When Tron: Legacy was announced, fans of the 1982 original were dumbfounded: nearly thirty years after the fact, Disney was putting together a sequel. Furthermore, they’d somehow convinced Jeff Bridges– star of the original Tron– to reprise his role as Kevin Flynn, Encom’s whiz-kid CEO. That (and the sizzle reel the studio unveiled at Comic-Con a few years ago) indicated that Disney was taking this sequel very seriously: Joseph Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy promised to look, feel, and behave a lot like the original Tron… but with all the cutting-edge special effects and 3D that weren’t available back in the early 80′s. After poking through the 5-disc Blu-ray set that Disney’s put together for Kosinski’s film, it’s clear that they’re interested in turning Tron into their next, big, Pirates of The Caribbean-sized franchise… but will another Tron sequel, an animated Tron TV show, and an onslaught of Tron merchandise catch on in the way that Disney’s clearly hoping it will? Y’know, I think it’s got a shot. Read on for our full review of the 5-disc Tron: Legacy Blu-ray collector’s set, after the jump.
Anyone wondering what kind of consumer would drop over $100 on the 5-disc Blu-ray collector’s set that Disney’s put together for Tron: Legacy need look no further than one of the internet’s oldest memes: Tron Guy. While the 1982 original never achieved “classic” status with the masses over the years, it’s certainly developed a cult following, and the existence of Tron Guy is proof positive that an audience for Tron: Legacy existed (there’s no Mac and Me Guy, for instance). For everyone else, though, Joseph Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy was a little baffling: why was a nearly-thirty-year-old franchise being resurrected? Was it going to have anything to do with the original Tron, or was it going to be a reboot? Would the original cast be returning? Would they maintain the look and feel of the original Tron? The announcement of Tron: Legacy was as confusing to some as it was exciting to others, but once Disney unveiled a sizzle reel from the film at the 2008 San Diego Comic Con, the reasons behind Tron: Legacy existing started to come into focus.
For one thing, Tron: Legacy looked a helluva lot better than its ’82 counterpart. Back when Disney made the original Tron, computers (nevermind CGI) were a new thing, an invention that the general public hadn’t wrapped its head around. It’s hard to imagine for anyone under the age of 30, but this was a time when computers, laptops, and iPads weren’t in every household, where most people didn’t understand the first thing about “being online”, or “servers”, or microchips. And because the public didn’t know the first thing about computers, a film like Tron was able to use computer-nerd jargon as action-adventure-movie dialogue. Tron used this new (and kinda weird) invention as the basis for its own mythology, and it even used those very same computers to create its very unique, very singular look: when Tron arrived, no one had ever seen anything like it (literally).
These days, the original Tron– which indeed appears in all its low-fi, old-school glory one of the discs in this massive 5-disc set– looks beyond dated, its lingo sounds ancient, and its storyline seems…well, let’s say that it’s obvious why Tron remained a “cult classic” rather than just a “classic” (but more on that in a moment). One imagines that the good people at Disney must have realized that they could utilize all the new whiz-bang, top-shelf special effects that have come along since the original to update the look, feel, and entertainment-value of the franchise. Furthermore, they could use the modern public’s knowledge of computers to help sell the idea of someone being sucked into a computer-generated world (it might not make sense, but they wouldn’t have to spend as much time explaining, say, what a “motherboard” is) a helluva lot easier than they could back in ’82. On top of all that, the also-recently-resurrected 3D craze– newly invigorated with its own impressive, new tech– could be used to bring all that flashy CGI to life. The first film told its story well enough, but what other stories could be told in a Tron universe? Better yet, what if (Disney execs must have wondered) they could get Jeff Bridges to come back and reprise his role? They could extend the mythology! They could, in fact, be sitting on a whole, new franchise, one they never suspected. Hey, it’d happened with Pirates of The Caribbean: why not Tron?
And so, while it probably seemed strange at the time, in retrospect the decision to make a new Tron film doesn’t seem strange at all. Disney handed Kosinski a big-ass budget, gave him a fleet of top-tier CGI artists to bring his vision to life, rang up Jeff Bridges, and delivered Tron: Legacy to a curious– and maybe a little confused– audience. It was a gamble, yes, but that gamble appears to have paid off: Tron: Legacy raked in roughly $400m worldwide, and there’s a good chance that all the people who purchased brand-new Blu-ray players this Christmas will pick up Kosinski’s film just to see their home theater set-up pushed to its limits. The film didn’t blow-up at the box office in America the way Disney had hoped, perhaps, but $400m (before DVD and Blu-ray sales) is nothing to sniff at, and it’s reason enough to believe that we’ll be seeing another Tron film in the next few years.
All of that said: was Tron: Legacy any good? It might make for a great show-off disc for you and your Blu-ray player, but is the 5-disc collector’s edition (which comes packaged in an “Identity Disc”-shaped case; more on this towards the end of the review) worth your money? And does the original Tron– included here amongst a raft of extras, digital copies, and a 3D version of the film for those that have 3D televisions– hold up after all these years? That, my friends, is all that should really matter to you as a consumer/film-geek. The answer itself is complicated, and a lot of it depends upon what you’re bringing to the Tron table. If you don’t like the original, don’t have a 3D television, and thought Tron: Legacy was just “okay”, then, no, the 5-disc Blu-ray collector’s set is almost certainly not worth the money. But if you’re a fan of Kosinski’s film, are interested to see what the original looks like in the highest-definition possible, and think that a 3D television might be in your future (in short: if you’re Tron Guy), then yes, this is a great set, and you’ll have your hands full for some time as you pour through its various bonus features.
Disc One: Tron: Legacy 3D Blu-ray
Easy enough: I don’t have a 3D television, nor do I know anyone with a 3D television. I did, however, see Tron: Legacy in 3D when it opened last year, and can confirm that the film looks great in 3D. That was in a theater, though (and the Alamo Drafthouse, at that: the screen I saw Tron: Legacy on has a 3D system that was formatted personally by James Cameron’s people, so– like Sex Panther– you know it’s good), so it’s anyone’s guess how successful the film will be on the home-3D front. I know this much: when I moved into my new home, I bought a new TV to celebrate the occasion (this was a little less than a year ago). While I was TV shopping, I took a serious look at 3D televisions, but the price difference was severe, and the choice seemed to be “size” or 3D. Furthermore, the 3D the store had on display didn’t look nearly as crisp and well-defined as it did in a theater: the tech was almost there, but not quite. It could be different now, but I’m no longer in the market to find out: I ended up buying a 60″, 1080p plasma for the same price that a 30″ 3D television would have cost. It’d be nice to see Tron: Legacy in 3D at home, but I’d rather see it much bigger than in 3D. Anyway, if you’ve got a 3D TV, I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the results.
Disc Two: Tron: Legacy Blu-ray (Film, Bonus Content)
The Tron: Legacy 2D Blu-ray, however, looks absolutely incredible on my television. Heretofore, the film I’d use to show off my rig was Pixar’s Up. Now, though, I’m strongly considering using Tron: Legacy: all the blacks and pseudo-blacklight colors of the film have depth, pop off the screen, and the picture itself is razor-sharp. The pre-Tron-world sequence that opens the film looks just as good, with all the in-frame detail you could possibly want. Disney seems to put out the best-looking Blu-rays, and their Tron: Legacy disc is no exception. I’m assuming that most of you are going to be deciding whether to pick up the film on Blu-ray or DVD (rather than whether or not to pick up the big-ass collector’s set), and I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed in the film’s video quality if you go Blu. The audio is also amazing, and the score– by Daft Punk– sounds absolutely incredible through a surround-sound system, cranked all the way up.
While there’s no doubt that Tron: Legacy is one of the best-looking Blu-rays I’ve ever come across, there remains doubt that Kosinski’s film is a great film. The story itself seems overly-simple, almost as though everyone involved figured that the visuals would be strong enough to convince people that they were watching something more substantial than it is. Furthermore, as someone that hadn’t seen the original Tron before Tron: Legacy, I felt a little lost during moments where it was clear that a familiarity with the original film would’ve been helpful. It’s true that the first film isn’t required viewing for enjoying the various pleasures that Legacy has to offer, but I think it’s a little disingenuous to claim that it’s completely unnecessary. I didn’t hate Tron: Legacy– and it’s a perfect example of a film that I’d give a pass to because its outstanding visuals almost make up for a lackluster plot– but if you head into the film expecting something with enormous depth and a truly compelling story, you’re going to be left wanting.
Perhaps in the next Tron, Disney can mine this concept for something a little…deeper (and with a little more logic on its side; Legacy has more than a few moments that will make you stop and say, “Wait, what now?”). It seems to me that the mythology’s there, that there’s room for it, but the Tron franchise will remain “simply pretty to look at” until someone steps up things in the script-department. It can be done, but this clearly isn’t the film to have done it.
All of that said, the disc really does contain a decent amount of bonus-value: you’ve got the epilogue (Flynn Lives) which bridges the gap between Legacy and the proposed third installment (it’s pretty decent, but nothing I’d consider must-see), you’ve got a featurette shot at Comic Con that shows how Kosinski captured some of the crowd noise for the arena battles in the film (Patton Oswalt cameo!), there’s a first-look at the forthcoming Tron TV show (an animated thing aimed at kids and their allowance), and a few other random making-of featurettes in addition to a Daft Punk music video (“De-Rezzed”). All of this is worth going through once, but I don’t know how many times you’d watch, say, the crowd-noise featurette. What really intrigued me about the extras was something Disney’s calling “Second Screen”. This feature allows you to synch your laptop or iPad with your Blu-ray player. Once you’ve got that set up, your ‘second screen’ will act as a physical “pop-up video”-style device that shows off some of the film’s effects in greater detail, or the making-of a particular scene. It’s a nifty idea, and one that I think would work best on an iPad (that’s clearly what Disney wants you to be using here).
Grade? B- for the film, A for the visual/audio quality, B+ for the extras.
Disc Three: Tron: Legacy on DVD (film, bonus features)
Well, if you’re trying to decide between the DVD and Blu-ray, you can have both if you buy this package (you’ll also spend three times the amount of money, but let’s not get bogged down in the details). Tron: Legacy does look good on DVD, but it’s clear from the get-go that the Blu-ray version’s the superior one. The DVD doesn’t have the “Second Screen” function, obviously, nor does it have a few of the other special features that the Blu-ray comes packaged with (like the crowd-noises thing, or the music video). If you’re just interested in having Tron: Legacy to show off as a demo disc, the Blu-ray’s the one to own. If, however, you don’t have a Blu-ray player or can’t be bothered with the collector’s set, the DVD oughtta get the job done.
Grade? Same as above
Disc Four/Five: Tron: Legacy Digital Copy, the original Tron Blu-ray (Film, Extras)
The fourth disc is the digital copy– are you guys actually using these? I haven’t used a single one– and the fifth disc presents the original Tron in the crystal-clear, razor-sharp, and (more notably) completely unforgiving Blu-ray format. It’s true that the first Tron film has never looked this good, but…well, as I just intimated, the original Tron is an antique by now, and would be even if it wasn’t head-to-toe weak-ass CGI. The film (directed by Stephen Lisberger) arrived all the way back in ’82, and every year between now and then comes through loud and clear onscreen. It’s a relic visually, but its plot also creaks and wobbles from beginning to end. It uses a lot of faux techno-speak to get from point A to point B, and– though I know the film is beloved by some– I failed to be engaged.
Jeff Bridges stars as Kevin Flynn, a whiz-kid programmer whose computer coding is the best in the business. Flynn’s convinced that Ed Dillinger– head of the Microsoft-like Encom– stole some of his codes, and when he attempts to break into the offices of Encom to see what sor of evidence he can find, he gets zapped into the world of Tron by the evil “Master Control Program”. Once there, he’s forced to compete in a series of battles with the various programs inside the computer. Notable amongst these programs is Tron, who Flynn joins forces with to overthrow the MCP and Sark, another in-game villain. Watching Tron after Tron: Legacy reveals just how much DNA Kosinski’s sampled for his film, and it turns out there’s quite a bit: Tron‘s there, of course, but you’ve also got the arena battles, the lightcycles, and the “sailer” transport seen late in Legacy.
Like Tron: Legacy, it felt like Tron could have done a lot more with the story elements and mythology that it introduces. Unlike Tron: Legacy, though, Tron actually seems a little more sure of itself, script-wise. There aren’t any massive plotholes here like there were in Legacy (for instance: if the programs can self-generate light-jets, why did Sam and Flynn Sr. need to ride a light-sailer to the sky-exit?), and the ideas that are introduced actually make more sense (for example: in Tron: Legacy, the overall goal for our heroes is to…turn off a computer; not exactly a pulse-pounding development). I preferred Legacy to the original Tron, but when you get right down to it, that’s an opinion based almost entirely on how much I enjoyed looking at each of them: I didn’t feel like either was a great film. Pretty and different-looking, sure, but a white-knuckle, edge-of-your-seat, wildly intelligent adventure film? Neither can make that claim.
Overall: I can tell ya this: If you attempt to pour through all the nooks and crannies of the 5-disc Tron: Legacy Blu-ray collector’s set in one afternoon (as I did), you’re going to be really, really over the whole Tron thing by the time you get to the end. I do not recommend this.
But if you’re a really die-hard Tron fan with a few spare Sunday afternoons to kill, I imagine that this set would be worth your time and money. The whole collection comes packaged in a hard-plastic, light-up (!!!) “Identity Disc” which comes mounted in a little stand– it’s not as big as you’d hope it would be, but it’s also not tiny (it’s about half an inch bigger than a Blu-ray disc)– that’ll look snazzy on your movie shelf, and the video/audio quality of the films collected here is really just outstanding. While I wouldn’t praise either Tron or Tron: Legacy as “great movies”, I I’m not a die-hard Tron fan, so this set wouldn’t work as much magic on me as, say, the Tron Guy. My suggestion would be this: ask yourself how big of a Tron fan you are. If you liked the original, thought the new one was “just OK”, and don’t care about the collectible packaging, go with the Blu-ray version of the movie. If you loved the original, thought the new one kicked ass, and want all the bells and whistles, this is the set for you.
Overall grade? B+