By Brian Orndorf
“TRON: Legacy” presented in Blu-ray 3D.
“TRON: Legacy” on Blu-ray.
It’s almost impossible to consider it’s been 28 years since Disney’s “TRON” provided a new language of special effects to the industry, bonding scruffy visual peculiarity to a story of awkward heroism, set inside a forbidding digital landscape of programs at war. Though a box office underperformer in 1982, “TRON” developed into a sizable cult hit over the years, boosted by the retro smooch of its groundbreaking use of CGI and endearing quarter-fingering arcade appeal. “TRON: Legacy” is most certainly a continuation of the original, yet the new picture endeavors to find its own footing as an epic of unreality, creating an immense electronic realm of peril to encourage a fresh generation of “TRON” devotees.
Troubled since the day his father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), disappeared without a trace, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) has made it his life’s work to cause chaos at the ENCOM Corporation, raising the concern of family friend, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). Chasing a mysterious indication of his father’s return, Sam instead finds himself zapped onto The Grid, the highly developed computer world born from Kevin’s imagination and expertise. Facing the wrath of evil program CLU (voiced by Bridges) and his deadly henchman Rinzler, Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and brought to Kevin, who’s become a fallen deity within his creation, snapped out of his fog by the appearance of his abandoned son. With CLU desperate to take possession of Kevin’s identity disc, Sam hunts for a way off The Grid, desperate to return his father back to the real world.
No longer a Herculean effort of rotoscoping and bulky computer assistance, the world of “TRON” has been exhaustively modernized for today’s savvy audiences. The metropolis of The Grid has been handed a sleek Apple polish, extended far beyond the technological limits of 1982, realized here as a developed community of gamers and warriors living inside a throbbing cityscape of towers and arenas. It’s a thankless task to sequelize “TRON,” yet director Joseph Kosinski (making his feature-length debut) finds majestic inspiration in the digital world, bestowing “Legacy” with a breathtaking sense of scale and mystery. This is a striking feature, designed as a glowing, seamless tribute to the original picture’s fuzzy color aesthetic, cleaning up The Grid for a new generation, creating an innovative sensation of discovery for the viewer to enjoy as Sam plunges further into CLU’s domain. The entire production deserves admiration as the tech credits are unstoppable here, gifting the screen a dynamic wonderland to absorb, once again challenging and redefining visual effect limitations along the way. “Legacy” isn’t simply eye candy, it’s Wonka’s entire factory.
Of course, not everything looks ideal. The CLU effect (also viewed in flashback scenes involving Kevin) is an ambitious stab at mo-cap realism that doesn’t quite fool the eye, giving away the artifice whenever the character opens his mouth. Cynics may cry failure, but the effort captures the pioneer spirit of the original film perfectly, pushing digital representation to inspiring heights, setting the foundation for future pictures to build on. CLU remains a striking enemy throughout “Legacy,” despite a villainous master plan a little on the convoluted side.
“Legacy” is a sequel, despite Disney’s vague attempts to distance the film from its 1982 forefather. Fandom is rewarded with lustrous vehicle upgrades, with Recognizers and Light Cycles crisply swooshing across the screen, while the deadly games at the heart of “TRON” are reworked thrillingly, highlighting Sam’s struggle to stay alive through furious Disc War matches, eventually facing the enigmatic Rinzler in a gravity-defying showdown that’s a million miles away from the jai alai contests of before. “Legacy” shows a stiffness in pace at times, dealing with an extraordinary amount of exposition and mythmaking to marry the two pictures, but the action and pursuit beats are adorned with a marvelous amount of luminous smash-mouth style, permitting “Legacy” a propulsive energy to carry through to the climatic confrontation.
Also returning for duty is Jeff Bridges, found here as Kevin trapped in a shell-shocked state, watching as his intentions to further humanity have turned against him in the form of his malevolent digital double. Bridges is the anchor of humanity in “Legacy,” instilling the film with humor and marquee poise as the character awakens from his Zen coma, confronted by Sam and the life he left behind to pursue his controversial vision, slowly reverting to his hippy-dippy sense of response once the threat is amplified. Also fairing well is Hedlund, who deploys his monosyllabic charisma acceptably as the emotionally frayed hero, and Wilde, making for a spunky, gumball-eyed sidekick and a flexible warrior. Sneaking in here to steal a few scenes and add his own visual fireworks display is Michael Sheen, hamming it up as Castor, flamboyant owner of the thumping End of Line Club.
Sadly, actress Cindy Morgan, who played the dual role of Lora/Yori in the first film, has been left out of the new adventure. Her presence is sorely missed.
Providing their special electro fingerprint is Daft Punk, scoring the stuffing out of “Legacy” with stirring themes and teeth-rattling bass encouragement. The score is by far the most triumphant element of the picture, evoking the digital environments with vigorous aural cues that immediately place mood and cinematic scope. It’s a transcendent soundscape from synth masters, befitting an expansive epic.
Blu-Ray Details and Extras
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 & 1.78:1 aspect ratios) presentation brings a different type of “TRON” experience to the home theater realm. Featuring a more polished, digital look, the image quality is exceptional when dealing in pure terms of clarity. With a frame teeming with glowing set design nuances, a range of actors that represent both human and digital faces (whatever you think about the CLU effect, it’s offered up for close inspection here), and intricate costuming, the frame is pure texture, with all sorts of details jumping right off the screen. The shifting aspect ratio is a bit disorienting at first, but the mood isn’t poisoned, Colors are marvelous, though mostly regulated to blasts of blue, orange, and yellow, losing the original film’s rainbow to secure a sleeker look, with crisp separation throughout. Shadow detail is secure, pulling information out of dark encounters, making sense of low-light scenes and dense costuming.
Want to frighten your neighbors? Turn up the 7.1 DTS-HD sound mix on “TRON: Legacy” during its more adventuresome moments and wait for the foundation to rattle. The track is a jubilant, rumbly event that supports the visuals with a confident hold, led in great part by the Daft Punk score, which sounds knee-buckingly lush and pronounced. The music is blended well with the overall flow of the mix, but when it’s allowed to carry off on its own, it soars. Dialogue exchanges are clean and varied, held tight to extract exposition, but pushed into the surrounds when group activity arrives. Directionals are exquisite during game and pursuit sequences, pulling the listener into the center of the action, presenting specific sound effects executed with pinpoint clarity and purpose (the shattering sound of derezzed programs is awesome). Low-end is creatively employed, with a soothing presence, kicking up during combat encounters. The track sounds magnificent, offering an enveloping sonic pulse that urges the film into a wonderfully compelling ride. DVS, English 2.0, French, and Spanish tracks are also included.
“The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed” (10:26) is a short film that acts as both a bridge between “TRON” movies and a promise of future mischief. Investigating the nature of the underground “Flynn Lives” movement, the mini-film offers a few answers, provides some tantalizing questions, and returns a familiar face to the franchise. It’s an intriguing supplement to the story, also requiring viewers to pay careful attention, as there is a code to enter at the end to acquire further footage.
“Launching the Legacy” (10:20) tackles the history of the project, highlighting test footage response and the scripting of franchise mythology, with cast and crew interviews (including Steve Lisberger) reflecting on the science and geeky care needed to bring a sequel to life.
“Visualizing ‘TRON’” (11:46) chats up the design effort, spotlighting various minds converging to shape a new screen world with leftover DNA from the original movie. Talk turns to the sets, which provided a sense of realism to combat the expanse of the CGI landscape. Attention to costuming, 3D, and motion capture fills out the conversation.
“Installing the Cast” (12:04) covers the efforts from the primary performers, discussing their introduction to the universe and specific physical challenges. While promotional and celebratory, the talks are friendly and enlightening, with Michael Sheen especially fun to watch, clearly tickled to be a part of the “TRON” world. Ample BTS footage is provided to better understand the atmosphere of the set.
“Disc Roars” (3:00) heads to Comic-Con International 2010, where director Kosinski elected to record the roar of the crowds for use during the Disc Wars encounter.
“Derezzed” (2:58) is a music video from Daft Punk, who employ their own take on “TRON” details.
“First Look at ‘TRON: Uprising’” (1:15) is a brief teaser for the 2012 Disney XD animated series.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
It’s difficult to understand how “Legacy” will be received by younger viewers, possibly unaware that this sequel is actually a sequel at all. The tender family drama at the core of the picture opens up universal appeal substantially, humanizing the stylized iciness of the visual scheme. However, much of the plot is rooted in the 1982 film, which is a catnip proposition for fans, but could leave some out in the cold, unable to fully participate in the extravaganza. It’s an unusual situation to be facing, with such a tremendous divide in time between installments, but the very fact that there’s a sequel to “TRON,” and it happens to satisfy, is reason enough to rejoice.
Today, we regard computers as a fact of life, machines of necessity and everyday technical advancement. The ubiquity of computers has reduced the opportunity for pure technological amazement, making the electronic world a routine miracle, allowing the average person a chance to step into the future on a daily basis. In 1982, computers and their assorted functions were much more of a mystery, left to those who spoke a distinctive keyboard language, blasting away on machines roughly the size of refrigerators. Walt Disney’s “TRON” cleverly adapted that world of bleeps and blurps into a cracking sci-fi adventure, boldly transforming the screen into an alien world of accelerated colors and blocky warfare, blending state-of-the-art visual effects with traditional Mouse House magic. It was radical, unlike anything seen before, making the feature a curiosity and a profound question mark. For some, the picture was branded an instant classic.
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a rascally computer programmer making a meager living off video games he claims were stolen by the nefarious ENCOM senior executive, Ed Dillinger (David Warner). Enlisting the help of pals Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan), Flynn stages an ambitious hacking siege, looking to take on the all-powerful Master Control Program, a vast system born from Dillinger that’s growing in power. Caught and zapped into the ENCOM mainframe by the MCP, Flynn quickly discovers a sprawling world of computer programs struggling to survive under harsh conditions, governed by top MCP enforcer, Sark (Warner). Teaming with warriors Tron (Boxleitner), Ram (Dan Shor), and Yori (Morgan), Flynn endeavors to learn the rules of this new world, eager to overthrow the MCP for the good of the Programs and to restore his professional reputation.
“TRON” is a film of unbelievable ambition. Dreaming up the widescreen world of Users and Programs, writer/director Steven Lisberger charges into the unknown, using crude 1982 tools to visualize a foreign landscape only previously explored within the pages of fantasy magazines and comic books (the feature’s concept team included Syd Mead and Jean “Moebius” Girard). It’s a spirited filmmaking effort, taking genuine chances and investing in originality, sincerely accepting failure. Warts and all, “TRON” is an arresting movie that seeks to stun with unearthly design, taking the patient inside the machine, embellishing the experience of zeros and ones by turning monotonous programming into war.
Though credited with the first mainstream, elongated usage of CGI, “TRON” assumes a greater visual posture than simple computer gymnastics. Lisberger establishes a large-scale community of glowing suits and gray, expressionistic faces, turning humans into programs through complex animation efforts and inventive costuming. That’s not to suggest the CG-construction is anything less than spectacular (for 1982, of course), with swooping Recognizers, rolling tanks, zooming Light Cycles, and gladiatorial encounters conjuring thrilling spectacle and expanse. However, the film as a whole is a blinding cinematic achievement, establishing an inimitable, hypnotic visual scheme that carries the film to the finish line.
“TRON” is perhaps one of the more stunning features in motion picture history, creatively adapting mistakes and hunting invention, shaping a movie that displays such curiosity with technology and boldness with sci-fi fantasy. I love just watching this movie go about its business.
My dear readers, I won’t lie to you: “TRON” isn’t exactly paced like an Indiana Jones film. In trying to break new ground with the visual elements, Lisberger often gets lost in the narrative, forgetting to light a fire under Flynn’s quest, which often bogs down to a few complete stops in pace. “TRON” is glacial, but never aggravatingly so, taking its time to establish the peculiarities and rules of the mainframe, while tending to numerous character introductions and arranging dual identities. Lisberger doesn’t want to leave anyone behind, an endearing storytelling quality that doesn’t result in a snowballing picture, but one of precise expositional command. “TRON” works through a traditional hero’s journey, building to a showdown conclusion with the MCP, yet it’s more of a stroll than a bullet train. The film may never have you on the edge of your seat, but I guarantee those eyes will be glued to the screen every step of the way.
Blu-Ray Details and Extras
The AVC encoded image (2.20:1) presentation marks the HD debut for “TRON,” and it’s a stunning transfer. The film has been worked over with a subtle color “refreshment,” with particular attention to the brightness of hues and the glow of the characters. The image is powerful and clean, with exceptional clarity that still claims rough rotoscoping effort and textures of human features while boosting hues to full pop, displaying a range of blues, yellows, and reds that revive the film to theatrical standards. Grain is present to allow the film a cinematic quality, sustaining the moviemaking technology, with a full view of set design nuances and CGI might. Skintones are purposeful, while shadow detail is crisp, maintaining screen information in low-light sequences, while firmly holding the void of the mainframe. It’s comforting to see that Lisberger and the Disney team held off from a complete overhaul of the image, with all of the shifting defects and pulsations remaining in place, retaining the raw spectacle. “TRON” looks alive again on this BD.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix has also enjoyed a minor update, with a flurry of sound effects, scoring, and action competing for your ears. Dialogue is offered a more circular hold, with primary conversations bouncing around the surrounds to replicate room placement. The verbal exchanges are crisp, communicating urgency and wonder, nicely balanced with the heroic scoring cues, which spring to life when needed. Lush and chirpy, the music sounds significant. Atmospherics are intense, with various weapons and machines offered creative directional activity, while retaining a swell low-end presence, rumbling along agreeably. More human moments sustain softness, though the majority of the mix is interested in constant aural bustle, supporting the visual effort with a defined and adventurous sonic command. French, Spanish, and Portuguese tracks are also included.
“The ‘TRON’ Phenomenon” (9:45) hustles through the film’s influence and production history, with cast and crew interviews (most conducted on the “TRON: Legacy” set) extolling the wonders of the original picture, its sense of future technological paths, and status as an iconic cult movie.
“Photo Tronology” (16:37) furthers the story of fathers and sons by focusing on the relationship between Steven and Carl Lisberger, who take a trip to the Disney archives to pore over endless photos from “TRON.” Staged like a short film, the featurette plays smoothly and affectionately, recalling the glorious determination of the movie’s production team.
Ported over from previous DVD and Laserdisc releases…
The 1995 feature-length audio commentary from director Steven Lisberger, producer Donald Kushner, associate producer and visual effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw, and visual effects supervisor Richard Taylor makes another appearance on a “TRON” disc. An informative, well-regulated conversation, the commentary fully illuminates the production experience, while also offering some winning anecdotes about technical challenges and thespian efforts. The history of the project is carefully explored during the conversation, making the 16-year-old chat still relevant and educational.
“The Making of ‘TRON’” (88:21) is the big BTS kahuna (produced in 2001), tracing the creation of the feature from the origins of the filmmakers to the prospect of a theatrical sequel. Interviews with cast and crew are sufficiently congratulatory, delicately itemizing the experience of working on such a cutting edge motion picture. Honest, slickly produced, and brimming with reflection, the documentary digs into “TRON” with both hands, giving fans all the backstage information they could possibly crave.
“Development” (8:06) explores the origins of the production, with looks at early animation tests and discussions, also offering a 1982 television report titled “Computers are People Too.”
“Digital Imagery” (12:12) takes a technical direction, surveying the early testing of “TRON” concepts, as well as showcasing the infancy of CGI, viewed in a brief demo titled “Triple I.”
“Music” (8:01) provides two key pieces of deleted score.
“Publicity” presents a NATO reel, a Work-in-Progress clip, and four Theatrical Trailers.
“Deleted Scenes” (6:19) offer two romantic moments between Yori and Tron, and an alternate opening that explains (via text) what the viewer is about to see. They can be viewed with or without an introduction from Steven Lisberger.
“Design” (2:40) dissects the creation of Light Cycles and Recognizers through test footage and an interview with Syd Mead. They can be viewed with or without an introduction from Steven Lisberger.
“Storyboarding” (8:51) surveys the planning effort, with special attention placed on the Light Cycle sequence and the creation of the main title.
“Galleries” feature numerous stills from Design, Early Concept Art, Publicity and Production, and Storyboard Art.
Boasting excited, credible performances (Bridges looks like he’s having a ball here) and an unforgettable Year 3000 score from composer Wendy Carlos, “TRON” comes together in a magnificent manner, hitting viewers with a gale force display of creativity and determination. It’s a one-of-a-kind viewing event, guided with a trembling hand from Lisberger, who accomplishes the unthinkable. Scrappy, dazzling, and bewildering, “TRON” is quite special.
“TRON: Legacy” on DVD
A Digital Copy of “TRON: Legacy.”