Tron comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.2:1. Now there have been lots of fan murmurs about the tinkering that Simon Lisberger has done for this director-approved transfer, but as a relatively fresh viewer I really can’t see what all the fuss is about. For those who want to know the details, flicker was a slight problem with the original Tron – it was something of a side-effect in the production itself. To accommodate this, and make it look more intentional, the animators included more flicker, pops and energy surges . Fans didn’t appear to have a big problem with this, but the director clearly did, since – as part of his excellent clean-up process – he has decided to remove the unintentional flicker elements. Some ardent fans think that this is a problem because it belittles the work done to accommodate the side-effect in the first place, leaving the ‘intentional’ blips feeling more out of place than before. Others are just content with the magnificent restoration work that the director has done, and approve of his choices. Personally, I think the movie has never looked this good. I may not remember it frame-for-frame, but I certainly know the light cycle sequences have never looked this special, and that the end result of all the polishing is a superb rendition of this comparatively limited effects-quality production.
Of course, it’s still a 30-year old production, made with technology that was practically being invented as they went along, and suffering from all the problems that would come with such a groundbreaking effort – not least the budgetary restrictions. But you have to realise that it looks better than ever before. It may not stand up to comparison with many films since (and you’d be hard pushed to find anything quite like it to compare it to anyway – it looks that original) but it still looks better than ever before. Really, what more could you ask for? If you want a perfect video presentation, watch the recent sequel. If you want a beloved 80s cult classic looking as good as it likely ever will, then look no further than here.
Detail is very good indeed, providing decent edge representation, impressive textures, and largely avoiding softness, without resorting to over-intrusive edge enhancement or DNR. In fact, you’d be hard-pushed to notice anything unintentional about this presentation – they’ve clearly worked on it frame-by-frame to give us this result, and it shows. Of course there’s lots of grain, it was always going to be prevalent, but it works quite well, particularly as it dominates the program ‘faces’ more than anything else, giving them a nice digitised look. Colours are excellent – from the rich, deep mahogany browns of the real world to the neon blues and reds of The Grid. Black levels are aggressive, but again this was always a natural part of Tron – the deep blacks highlighting the fractions of light in a way which made the two worlds (the real and the computer world) seem all the more alike, with streaks of light running through them. Compare, for example, the helicopter shot at the beginning, where basically you can see little more than the red strips outlining Dillinger’s helicopter as it rides through the night (check the commentary section for an interesting bit of trivia about those strips) – this is an interesting parallel with the world of the MCP, where strips of neon light streak through the black background. People may feel that Tron’s blacks are overwhelming, but I think they actually work well for the movie. In fact, I find it very difficult to fault the work done for this release. It will never, ever, be demo quality, but Tron ’82 looks pretty special nonetheless.
On the aural front, the original movie comes boasting a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, another solid remastering effort which also presents the movie better than ever before, and certainly leaves less room for criticism over tinkering. Newcomers will admittedly find the material itself is very dated, not just in terms of content, but in terms of how it was originally recorded – a dual effect which leaves the voices, synth score and some of the sound effects sounding shallow in that classic 80s way. There really is nothing they could have done to change this – short of dubbing in a whole new track – and what we have here is the original soundtrack cleaned up and remastered with loving attention to detail. It may not please newcomers as much, but long-time fans will have little to complain about.
The dialogue, however shrill it may occasionally be (and they haven’t – unfortunately – changed the odd tonal shift in Jeff Bridges’ vocalisation of Clu in the opening sequence), gets keen presentation from across the fronts and centre channels, and the whole offering is generally quite a front-dominated track, but the surrounds do get enough to do in order to show off some directionality and sense of space and depth. Whether it’s Sark’s thrumming ship, the excited engines of the light-cycles, or the Frisbee-whirl of the light discs, there’s plenty going on here to get the surrounds going, and even include the LFE in the mix. Atmosphere? To an extent, but it’s nowhere near as immersive as more recent efforts, diminished somewhat by the cheesy 80s scoring which frequently flips between almost-haunting and painfully-dated. Still, I can’t see anybody complaining about this, it’s still Tron sounding better than ever before.
Fans of Tron will already have most of the extras that come with this Blu-ray release, they’ve been available on SD-DVD for some time now. That said, they were – and are – excellent extras, and they have all been ported over for this release, along with a couple of High Definition newbies.
Director Simon Lisberger, producer Donald Kushner, associate producer/visual effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw, and visual effects supervisor Richard Taylor contribute to this track, which is one of the best tracks that I have ever come across. It’s a brilliant retrospective effort, offering insight into every little aspect of the production, with some nice information about its inception, as well as plenty of interesting anecdotes. We get to hear how the shot of Dillinger’s helicopter flying in the night was done using reflective strips on the helicopter, which made it look like the helicopter was covered in neon red lights (seriously, there’s no way you could tell); hear discussions about what it was like for the actors to perform on largely empty sets and interact with objects which would be inserted later as animation, and how difficult this was; as well as revelations about the inherent casting problems – and the fact that Peter O’Toole jumped around on the sofas in a hotel lobby in an attempt to secure the part of Tron! Honestly, it’s a great track, which strikes just the right balance between technical information and interesting trivia. The only minor complaint is perhaps the issue of who is speaking – it all gets a bit confusing in the mix – but this doesn’t distract one iota from the quality of this offering.
The Making of Tron clocks in at marginally longer than the main feature film itself, running at 88 minutes and covering all of the bases. Again, fans will have seen it all before – and some of the information does indeed overlap with the commentary – but it’s a thorough, comprehensive mix which provides everything that you could possibly need in the way of background into the production, from inception, through filming, to the all-important post-production and visual effects work. This retrospective offering is a lovingly-made production which is also not a non-stop back-patting affair, giving us – in the same way as the commentary – an (almost) impartial overview into the making of this cult classic, with nods to the standout, genre-changing moments, as well as humble reflection on the imperfections. Another great extra, well worth watching.
The Tron Phenomenon is one of the two new Featurettes – a 10 minute retrospective look at the legacy of Tron, with contributions from those involved in both the original movie and the recent sequel.
Photo Tronology is another new offering, running at 12 minutes, with director Simon Lisberger and his son taking a trip to the Disney vaults to look over old Tron material – both physical props and intriguing concept art, recovered from the archives. Those who have seen all of the other extra features from previous releases will welcome these two interesting additions.
Development is a section dedicated to some of the short old Featurettes, offering us a selection which totals 8 minutes of footage and is split into: The Early Development of Tron, Early Lisberger Studio Animation, a 1982 short movie entitled Computers are People Too, Early Video Tests, and a Developmental Gallery. These choice samples give us insight into the developmental stages of the project, the more conceptual ideas put forward and the early work done to prepare the movie. It’s interesting stuff.
Digital Imagery takes 12 minutes to further detail the effects work, split into: Backlight Animation, Digital Imagery in Tron, a Beyond Tron TV Special, and The Role of Triple I (which comes complete with a demo). It’s interesting to examine the backlighting approach, and the sample effects are also quite intriguing.
Deleted Scenes total 6 minutes of extra footage, and we get three of them: an alternate opening prologue and two love scenes between Tron and Yori, all coming complete with optional commentary from the director.
Music actually gives us two segments (running at a total of 8 minutes) from the movie cut to the original score by Wendy Carlos – which were replaced by more cheesy 80s song tracks. The two bis are the lightcycle sequence and the end credits, which was particularly marred by the use of a song track.
Publicity provides us with a 13 minute collection of promotional material – a sample reel, a test trailer, the four main movie trailers, and a gallery of marketing material which includes numerous posters.
Design has the director introduce us to a 4-minute section dedicated to the designs from Syd Mead (of Blade Runner fame), further detailing the light cycles and the Magi test animation for them, as well as some of the other creations on The Grid. It even features a brief look at the early Space Paranoids footage.
Storyboarding is 9 minutes long and split into: The Storyboarding Process, the Creation of Tron’s Main Title, a Storyboard Gallery and a Storyboard-to-Film Comparison which looks at the lightcycle sequence, commented on by one of the animators.
Galleries is exactly what it says on the box – a selection of literally hundreds of archive stills from the production, split into four categories: Design, Early Concept Art, Publicity and Production Photos, and Storyboard Art.
Three decades on Tron seems like a massively dated, cheesy slice of 80s techno-frivolity – just about everything in it has long since been surpassed: not just the acting and script, which were obviously not its biggest selling points, but also the then-groundbreaking visual effects, which now look just about as basic as it gets. Still, the production is a milestone event in film effects history, pioneering technology that they were practically inventing as they went along, and it remains remarkably distinctive – unlike most anything that had been seen before (or since). I can't imagine anybody really thinks of it as a good film, but there is still some warm, nostalgic value in returning to this daring production. Sure, the years haven't been kind to this film, but if you're in a forgiving mood then it came make for quite a nice Saturday afternoon escape.
To mark the release of the sequel, Tron: Legacy, we get this Region Free US Blu-ray release of the original, which boasts remastered video and audio presentations, together with all the extras from the previous releases – as well as a couple of new offerings. It's a must-buy edition for fans, and at least a worthy rental for those who want to revisit the original after the recent resurgence in interest in all things Tron. A debatable classic, it certainly has its place, and a release like this definitely makes it easier to recommend.
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