Unquestionably, the story of Tron is well below that of the visuals, a typical bit (or is it byte?) of good versus evil with a playful hacker at the forefront of it all. Tron is high concept, the early world of computers, digitizing, memory, and programs creating a world that feels sophisticated and is well beyond its years.
The narrative never clicks though, and that’s a shame. At times, were it not for some mothership demanding your attention, Tron would be downright boring. It’s sluggishly paced for the sake of more effects, and yet you can’t blame anyone involved. If you had this much power in your hands back in 1982, you’d want to use it for all its worth too.
Tron wastes no time either, jumping into its computerized world of conflicting programs to instantly transport the viewer into something uniquely fresh without having to wait. Screw explanation; audiences came to see a bunch of computer generated light cycles going at it in an arena of death, and the camerawork is enough to let an audience in on what they’re watching without dialogue exchanges.
Explanation does eventually come, Flynn (Jeff Bridges) sucked into this world as he’s trying to hack into his former employers master control program. He leads the audience into this world, inadvertently zapped by a laser positioned in a way that would lead to lawsuits unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Once there, he begins to accept where he is, deals with it, and begins his mission, the basics of this universe enough to build a foundation on.
Something about Tron has helped it age, created in an era of imperfect effects that give it far more character than most of the computer generated imagery being slung around these days. It’s not able to make an unreality reality, and those flickering suits, low resolution lines, and static polygons look unlike anything else… ever. It’s a unique property, and probably survives based on that aspect alone, because Flynn and counterpart Alan’s (Bruce Boxleitner) grand adventure is more interesting because of what’s around them as opposed to their ultimate goal.
It’s high time video reviews for Disney features simply become giant love letters to the company for appreciating the discerning home video viewer. We’ll forgive the few missteps early on like Gangs of New York because it’s led us to such staggering results in the form of Tron. Prior to entering the digital realm, this AVC encode produces a wealth of definition and detail, faces featuring fully resolved texture, and high fidelity detail that will make you praise the HD gods.
The mid-range isn’t that great, and with further distance the same level of fine detail disappears completely, but it looks natural. No attempt to artificially enhance or alter the original has been made, and this one is all the better for it. Grain is naturally resolved, refined to the point of being barely noticeable. Black levels are a concern outside of the program’s world, taking shadow detail in gobs, the helicopter roof landing only identifiable because of the neon lights.
Things really start getting interesting into the meat of the film. Resolutions now were not what they were back in 1982, meaning fine lines on the animated images break up, flicker, or even disappear. None of that is the fault of this encode, and if anything, it does an amazing job of keeping the majority of it all intact. Plus, those crushing black levels earlier are a perfect fit here, dotting the landscape with true depth, while performing a favor to these early effects by hiding many of the flaws.
Noise litters the faces of these now gray actors, and it’s always looked like that. Welcome to a by-product of long since retired filmmaking techniques. It works though, giving the programs an otherworldy style that separates them from the users. Color is simply fantastic, the bright red lights of the MCP’s minions stunning in their boldness, and the blues of the slaves equally striking. Banding, like the line trouble, is also an artifact of the source, and sometimes the backdrops hosting the tanks flat out don’t work. Nothing has been done to “Lucas-ize” these effects, and the Blu-ray is doing its part in terms of preservation.
This is a rousing DTS-HD track, and although this is updated into 5.1, nothing here is in intrusive on the design. While generally there is a need to preserve the original content, the nature of Tron’s digital world seems to necessitate this remix job. Everything comes to life here, every single piece of this restored design given a place. Dialogue splits into the proper channel, lights buzzing on the ground hum through the fronts, PA systems glow through the available speakers, and the score is granted new found strength.
Light cycle battles are simply staggering, each vehicle buzzing past the viewer sonically as well as visually. The game at 40-minutes in, that super-charged version of “Pong,” tracks that little ball with absolute perfection as it bounces towards (or away from) the combatants. Ships and tanks are given an engine hum that rocks the subwoofer, perfectly controlled and tightly wound. If anything, they may be a little overpowering in comparison to the dialogue, generating so much oomph they seem a bit out of balance.
Even the real world captures the vibrancy of the film, Flynn’s arcade alive with the sounds of classic arcade games making their iconic sounds. Music envelops the soundstage convincingly. Age only seems to effect the dialogue, at times lacking the precision fidelity of everything else. It comes off as slightly faded and scratchy, appropriate for its age however. It’s a minimal drop in clarity, and there are no instances of static or hissing, the materials either undergoing a fantastic bit of restoration or simply kept in miraculous condition.
A commentary is delivered by director Steven Lisberger, joined by producer Donald Kushner and visual effects supervisors Harrison Ellenshaw & Richard Taylor. The Tron Phenomenon is a brief 10-minute featurette with cast and crew (new and original Tron films) reminiscing about the original. Photo Tronology has Lisberger and his son touring the Disney archive for Tron materials, a nice 16-minute piece.
Features from the DVD Collector’s Edition make the trip as well, including a 90-minute making-of. Deleted scenes, designs, development, and more are split into nine sections in all.