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Toon Talk: Tron: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
20th Anniversary Collectors Edition DVD
Bits and Pieces
Well, it took twenty years, but Tron if finally getting a little respect, as evidenced by this deluxe, two-disc collectors edition DVD recently released in honor of the films twentieth anniversary.
Originally released July 9, 1982, Tron was supposed to be to Disney what Star Wars was to 20th Century Fox: a huge sci fi hit of phenomenal proportions, raking in millions at the box office (not to mention toy stores) and spawning a slew of equally profitable sequels.
It didnt happen. It was a summer crowded with would-be blockbusters, all of which had to take a back seat to a certain extra-terrestrial named E.T.. Even with its groundbreaking special effects (using computer-generated imagery for the first time in a full-length feature film) and its timely appropriation of the latest fad (video games), Tron became the also-ran that year, an expensive misstep for Walt Disney Productions.
But, much like another Disney movie recently released on DVD (Newsies), Tron found new life, subsequently becoming an underground favorite among animation and science fiction fans, even inspiring such future filmmakers as Pixars John Lasseter. And with the ensuing home computer and moviemaking digital effects explosion over the past decade or so after its release, Tron has proved to be positively prescient.
But even with the pedigree of being The First Computer Animated Film, Tron has not aged well over the past twenty years. Personally, I had not seen it in its entirety since its original theatrical run, and even then, as a sci fi-obsessed fourteen year-old, I wasnt all that impressed with the film.
Re-watching it now, the flaws of the film are even more glaring. Sure, it was ahead of its time in regards to visual effects, but apparently they couldnt wait any longer for a cohesive script. The concept of the parallels between the real and the computer worlds is tossed in too early in the narrative to be justly clarified, although the Wizard of Oz-like use of the actors in dual roles is a clever conceit. Characterization is minimal (yes, I know they are supposed to be computer programs, but a little personality wouldnt have hurt) and the dialogue is outright laughable at times. (Just try to hold it in when such howlers are spoken straight-faced: My user has information that could make this a free system again! or They havent built a circuit that could hold you!) Aside from Jeff Bridges juvenile charm as 'computer genius' Kevin Flynn, the acting is as stiff as a floppy disc (thus the reason why we never heard from a certain Miss Cindy Morgan again ).
First-time director/screenwriter Steven Lisberger was obviously clueless when it came to the films necessary dramatic elements, but he was able to achieve, with the help of special effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw and others, a credible cyber domain. Such images as the sleek Light Cycles (one year before the speeder bikes of Return of the Jedi), the ominous Recognizers (visual ancestors to The Black Holes Maximillian) and the swirling big giant head of the MCP (which made 2001: A Space Odysseys HAL look like a Pong game) are still breathtakingly cool, even if they are by now almost quaint in their simplicity compared to their cinematic predecessors of today. Such indelible images as those mentioned may be why the Bally arcade video game based on Tron eventually proved more popular (and profitable) then the actual film.