Almost thirty years ago, in 1982, a groundbreaking film was released, Tron. The film took on the fantasy of having a person actually enter the electronic world, something that has become practically a reality for many people. The film was from the Walt Disney Studio who was pioneers in merging live action and animation. In this case the movie used techniques that are common place now but three decades ago the thought of using computer graphics to help drive the story was unheard of. In fact several of the Disney animates refused to participate in the project fearing it would ultimately lead to the demise of their art form. In some respects this prophecy has come about but it did usher in a new respectability for animated films. Now they have their own Academy Award categories but in 1982 computer graphics were omitted from the special effects competition on the grounds that many felt it was ‘cheating’. With the recent release of a long anticipated sequel, ‘Tron Legacy’. In the intervening years the technology used in the theater and at home have greatly improved. This film now referred to as ‘Tron: Classic’. The film is available in a refreshed DVD or a beautifully remastered Blu-ray version. It is also package with the new Tron: Legacy that not got the Blu-ray but also the latest and greatest 3D version.
The story follows Flynn (Jeff Bridges) a former employee of a large, multinational computer firm, Encom. Flynn created several popular video games that were stolen by another employee Dillinger (David Warner) that used the programs to rise to being a senior executive vice president. Flynn runs a video game parlor in order to make enough to live and to fund his hacking attempts to find the evidence that he wrote the games. When Dillinger and the tyrannical MCP (Master Control Program) shuts down access to the system current Encom employee Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) sends a program Tron to see what is happening. Tron is crashed and Alan is summoned to Dillinger’s office. Seeking help to get into the system he takes his girlfriend Lora (Cindy Morgan) to visit her ex boyfriend, computer master Flynn. They break into a high security lab in Encom where Flynn is digitized and brought into the system. Once there Flynn finds himself an anthropomorphized computer program. Many programs are imprisoned by the MCP and forced to play video games on the dreaded Gaming Grid. There he meets Alan’s alter ego Tron and Lori’s other self, Yori. They go up against the MCP in order to free the system. The strength of the story is the fact that it draws from such classic film genres and mixes them into a (then) modern parable. The underlying story is a typical gladiator film with the innocent conscripted programs force to risk their lives and often die playing computer games. The programs have an outlawed religion where they believe in their users. The director has stated that much of this film was influenced by Spartacus. Themes like freedom of information, computers existing to help not control and how each program has a bit of the humanity of its programmer permit this story to transcend the early eighties and remain a timeless classic.
Jeff Bridges did not fit the usual computer geek personae. He is athletic and handsome, in possession of a great deal of charisma. As the commentary explains the writers envisioned a much older man at one point. Good thing they didn’t go with that plan. Bridges is an actor of considerable talent and he brings life to both his real life and computer personas. There is an energy that he brings to the film helps to carry the film. One thing that comes across is Bridges, as well as the rest of the cast, took this project seriously. Here they have to wear strange costumes and play much of the movie against a black screen. Boxleitner also delivers a classic performance here. His role in the computer world is more fleshed out (no pun intended) than his real life counterpart. He plays the role of Tron as if it was in a religious sword and sandals flick. Warner is as always, great as a villain. With his distinctive deep voice he commands the virtual set. The one aspect that is really missing is a female viewpoint. Cindy Morgan is not given a chance to really develop either of her characters. Perhaps this is a side effect of the computer world’s heavy domination by men, especially in those early days. Steven Lisberger was ground breaking in his directorial style of this film. Made long before CGI he had to help develop an incredible number of new techniques to get this film made. The film was done in 65mm stock and much of the computer work was filmed by means of many passes of sticking a camera in front of a high-resolution video display. Lisberger does a great job in making a fantasy like this feel like a real life film. This is especially difficult since the style he is emulating is the venerable gladiator flick. The audience finds itself caring about the freedom of the programs. While this film borders on just a vehicle for special effects Lisberger gives his actors the chance to really show some talent.
I sat down to watch the Blu-ray version on the film with my best friend, another long time fan. Between us we have seen ‘Tron’ in the theater or on DVD dozens of times but nothing could possibly have prepared us for the high definition experience of this classic favorite. Right from the very first frame the explosion of colors is mind blowing. We both realized immediately just how much more in the way of details were apparent. The sash on Bridge’s shoulder was now more than a swatch of grey; the texture of the fabric popped giving it a sense of realism oddly juxtaposed against the purposely artificial environment. The high definition does much more than reveal additional level of details. The clarity brings with the revelation of an entirely different layer of nuance and sub text brought out by the incredible barrage of color and sound that sweeps you away. Not only was the video remastered but the audio was redone to eight channel lossless DTS MA HD. The channel separation is more remarkable than the DVD equivalent. It is more obvious how the audio now follows the action closely giving greater depth to the presentation. The sub woofer roars out shaking the floorboards. This Blu-ray version is like watching the movie for the first time.