Anniversary Collector's Edition - 1982 (2002) - Disney
by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
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
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
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.