Collector's Edition, 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition
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A masterpiece of breakthrough CGI ingenuity, Disney celebrates the 20th anniversary of TRON, a dazzling film at the flashpoint of a continuing revolution in its genre. This special collector's edition showcases an epic adventure inside a brave new world where the action is measureed in microseconds. When Flynn (Jeff Bridges) hacks the mainframe of his ex-employer to prove his work was stolen by another executive, he finds himself on a much bigger adventure. Beamed inside by a power-hungry master control program, he joins computer gladiators on a deadly game grid, complete with high-velocity "light cycles" and Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), a specialized security program. Together, they fight the ultimate battle with the MCP to decide the fate of both the electronic world and the real world!
A new 90-minute documentary on the origins and making of Tron anchors this two-disc, 20th-anniversary set, and does a good job of showing the remarkable odds the filmmakers faced. The 15 minutes of computer graphics in the film were developed when this science was in the infant stages; programming often came down to punching numbers into a spreadsheet. Many fans will be surprised to learn how much of the film relies on backlight compositions and "old-fashioned" hand-drawn animation, not a computer. Hundreds of production stills and two deleted scenes will keep aficionados entranced, while the new motion menus are entertaining in their own right. --Doug Thomas
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For starters it has a pretty good cast. Leading the cast is Jeff Bridges as computer programmer turned arcade-owing hacker Kevin Flynn whose attempts to prove that his work was stolen by a rival programmer leads to him being sent into the digital world of the movie. Bridges gives Flynn an eccentric yet everyman quality that, while perhaps not serving the character best in the opening part of the movie, works perfectly when the character of Flynn ends up trying to make sense of the digital world he finds himself in. Bruce Boxleitner plays computer programmer Alan Bradley and his creation: the heroic security program named Tron. The two are very different characters and at times it is hard to believe that are being played by the same actor because of the huge differences between them. Aiding them in both the real and digital world are Cindy Morgan (as Lora and Yori) and Barnard Hughes (as Dr. Walter Gibbs and Dumont) who, like Boxleitner, find ways of making each of their characters different from the other. Opposing them, and perhaps giving the best performances in the movie, is David Warner as program stealing executive Ed Dillinger in the real world as being both the digital world menace of Sark and the electronically distorted voice of the the dictatorial Master Control Program. Put all these actors together and the result is that they give this digitally set movie a human grounding.
Which brings us to perhaps the most iconic part of the movie: the digital world the majority of the movie takes place in. Given that the nearly thirty years that have passed since the movie was made have seen a true revolution in special effects, one might expect that the effects (including some of the earliest CGI effects) would look rather passe now. The truth of the matter is in fact quite different: the digital world of Tron is a truly immersive, and highly original, one.
The production design, costumes and effects all go towards creating that unique world. The production design imagines a digital world that is both alien and yet familiar with its take on tanks, ships and perhaps most famously cars in the form of light cycles. Then there are all of the unique costumes of the digital characters with their stark whiteness contrasted by the illuminations of the apparent circuitry on them with a truly unusual look being the result. Last but not least on this list is all of the effects work. The effects would seemingly be the most dated part of the original Tron and to some extent this is true on the surface. But if you scratch below the surface you'll discover that those seemingly dated effects are surprisingly effective. Two perfect examples can be found in the light cycle gaming sequence where there is a point of view shot that gives the viewer a true sensation of speeding along a maze of lines or during the chase sequence that follows directly on from it when the "camera" follows two ships that are pursuing the escaping light cycles. If you are however looking at the effects of the movie cynically from the viewpoint of today's CGI here is another way of looking at them within the logic of the movie: the film is set and uses early 1980s computers and therefore it makes perfect sense that the digital world reflects the technology of the time rather the more advanced and evolved digital world seen in Legacy. Back to the main point though: the result of all these elements put together is that the digital world setting of the film remains both unique and immersive almost thirty years on.
No review of the film though would be complete without a discussion of its script or storyline. The basic plot of Tron are quite simplistic: in the real world Flynn is trying to prove that Dillinger stole his programs to further his own career while in the digital world Flynn and Tron end up on a quest to save to free that world from the tyrannical reign of Dillinger's Master Control Program and its minion Sark. The dialogue too is more often then not as simplistic as the plot and can be at times either corny or cringe-worthy. Yet Tron's script and story are full of fascinating ideas: Programs acting as avatars of their programmers with deletions being their literal death (or derezzing), information and programs being sent along by incredible vehicles with energy or light used as paths, and even religious undertones to the relationship of programs to their users which features throughout the film is various character discussions and is best illustrated in the scene where Tron communicates with his user Alan Bradley. As a result Tron on the script and story level is very much driven by its ideas rather then its own plot.
While it may be lacking in plot, Tron makes up for that in other ways. That includes the cast which makes the most of the duel roles that most of them have. Where it does that mainly though is in the immersive digital world it is set in and the ideas that lie behind it. Tron therefore is perhaps more a triumph of style over substance but it more then makes up for that fact.
Speaking of users, Laura/Yori just being on the screen allows me, as their female teacher, to discuss women in the industry without some of the drama that normally comes from bringing that subject up. (Praise the Users for small favors!) I also get a kick out of showing them the ENCOM basement with all the hard drives and comparing that room to one of their phones and pointing out the lousy passwords all as ways of showcasing change.
Now, regarding the effects: The kids have *zero* problems with them. I thought the CGI/Rotoscope combo might be off-putting, but since it's not a style they're used to, it just comes off as "quirky old movie," for the class. I even got a few "oooohhhhh" out of the room with some of the better scenery moments. The light cycles don't have the same impact they once did it seems, though. In exchange for some minor lost wonder at the effects, they seem to grasp the whole "travelling into and out of a virtual world," more than we geeks of a certain age did.
Bonus feature: TRON and TRON: Legacy are fascinating because they are dystopias which show the differences between what we feared then (Communism; oppressive, distant governments and their surveillance; elitism; our creations surpassing us) and what we fear now (our own creations trying to kill us; boundaries between the "real world," vs.our virtual lives; corporate control and surveillance - which is especially darkly funny with this being a Disney film;). It's one of the only SF universes I can point to the updated itself like that. Yes, it's all very SF-lite, but the ideas are sprinkled through at just the right intervals to make this incredibly useful while guiding a willing audience through difficult and constantly shifting subject matter.
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