TRON didn’t perform well at the box office on its release in 1982, but it still earned its place in movie history as one of the first films to make use of computer-generated effects.
Nearly 30 years on, TRON: Legacy attempts the same feat – the movie history part, at least – with its own ground-breaking effects work. This month, Disney releases both movies in a gargantuan five-disc set comprising Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital and good old-fashioned DVD.
TRON: Legacy is easily in my personal top ten for 2010. It’s fun without ever becoming mindless, and offers a visual spectacle you can find in few other films. As a movie, it isn’t flawless, but that doesn’t stop it from being a great science-fiction fantasy.
The film stars Garrett Hedlund as Sam Flynn, orphaned when his father Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) disappeared 20 years earlier. His father’s company, Encom, a leading provider of computer software and hardware, was handed over to evil executives in suits. (Imagine Apple, but evil. Better still, think of Microsoft.) Through a series of events Sam is sucked into a digital realm known as The Grid: a hostile environment ran by a rogue program known as Clu (also Bridges). Along with a new ally named Quorra (Olivia Wilde), he finds his father but realizes getting out will not be as easy as getting in.
At its core, TRON: Legacy is an 80s film – a compliment, in my book – right down to Bowie-like club owner Castor (Michael Sheen). The 80s stars outshine the new blood, too, with Bridges nicely balancing wise mentor and laid-back hero as Kevin Flynn, while Hedlund, handicapped by his material, turns in a rather dry performance, although Wilde fares better as the headstrong Quorra.
It also feels like a bridge to something much grander. Several narrative choices – and it’s difficult to say which without spoilers, though I really wish the film-makers had explained where that roast pig came from – could have been handled more competently, although the strategic placement of a cameo for the villain in a possible sequel (you’ll know him when you see him) is ingenious.
The special effects are also breathtaking, but flawed. Digital Domain’s lightcycle chases, disc battles and environments look fantastic. But like its predecessor, TRON: Legacy attempts something technically unprecedented, and doesn’t quite pull it off.
I am referring to Clu, Kevin Flynn’s younger avatar and the movie’s villain. Many films have used digital effects to make older actors look young on screen, but none have had the actor look young the entire time. Half the time Clu is on screen, he looks unquestionably realistic; the other half, like a freaking videogame character.
This is a shame, since the rest of the effects are mind-blowing: lucid, varied and detailed. On Blu-ray, I was able to catch every detail of every hologram and background, and I fully recommend watching the movie in this format.
The package itself comprises TRON: Legacy on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D – I don’t own a 3D TV, so I can’t comment on how much this adds – DVD and digital copy; and finally, the original TRON blu-ray. The thing is jam-packed with extras, too, with behind-the-scenes features that give you every inside look at the film imaginable.
My personal favorite is Visualizing TRON: Legacy, which reveals just how much effort went into creating a world detailed enough to get lost in. Artist Neville Page, who handled character, costume and prop design, gets some screen time, and it is amazing to see that he has not only deviated away from his usual creature designs, but even does some CG work now.
The other extras give a comparable insight into the casting and the origins of the film, and there is even a small feature called The Next Day which shows what happens after the movie.
Also included is the original cult classic, digitally remastered on Blu-ray. Without TRON’s huge fan base, Legacy would never have existed – but the movie hasn’t aged well, and anyone coming to it for the first time would be forgiven for finding it rather silly. It’s hard to say what the remaster adds, either: I own the original DVD as well, and I really cannot tell the difference, except that it is much easier to see the faint flickers and numerous other flaws of the film in the HD version.
Despite some plot hiccups, Tron: Legacy repays the fans’ faith in the original. Not only does it have top-notch visual effects, but an amazing Daft Punk soundtrack which I guarantee you will listen to on loop if you are a fan.
But do you need a box set this big? If you own a 3D-TV, yes. If not, you’re probably better off getting the two movies separately: you can get both two-disc Blu-ray sets for the same price, and that way, you get the original TRON on DVD as well. Either way, get TRON: Legacy. One of my favorite films of 2010 is now the prized possession in my Blu-ray collection, and I recommend you make it a part of yours too.
TRON: Legacy is released on Blu-ray by Walt Disney Pictures in the US on 5 April.
View the Digital Domain VFX reel for TRON: Legacy:
View a slideshow of TRON: Legacy concept art: