[box cover]

Tron: 20th Anniversary Edition

Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan,
David Warner, Dan Shor, and Barnard Hughes

Written and Directed by Steven Lisberger

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Review by Damon Houx                    

It's hard to imagine the Mouse Powerhouse totally at a loss in the film industry, but by 1982 Disney wasn't sure how to compete with Star Wars, Jaws, and other mega-blockbusters, subsiding off of their powerful re-releases, and floundering with pretty much anything else — including such half-cooked entities as The Black Hole (1979) and Condorman (1981). In the summer of 1982 the studio released Tron, and the grease-paint was slapped on them yet again as they were clowned at the box office by the cinematic juggernaut that was E.T. And though Tron did respectably, it was a film that had higher ambitions.

However, it's also no surprise that time has smiled favorably on Tron, turning it into a cult favorite for its obsession with computers and computer games, and — though clunky and silly — it remains entertaining.

When computer programmer Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) can't do his job because he isn't given high enough clearance by the Vice President of Encom, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), after some recent security breaches he tracks down Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a disgruntled ex-programmer and more-than-likely culprit, through Flynn's ex- — and Alan's current — girlfriend Lora (Cindy Morgan). Flynn tells them both the truth: He concocted the now world-famous video game "Space Paranoids" and an entire line based on it, only to have his ideas stolen by Dillinger; his breaking in was the only way to find the proof he needs.

Convinced, Lora and Alan help Flynn sneak into the system via a forged higher clearance, but Dillinger's master control program (or MCP) uses a laser to draw Flynn into the computer world, which is lorded over by the MCP and kept under the watchful eye of Sark (Warner), and where all programs have the faces of their programmers (referred to here as "users"). It is in this computer world where Flynn meets Tron (Boxleitner), the possible savoir of the programs, and a believer in the users (the idea that sentient beings control the destiny of the programs, i.e. Flynn). Forced to play video games until he dies, Flynn partners with Tron and the two break out of the game-grid, hoping to make contact with Alan, discover some chink in the MCP's armor, and find a way back to the real world.

*          *          *

It has to be admitted that Tron follows the Star Wars formula by rote: a quest — with numerous pit stops for exciting special-effects-laden actions sequences — revolving around beating an evil, well-costumed oppressor, featuring the Arthurian overtones and a love triangle mixed in with the Orwellian implications of the digital age. There's even a cute sidekick for Flynn when a "yes/no" bit shows up. And, as is expected of films that rely heavily on post-production, the actors sometimes seem at loss at how to deal with their scotch-tape marks later turned into special effects. Were it made today, Tron would be a summer event film; it shares way too much in common with the over-elaborate, high-concept, poor-performance spectacles we've been beaten over the head with in recent years, and it would perhaps be the kind of film that its current champions dismiss as sub-Bruckheimer fare. Even for those who love it, Tron is a flawed experience. Yet, because the movie is so quirky and not committee-made, it rises above the limitations of its genre. Director Steven Lisberger does a good job of setting up the diametrically opposed real- and computer-worlds, with the users geeks and the program versions of themselves powerful warriors. And, as the user-turned-program, Jeff Bridges makes for a good tour guide, playing Flynn as a stoned savoir bemused by his user powers.

But what makes Tron so fascinating is not its plot, but the look of it; one can now watch the digital effects in T2 and exclaim "Oh, that's so 1992," but nothing about Tron has been recycled. Filmed in 70mm, shot monochromatically in the computer world, and using the most state-of-the-art computer effects of 1982, the consistent and colorful vision of the cyber-underworld is such of its own piece that it's truly a marvel to look at. Of course it's helped immeasurably by the presence of artists Jean "Moebius" Giraud (best known for his illustrations in the magazine Heavy Metal) and Syd Mead (who also helped construct the look of Blade Runner). Though rushed over almost too quickly, the marvelous set pieces in the gladiatorial section of the film — like the deadly ring battle between Flynn and the newcomer, and the lightcycle races — made for some great video games and have not aged poorly at all. (A reviewer digression: There is a shot in Tron where the lightcycles are whipping through rows and rows of tanks; as the cycles reach the end of the rows the tanks start powering up, and every time I go parking at crowded shopping centers I think of this mass of tanks powering up and converging on me as I try to find an open space).

*          *          *

Buena Vista's two-disc Tron: 20th Anniversary Edition trumps the original DVD release, and even improves on the Laserdisc box set, presenting the film anamorphically in its original aspect ratio (2.20:1, as per all 70mm films), while audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1. On Disc One the extras are limited to an audio commentary (ported from the Laserdisc) by Lisberger, producer Donald Kushner, and visual-effects supervisors Harrison Ellenshaw and Richard Taylor. It's fairly tech-oriented, but there are some fun stories to be heard, and there's a great anecdote about Peter O'Toole's audition. Also included are bonus trailers for Atlantis and Return to Neverland.

The second disc houses the rest of the supplements, broken into eight sections. The first is Development which includes "Early Development of Tron" (2:39), a short 1982 interview with Lisberger and Kushner; "Early Lisberger Studios Animation" (:31), which offers the first animated version of Tron; "Early Concept Art and Background concept Art" still gallery; "Computers are People Too" (4:32), a puff 1982 promo on Tron that does include pan-and-scan clips that show how insufferable the film used to look on videotape; and "Early Video Tests" (:32), done for Disney to show them how the film would look on the big screen.

Next up is Digital Imagery, which includes "Black Light Animation" (1:41), showing how the live action was separated and colored. "Digital Imagery in Tron" which features Richard Taylor talking about all the companies who did the effects; "Beyond Tron" (4:00), a featurette on the company Magi who provide some of the effects; "Role of Triple I" (:36) is a short interview on the importance of the effects company; and "Triple I demo" (2:17), which shows their demo reel.

Exhausted yet? No? Well, there's more. In Music there are two alternate music cues from Wendy Carlos' score for the Light Cycle Scene and the End Credits (in place of the rockin' Journey song). Then comes the major add-on from the LD box: an all new Making Of documentary (88:17), featuring recent interviews of Lisberger, Bridges, Boxleitner, Morgan, Dan Shor, Barnard Hughes, producer Donald Kushner, and visual-effects supervisors Ellenshaw and Taylor, director of photography Bruce Logan, artists Steve Allers, Andy Gaskill, and Tia Kratter, Disney Chairman Dick Cook, and John Lasseter of Pixar fame. It's a fun and fairly thorough documentary, and it's also cool to see Bridges put on his Tron helmet back on.

Next up is Storyboarding, which offers "The Storyboarding Process" (3:54), a narrated guide through the storyboards, which were very closely followed; A "Storyboard to Film Comparison" with introduction (:52), giving the viewer the multiangle options to watch the lightcycle race in film and storyboard version side by side, or each on their own; there's also a cut together (with music) version of Moebius's storyboards for the opening credits (:18), alongside galleries for "Moebius Miscellaneous Storyboard Artwork" and "Early Storyboard Artwork."

In Design There are still galleries for "The Programs," "The Vehicles," and "The Electronic World," alongside demo footage of the MCP, the lightcycles and the Recognizers. Deleted Scenes features an introduction (2:19) to two deleted scenes: "Tron and Yori's Love Scene #1" and "#2." The in the first (1:57), Tron and Yori (Morgan) go back to her place and begin to touch, while in the second (:46), it's the morning-after scene. And yes, it's as bad as it sounds. There's also an "Alternate Opening Prologue" (1:23), meant to better explain the computer world to the peanut gallery. While in Publicity there are six trailers, "Production Photos" stills, and "Publicity and Merchandising" stills, which include pictures of the first video game and the toys.

From a distance of 20 years it should be goofier, but the commitment of everyone involved keeps Tron from camp, making the film better than a fond strange childhood memory. Like Big Trouble in Little China, and Buckaroo Banzai, it's a cult favorite for a reason.

— Damon Houx

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