Tron: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition DVD
Disney, 1982 (IMDB entry)
Reviewed by Nathan Strum
Tron is the story of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a programmer who gets pulled into an electronic world that exists inside computers, where programs are living beings, characters from video games are warriors, and what seem like simple games to us, are life and death struggles for them.
This happens to him when he attempts to hack into the Master Control Program (MCP) in an attempt to get proof that another programmer, Ed Dillinger (David Warner) had stolen programs for video games from him. Video games which have since become huge hits, and have made a fortune for Dillinger and the company he now runs - Encom. Things go wrong, and Flynn gets kidnapped by the MCP.
Little does Flynn know that the MCP is really calling the shots, and has become a tyrannical giant - taking over countless other programs and breaking into outside systems to feed its ever growing ambition. It's ultimate goal - to take over and run things "better than humans".
Flynn's only allies inside the computer are a handful of renegade programs. Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) - a program written by Flynn's real-life friend Alan to shut down the MCP; Yori (Cindy Morgan) - Tron's girlfriend and dead-ringer for Laura, Flynn's real-world ex-girlfriend; Dumont (Barnard Hughes) - a wizened old program and the counterpart to the Walter, the original founder of Encom; and Ram (Dan Shor) - an actuarial program who escapes with Flynn and Tron from captivity and finds himself in way over his head.
Along the way, they must battle Sark - Dillinger's electronic counterpart, and fight in and against some of the very video games that Flynn created in the first place. Can he and Tron beat the MCP, and find a way to return to the real world?
Tron was great fun when it came out in '82. It was at the height of video arcade popularity, and for those of us into video games, this movie seemed tailor-made. I played the arcade game endlessly, bought the Atari 2600 Tron games, and dreamed of owning a Light Cycle (how much fun would it have been to cut cars off in traffic with a light wall?). My friend and I even threw together cheap Jai Alai "gloves" made from plastic plant pots and threw baseballs back and forth at each other to recreate the Ring Game in the movie. I don't recall if I saw it more than a couple of times in the theatres, but the games kept the movie alive for many months afterwards. It was the perfect movie for a video game junkie like me.
Unfortunately, it didn't do terribly well at the box office. It's possible that in 1982, the general audience was still too computer illiterate to really get into the movie. It all seems so commonplace now, it's hard to remember there was a time when computers were strange things to most people, and few people had them, much less understood what was going on inside them. There just wasn't the interest level in the subject yet.
However, as time passed, Tron grew to attain a cult status. It's been released on video numerous times: VHS, an excellent Laserdisc boxed set, and a weak initial release on DVD, with no extras to speak of. Maybe these all sold well enough. Perhaps the audience has finally caught up with the film. Whatever the reason, Disney saw fit to release it again on DVD, and this time they did it right.
The movie has held up surprisingly well, especially considering how rapidly the computer world changes. It shows how far ahead of its time Tron really was, and how wise some of the decisions of the filmmakers were.
Had the movie been made today, one could almost assume the MCP was a thinly-veiled commentary on Microsoft. The similarities are certainly there - a power-hungry machine, bent on taking over other programs' functions, and if they aren't useful to it, it simply destroys them - although at the time, Microsoft wasn't anything like the monopoly it is today. Networks, or communities of computers all joined together, are commonplace now. The notion of a computer breaking into outside systems to take them over no longer seems far-fetched. The electronic world doesn't seem so far away.
But beyond the subject of the film, is the look of the film. Since they wisely didn't try to recreate reality - the computer graphics don't appear as dated as they otherwise would have. They show a complete fantasy world inside a computer, where computer graphics should look like computer graphics. It still makes perfect sense today. By focusing on using the computers to propel the story, instead of substituting for one, the imagery still works.
The movie certainly isn't going to win any awards for acting, but it's meant to be an adventure, and that still holds up well. The actors hit just the right notes with their performances. Not too serious, but not silly either. They do a credible job of making us believe they're in this electronic world, and that's enough. The visuals do the rest.
The new DVD release is first-rate all around. The movie has never looked better on video. The colors are vivid and sharp, and for the first time you really get a sense of how much work went into designing this movie. Not just the painstaking work in the electronic world, but in the real world as well, which is beautifully lit and photographed, and echoes the electronic world in countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer is far superior to the previous DVD release, and the Laserdisc as well.
The bonus material will keep you busy for hours. The audio commentary by Writer/Director Steven Lisbereger, Producer Donald Kushner, and Visual Effects Supervisors Harrison Ellenshaw and Richard Taylor is first-rate. Although it's the same one from the Laserdisc set from several years ago, there wouldn't have been any point in re-doing it since it was so good to begin with. There are still a couple of references in it to the Laserdisc release, but nothing that detracts from it. There's a wealth of inside information on the film to be had.
In addition to the commentary, there are galleries packed with still photos and a wealth of production artwork, some dating back to when Tron was originally planned as an all-animated film. Featured are illustrations by the likes of Syd Mead and Jean Giraud (Moebius). There are also sections on deleted scenes, trailers, the computer graphics (including an early 1970's reel from Synthavision) and how the electronic world sequences were painstakingly composited by hand.
While a lot of this material was on the Laserdisc set, there is plenty of new stuff in there as well. Besides, few people probably ever got the Laserdisc set (it was terribly expensive, and had limited distribution) and having all of this on DVD makes it accessible to everyone. The menus are well done too - Disney re-created the electronic world in 3D complete with Recognizers, Light Cycles and Tanks specifically for them.
Going further beyond the Laserdisc is an all-new documentary, featuring extensive interviews with the creators and actors (except David Warner). This bonus is an hour and a half long unto itself, and features a few brief mentions of Tron 2.0 plus a few pieces of pre-production artwork from it.
This DVD set is a must-have. The movie looks great. The sound is crystal clear and seems better mixed than previous video releases. The bonus features are enough to keep even the most rabid Tron fan satisfied. It's great to be able to step back in time twenty years, and revisit the era when video arcades were "it". Plus, the movie's just a lot of fun. Go grab it, sit down with a big bowl of popcorn, and have fun!
Related arcade games in MacMAME
Ancestors of Tron (KLOV entries)