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Tron DVD Review

Tron

November 28, 2003

Director: Steven Lisberger,
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes, Dan Shor, Peter Jurasik, Tony Stephano, Craig Chudy, Vince Deadrick Jr, Sam Schatz, Jackson Bostwick,

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DVD Review

When Tron came out in 1982, it was intended to be a visually stunning parable against the powers of computers and technology. More than twenty years later, the movie plays more like a nostalgic ode to the early 1980s, than a simple good vs. evil morality tale. Tron evokes the heady days when video games like Pac Man, Defender and Centipede ruled the arcades and when everyone owned a Commodore 64 or an Atari 2600 — the eight track of personal computing.

Flynn (Bridges) is a hot shot computer programmer turned computer hacker after being fired three years ago by Encom corporate big wig, Ed Dillinger (Warner). To add insult to injury, the executive stole a series of video games that Flynn created and transformed them into wildly popular and profitable products — much to the young programmer’s chagrin. Flynn can prove true authorship of the games but only if he can gain direct access to Encom’s mainframe. Enter ex-girlfriend Laura (Morgan) and her current beau, Alan (Boxleitner) — both disgruntled employees at Encom — who give Flynn the access he needs to find the truth. However, the corporation’s artificial intelligence, the tyrannical Master Control, discovers what Flynn is doing and uses a high tech laser to digitize the troublesome hacker and transport him inside the computer world.

This is where Tron really begins to get interesting as writer/director Steven Lisberger creates a flashy, neon-drenched world, a cybernetic version of Social Darwinism where lowly computer programs must participate in gladiatorial battles against the Master Control’s ruthless minions. Even though the computer effects look primitive now, back then they were considered ahead of their time. Fortunately, Lisberger has not remastered the special effects with contemporary computer graphics (take note George Lucas). There is a certain clunky charm to the effects that makes Tron all that more endearing to its fans.

Tron is one of those rare examples where style over substance works. The computer world that Lisberger and his team worked so hard to create is rich in detail. It also plays on our romantic notions of what really goes on inside our computers — not a collection of microchips and circuit boards but a vast world where programs fight each other for survival. It’s no wonder that visionary science fiction writer, William Gibson once commented in an interview that the cyberworld in Tron is how he envisioned the cyberspace in his novels.

Unfortunately, Tron did not do well at the box office the year it came out. Audiences stayed away and critics savaged the wooden dialogue and simple story. However, Lisberger’s film and the world he and his team created captivated a small group of moviegoers. A loyal cult following developed around Tron over the years and now the patience of fans has been rewarded with this comprehensive two-DVD set.

Special Features:

Disc one features an audio commentary with director Steven Lisberger, producers Donald Kushner and Harrison Ellenshaw, and special effects wizard, Richard Taylor. There is a relaxed feel to the track as these guys reminisce about working on the movie. The commentary does tend to lean more towards the technical aspects of making the movie as opposed to anecdotal content but the documentary on disc two covers this aspect in more detail.

Disc two features a wealth of supplemental material that was mostly carried over from a special edition laserdisc set that Disney released many years ago. The DVD reorganizes all of these extras into several easily navigable sections.

“Development” focuses on the drawings and animation that pre-date and helped inspire Tron. The real treat of this section for fans is the animated logo for Lisberger’s studio. This visual would be one of the earliest preliminary ideas for the movie. Also included is a fascinating 30-second test reel that Lisberger shot with his cast to convince Disney to finance Tron.

The “Digital Imagery” section examines the companies and the computer animation they created for Tron. This is for fans of the more technical aspects of the movie and tends run a little on the dry side.

“Storyboarding” showcases the artwork that legendary French artist, Jean “Moebius” Giraud, created for Tron. There are extensive galleries of his artwork and a fascinating comparison of his storyboards for the lightcycle chase with the finished result.

The “Design” section is a large collection of galleries of sketches, drawings and paintings of the characters, vehicles and the electronic world of Tron.

“Music” features deleted music for fans of Wendy Carlos. The Lightcycle scene originally featured music but was eventually replaced with sound effects. Also included is the entire music for the end credits. In the final cut of the movie, the second half of the end credits featured “Only Solutions” by Journey.

The “Deleted Scenes” section features a love scene between Tron and Yori that was cut when Lisberger found it to be “too sentimental.” It’s a shame because there is a playfulness at work in the scene that is a lot of fun to watch. There is also an alternative opening prologue sequence that features text explaining the two worlds that exist in the movie: the real world and the electronic one. This prologue explains too much and doesn’t give the audience enough credit that they’ll be able to figure things out themselves.

“Publicity” features six trailers for Tron, one of which was a work-in-progess with unfinished special effects. There is also a rather sizable gallery of production photos and merchandising for the film.

The best extra on the entire disc is a comprehensive 90-minute documentary entitled, “The Making of Tron.” Every aspect of the movie, from its humble origins to the struggles of getting it made are covered with brand new interviews with Lisberger and his crew and Jeff Bridges and the cast (minus David Warner). Everyone speaks fondly of his or her experiences working on Tron. This retrospective look at the movie 20 years later is a real treat for the fans and is the crowning touch on this excellent set.

Tron may have not captured the public consciousness when it first came out but it has since developed a loyal following that loves it dearly. Disney has rewarded the movie’s fan base with this fantastic 2-DVD set. In many respects, Tron is snapshot of the early ’80s when video games were just starting to take off, but it also was a harbinger of things to come. It paved the way for the elaborate computer graphics we see in movies like The Matrix and the new Star Wars trilogy. However, Tron warns that we cannot rely totally on computers to do everything because in doing so we run the risk of losing our humanity.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 96%

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