern CGI. The overall visual quality of the computer environments has been improved, particularly in comparison to the earlier release. Wavering contrasts have been minimized with the blacks being reinforced. The falloff from bright elements to darker ones, often resulting in a hideous blocking effect, has also been trimmed. Even if you're not paying attention, you'll easily notice defects here and there, but make no mistake. This is the best TRON has ever looked in its twenty-year lifetime. No apologies, however, can be made for the "real world" footage, which still has its fair share of grain and washed out colors. You can tell quite easily the vintage of this print, which isn't surprising but can be qualified as a bit disappointing.

The audio, a new 5.1 mix to replace the old 4-channel track, is less deserving of apologies. Again, it is an improvement over earlier releases, but it lacks the atmosphere a 5.1 mix should have. The rears are flat, and the effects are clearly loaded up to the front speakers. It's likely they simply took the 4-channel mix up to 5.1 without doing much in the way of really fleshing it out. Notably improved is the sense of bass, with sufficient kick where needed. Along with a generally improved sense of ambience that goes along with the 5.1 track, there's enough here to be happy about relative to previous releases. Still, more improvements could've been made.

The extras, on the other hand, represent a nice effort. Yes, the commentary track (featuring the director, producers, and visual effects supervisor) is exactly the same as that included on the previous laserdisc (as is obvious from the references to "this laserdisc"), but it remains a good little bit of commentary. They dwell mostly on the technical aspects of making the film, which is understandable, but they make more than a few detours to discuss characters, actors, and other interesting notions. A couple of trailers for Return to Neverland and Atlantis: The Lost Empire round out the first disc.

Once you head over to the second disc, you'll find what you were always looking for. That includes an extensive making-of documentary, which guides you from the earliest stages of conception to the final product with all the hurdles in between. These kinds of feature-length documentaries are becoming more and more common, and it's a positive development. A section devoted to the development of the film include an interview with writer-director Steven Lisberger from twenty years ago along with various developmental animation, artwork and video tests. There's even a clip from a 1982 TV documentary on computers that references TRON.

Then you can head over to view a whole slew of storyboarding, some with commentary and some without. A storyboard-to-film comparison rounds out this section, allowing you to see exactly how the filmmakers conceived these sequences, often identically to how they ended up on screen. Usually, storyboards are off by a bit. These look like they were drawn AFTER the film's release. Once you've seen the storyboards, you can check out a collection of featurettes on the digital animation that went into realizing those concepts. Some of these are current, while others are vintage from 1980s.

Just in case you were utterly unsatisfied by all of that, there's an in-depth section on the designs of the programs, the vehicles, and just about everything else in the movie. After that extensive section, there's still more on the music, with reconstructions of Wendy Carlos' original score for the end credits and the lightcycle sequence. Both were excised from the final film, thankfully, but they're hear in all their digital 1980s glory. And then (yes, I said then) there's a plethora of publicity material, starting with the trailers and including production photos and merchandising. Finally, once you've become an expert on everything related to this film, Bruce Boxleitner (who played "Tron") introduces four deleted scenes including two versions of a love scene and an alternate opening. Phew, done.

So there you have it. TRON, as flawed as ever, presented in the best possible version you could imagine. The extras alone would be worth a purchase, but they happen to accompany the film in as good a presentation as you're going to get. If you already had one of the earlier versions, be it on laserdisc or DVD, you're going to have to buy another one. But worry not. This time, it's worth the reasonable cost Disney is charging.

End of line.

Brad Pilcher
bradpilcher@thedigitalbits.com




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