*½/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras A
starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan
screenplay by Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird
directed by Steven Lisberger
by Walter Chaw When Tron came out in theatres in 1982, it was touted as a revolution in digital imaging technology (which it certainly was), but the film lost any momentum it might have garnered due to the kind of lock-step exposition that characterized the Disney formula of the Seventies and Eighties. (Think The Cat from Outer Space, or the Love Bug phenomenon.) To this day, Disney animation relies upon anthropomorphic animal sidekicks (there is a floating .gif ball named "BIT" in Tron) and the addled old geezer who's a genius and also the father of the beautiful young love interest--hoary old chestnuts that provide as good an explanation as any for the extent to which Disney has fallen behind animé and even its Pixar affiliates in the realm of animated entertainment. Tron stinks of that kind of laziness and worse (for instance, it rips off images whole cloth from Star Wars), leading to the surprising realization that while it touts its technological influence, Tron is actually more instructive a model for the special effects extravaganzas that continue to litter the multiplex: all bells and whistles with nary a hint of plot or character development.
Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a hacker, a rebel, and a person who really needs to grow up. Between designing nifty non-"Pong" videogames and hanging out at the arcade he owns and operates, he tries to hack into the mainframe of the evil Encom Corporation, the place of his previous employment. The Encom computer is protected by slimy Dillinger (David Warner) and his Master Control Program ("MCP"), but the bulk of Tron takes place inside the computer, where an entire city under siege is imagined with anthropomorphized "programs" strolling around killing each other in gladiatorial pastimes. Presiding over it all is the mysterious MCP and its hench-program, Sark (Warner again); in an attempt to prevent Flynn from accomplishing his task, they teleport him into the mainframe with them. (Someone should have programmed a few story logic routines into the MCP's processor.) Helping Flynn is the mysterious warrior-program Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) and the lovely secretary.exe Yori (Cindy Morgan), both bland and queerly gaffed enough to be Disney heroes.
If a few sequences still captivate (the light cycles were a favourite of mine as a child and remain clever), the overall feeling of the film is one of a grimy datedness and a decided lack of impetus. The backlit "programs," revolutionary for their time, appear pasty and washed-out, while the costumes (speedskating skinsuits decked out with reflective elements) are muted and static. Too often, the backgrounds are clumsy matte paintings and the soundtrack and sound effects (tell me again why a giant floating pixel would make tire-squealing noises as it turns?) are clamorous and disconcerting. The live-action sequences are the kind of lo-fi Seventies bad hair/bad pants futurama popularized by Logan's Run and Norman Jewison's Rollerball, and the entire exercise feels a lot like too much whiz-bang ambition wrapped up in too little time for the story and characters to develop depth beyond the typical cut-and-paste phantasmagoric quest melodrama.
The greatest temporal irony of Tron is that as a product of what is easily the most litigious corporation in modern entertainment memory, Disney substitutes handily for Encom. When a giant Mickey Mouse profile appears in a computerized landscape, it doesn't play like a Hitchcock cameo as perhaps originally intended, but rather as a pre-emptive nod to the avariciousness of Eisner's reign at the studio. Yet Tron's failure can be handily encapsulated by the fascinating idea of having programs believe that their programmers are myths and deities propagated by religious nuts. What should lead to a sociological model for the problems of theology in the midst of a technocracy becomes instead the squandered framework for just another cutesy, hackneyed Disney product. What should never be forgotten when one sets forth to create a film that is visually revolutionary is that all that's left when the novelty fades is the vapid piece of dreck you used as a platform for the fireworks.Originally published October 26, 2001
TRON: LEGACY (2010)
*/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B-
starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen
screenplay by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
directed by Joseph Kosinski
by Walter Chaw It's not fair to call Tron: Legacy atrocious without addressing that there's a certain ineffable vibe going on up in there--something like A Clockwork Orange as imagined by a Commodore64. Fetishism and social satire are married to an obsessive love for the also-atrocious original and the whole of the early-1980s, leading to the best scene in the film as young Sam (Garrett Hedlund) powers on his dad Kevin Flynn's (Jeff Bridges) coin-op arcade and the cobwebbed jukebox blares first Journey's "Separate Ways," then The Eurhythmics' "Sweet Dreams." It occupies a place in the films of 2010 for that '80s soundtrack (see: The Fighter, where it makes no sense) and for a late interest in the concept of "perfection" (Black Swan) but fails in almost every other literal way to be something other than the kind of '80s-era cult garbage--Rad, say, or Gotcha!--that you recognize as horrific (recognized it even then), but wore out on VHS just the same. Tron: Legacy has exactly the same vibe and appeal: the same godawful dialogue, the same stunningly inept plotting, the same dusty titillation-factor offered by Olivia Wilde, this generation's Sylvia Kristel. None of which makes Tron: Legacy good, though it does make it a little sticky if you're of a certain age.
Sam is the inheritor of daddy Flynn's Microsoft manqué ENCOM, but he's content, as the film opens, to be John Connor from Terminator 2, spending his days on his little bike and smartphone engaged in acts of corporate espionage against his own company. Why he wouldn't take the reins and do whatever the hell he wants with ENCOM is only the first of many things it's best not to spend too much time musing--ditto the decision to digitally render a young Jeff Bridges to act as the film's bogeyman; ditto the Holocaust imagery of an underclass of digital beings; ditto sex-interest Quorra's (Wilde) fascination with Jules Verne; ditto Michael Sheen's full-Bowie Korova Milk Bar performance. The best explanation for Sam's delinquency is probably that it's a Disney film and, as such, confident in the broad, 1950s-era appeal of an Aladdin-like hero engaged in acts of petty, ultimately-harmless larceny against obvious baddies before his inevitable transformation into hero/saviour. After receiving a page (yes, a page) from long-missing Daddy's arcade office, Sam downloads himself into The Grid, a land of his father's creation in the gigantic mainframe of a 1982-era computer where programs are anthropomorphized Electra Glide in Blue leather freaks competing in gladiatorial contests for the pleasure of evil overlord CLU (Bridges...sort of). It's twenty minutes at least to get there, another two hours of painfully-overwritten dialogue and gawping at Wilde acting like a virgin in her fuck-me-already jumpsuit before they get out again to fulfill Quorra's life-dream of seeing a sunrise.
And yet, and yet, there's something that nags about the picture that's difficult to shake. Something in the way that Bridges spouts late-'70s jive catchphrases in his best The Dude while finally meeting his match in a role that's literally impossible to play. Something in the way everything that seems like it's going to lead to something profound inevitably leads to something inane. There's love in Tron: Legacy, even if it's the sloppy, wet, braindead love of an inherited mongrel you feel obliged not to put to sleep. In there amongst all the things obviously wrong with it are a few moments of obvious greatness, like the light-cycle battle, or the Disney reveal that the mysterious rescuer is a big-eyed girl. It's sticky, too, in that it suggests, in its subtle skewering of the bourgeoisie, extraordinary perversity, and surreal impenetrability, that if Luis Buñuel were still kicking, he'd make a movie very much like this one. When Flynn says, in one of several instances of bumfuddling word candy, "Stay here, the old man's gonna knock the sky and listen to the sound," the only rational response is to take another toke and go with it, man. It's visually impressive inasmuch as a simulacrum of 1982-era visual concepts and executions can be visually impressive (even if the only truly exhilarating set-piece is the lightcycle battle), and naughty adult Halloween costumes have just received a shot in the arm. But when the dust settles and Sam downloads the entirety of dad's work onto a postage stamp-sized SIM card, the film's admonition that one should stop seeking something that already exists in the relationships around us tastes curiously bitter. Yes, Dad should've worked less, but is all that toil really reducible to a bauble on a string? Better to look at Tron: Legacy as a twisted fairytale about how Daddy made a silicon Bride for his corporate Frankenstein, and, yeah, they live happily ever after. Originally published: December 17, 2010.
THE ORIGINAL TRON DVD EXTRAS
An audio commentary by Steven Lisberger, Donald Kushner, Harrison Ellenshaw, and Richard Taylor over the film itself is unusually packed with information, though the majority of it is predictably technical. It's an exhaustive history, but dry as a day-old baguette if you're not interested in the birth of CGI. My guess is that very few people are this interested in anything. Still, if you're a hardcore Tron-head, there's little to complain about with this meticulous yak-track.
A 90+-minute documentary (The Making of Tron) features new interviews with the principal tech talent. Even-keeled and shying away from hyperbole, the documentary details the difficulties, both artistic and practical, of bringing something as peculiar as Tron to fruition. Of particular interest is the revelation that the studio rushed the story aspect of the film. We learn over the course of the making-of and the commentary that big-name stars shied away from Disney productions in the Eighties, insight into the sad state of affairs afflicting the house that Walt built for a long, barren stretch.
Design begins with "Introduction to Design", a new documentary that details Lisberger's philosophy behind many of the gladiatorial entertainments in Tron as well as the general "look" of the piece. "The Programs," "The Vehicles," and "The Electronic World" present detailed production sketches, a conversation with Syd Mead in regards to those light cycles again, and dozens of set design schematics. It's a graphic artist's workshop and, again, no complaint can be made of the thoroughness of the presentation.
"Storyboards" for several animated sequences that are again heavy on the light cycle sequence round out the second platter. It seems obvious that the cycles are the most enduring segment of Tron given the abundance of attention bestowed upon them in the special features. The entire chase sequence, in fact, is presented in a nifty package that allows the seldom-used "angle" button to be employed in toggling between finished scenes and their corresponding storyboards. Not interesting at all to a fair portion of the population, I trust that for those few to whom it is it will no doubt satisfy.-WC
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Disney's big honkin' Tron Blu-ray package, formally the "2-Movie Collection," contains Tron: Legacy on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, and DVD in addition to Tron--amusingly dubbed "The Original Classic"--on Blu-ray and a Digital Copy of the sequel. For all that digital real estate, extras aren't especially plentiful, at least in terms of original content.
Arriving with much pre-release hype, the centrepiece of the bonus features, "The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed", is found on the Tron: Legacy BD along with the similarly well-publicized "Disney Second Screen" viewing mode and a smattering of featurettes. "The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed" (10 mins. approx. (no timecode supplied), HD) is a kind of "mid-quel" revolving around a Banksy-like figure who keeps the home fires burning for the missing Flynn by starting the viral "Flynn Lives" movement. Suffering a massive, embarrassing case of Exit from the Gift Shop envy from stem to stern, the piece switches gears late in the game from the personal-essay format to something less subjective in order to reveal that Fakesy is actually--SPOILER--Ram from the quote-unquote original classic. Me being the clueless idiot that I am, when a high-score screen popped up at the end and asked for initials, I entered my usual "ASS" and moved on. Turns out that if you enter one of the names already present you'll be greeted with footage deleted (or, more accurately, deliberately withheld) from "The Next Day..." All I can say is: enjoy.
Introduced on the Bambi Blu-ray, "Disney Second Screen" can be manually or audio synched with a laptop (mine finally "heard" the disc after a few tries) to provide a more stripped-down version of Warner's Maximum Movie Mode. Basically, a slideshow of production notes and storyboards hijacks your computer in time with the movie, which plays on your television with an odometer-like counter running in the corner. You can stop to inspect an element, but this will subsequently require a re-synch and cause you to miss whatever followed in the interim. It's a forward-thinking idea not quite ready for prime time, really, and you're hardly missing out on anything essential by skipping it. Certainly, there's not much therein that can't be gleaned from one of the five makings-of, starting with "Launching the Legacy" (10 mins., HD), which deals with the origins of the project and incorporates into its framework the hallowed test trailer that was produced to sell the suits and masses alike on the idea of a Tron sequel. (It was a brilliant bait-and-switch tactic, ultimately.) Tron director Steven Lisberger speaks of passing the torch and even more enthusiastically of putting the screenplay through a gauntlet composed of scientists from a variety of fields. I'm sure the script, by nerdy little JJ Abrams clones Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (seriously, are they grown like tomatoes?), became more plausible, what with the transporter to the Grid now complete with units for storing leftover carbon and water, but a better idea would've been to sit the writers down with a sci-fi scribe capable of crafting a compelling narrative.
"Visualizing Tron" (12 mins., HD) touches on Legacy director Joseph Kosinski's architectural background--mainly via interviewee Jeff Bridges--and, briefly, the use of the Phantom, i.e., the Avatar camera. Sets are the primary focus, and I admire Kosinski's decision to not just shoot everything greenscreen. Bridges amuses in "Installing the Cast" (12 mins., HD) by lamenting that he and co-star Garrett Hedlund never got an opportunity to jam, man. Lastly, "Disc Roars" (3 mins., HD) shows Kosinski on the Tron: Legacy panel at Comic-Con conducting 7000 attendees in the ADR session to end all ADR sessions. It's nifty, but it also reminded me to stay the hell away from Comic-Con. (Too. Many. People.) Filling out the disc: startup previews for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Prom, and the animated series "Tron: Uprising"; the video for Daft Punk's "Derezzed" (3 mins., HD); and a menu-based link to the "Tron: Uprising" spot, plus "sneak peeks" at Cars 2, African Cats, The Incredibles, and the videogame "Tron: Evolution".
Over on the Tron Blu-ray, the same batch of startup trailers and sneak peeks joins the DVD's supplementals (see sidebar) as well as two newly-produced segments. In "The Tron Phenomenon" (10 mins., HD), the makers of Tron: Legacy marvel at how Tron is at once so prophetic and so primitive, while the strangely compelling "Photo Tronology" (17 mins., HD) finds Lisberger going through archival photos with son Carl, who grew up in a post-Tron world and seems to hold his pop's legacy in genuinely high regard. The stroll down memory lane prompts Steven to get philosophical about the generational shift that's taken place in the thirty years since Tron and to pontificate that "users" are increasingly reducing themselves to "programs" by living their whole lives online.
As for the A/V presentation(s), both films look and sound stunning*, perhaps predictably so. Note that once the action in Tron: Legacy shifts from the real world to cyberspace, for some reason the aspect ratio starts toggling back and forth between its initial 2.40:1 and 1.78:1. (This isn't a situation like The Dark Knight, where the big set-pieces were shot in IMAX.) Good on Disney for preserving the filmmakers' inscrutable intentions, though. If I have any criticism of Tron: Legacy's 1080p transfer, it's that a bit of banding befalls the image now and again, particularly during the prologue. As an aside, I'm not sure that HD clarity does the Uncanny Dude any favours, but that's the price of progress. Tron, meanwhile, shines up like a new penny in a 2.20:1, 1080p presentation that honours the 65mm lucidity of the bookend scenes and reclaims some of the detail lost to compression in standard def, making the transitions to grainy opticals (basically, any shot of the actors in lightsuits) if not smooth, then a bit less jarring than they've ever been on home video. Kudos again to the studio for resisting the temptation to bridge the gap further through excessive DVNR. Each film blasts the roof off with 24-bit audio; although Tron: Legacy's 7.1 DTS-HD MA track is unimpeachable, Tron's own 5.1 DTS-HD MA option almost impressed me more for the heft it lends such wispy-feeling imagery. Tron is one bassy movie, without a lift from Daft Punk to drive the point home. That being said, Tron: Legacy's score works in beautiful concert with dialogue and effects, never overwhelming either, and the mix as a whole is breathtakingly transparent. Tron and Tron: Legacy are also available individually and together in a gift set with "Identity Disc" packaging. Originally published: February 18, 2011.