Disney's "Trons" on Blu-ray disc

"Greetings, programs!"

Okay, they're more than a mite silly but if you're just looking for an astonishing "toy for the eyes" you can watch strictly for their "wow factor", Disney's "Trons" may be your cup of digital tea.

And to make it easier for you, Disney is releasing both the original movie and its 2010 sequel in various packages including the five disc extravaganza we received which puts both 3D and 2D versions of the new film, a Blu-ray of the original, a DVD and a digital copy of the new Tron, into the box.

We've always enjoyed Tron in a guilty pleasure-type of way. After all, we're techie folk and we've been following the advances in computer generated imagery since we first heard of the term as it applied to movies – which, if memory serves, just happened to be the first Star Wars movie, though its CG (the Death Star plans) was very much an example of the art and technology in its infancy.

But Tron – along with The Last Starfighter – rewrote the book, dazzling us with images the like of which we'd never seen before. It didn't seem inevitable that the movie would translate into a sequel decades later, but watching both movies is an excellent introduction to the state of the CG art both then and now.

Obviously, the new film – Tron Legacy – features far more outstanding CG than the original, though the first film is definitely not without its charms, and in some ways is even better than the new one (it's more colorful, for one thing).

Tron, the elder, is about computer genius Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who appears to have been using company equipment after hours to design video games he envisioned would make him rich. Alas, his "Salieri," Ed Dillinger (David Warner) stole the programs, passed them off as his own, and rode that bit of piracy to the top of ENCOM.

So Flynn decides to break into the system to find proof that Dillinger done him dastardly and, with the help of his friends Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora (Cindy Morgan), he sneaks into ENCOM's headquarters to hack the system from the inside.

Needless to say, the company's Master Control Program, which has delusions of becoming the Terminator movies' Skynet, doesn't like being poked around in – especially since it's up to no good – so he zaps Flynn with a laser disintegration thingy and transports him into the ENCOM system, where it thinks the human will be easier to take care of.

This is when we get into the part of the movie we were there to see in the first place: the virtual world. The newly digitized Flynn discovers himself in a civilization made up of living, breathing computer programs who look just like human beings, except for their funny, illuminated uniforms and the memory discs stuck to their backs.

This world is a virtual (no pun intended) police state , where the MCP rules with an iron – er, whatever – and Flynn is given the same treatment that the MCP and its henchapps give to programs who stand in their way: he's assigned to the game grid to play until he's killed, like a Christian in ancient Rome.

He escapes and, just like in the real world outside, teams up with his virtual partners in break-in Tron (Boxleitner)and Yori (Morgan). They need to get to an I/O port so Tron can communicate with his God-like User Alan, who has created a program that'll bring the mighty MCP to heel.

I guess the fact that there's a sequel tells you they're successful…

The computer-generated world is very cool, indeed, and even though it's obviously dated technologically, we really enjoyed watching "Tron" again on the big, 106 inch screen in 2D Blu-ray. It still works as well as it did originally, even with its old tech CG. And its heart makes up for its silliness.

"Tron Legacy: takes itself a lot more seriously, but it still has heart and is a decent flick that's well worthy of a look, if only for its "modern" reimagining of the world of "Tron."

The "Tron" Blu-ray looks very good though, not surprisingly, it's blown away by its sequel. The first film is presented in 1080p widescreen, of course, and the high definition picture definitely shows up the matte lines. But other than that, and a rather flat look to some of the scenes inside the computer that have actors in them, it looks great. The real world, and some of the CG landscape,  has some shots that exhibit nice depth – though some of the ENCOM building interiors look a little soft. So while the picture is all over the place a bit, on the whole, it's very satisfying.

Not so with the audio, which is so bassy we had to turn down the subwoofer settings twice while watching the film. It was so bad that things were rattling on the walls and shelves of our well-tuned home theater room. It's a shame, because if it weren't for the overwhelming bass this would be a very nice dts-HD Master Audio track, with excellent use of the surround channels. It actually sounds better than we thought it would considering its age.

The "Tron" Blu-ray also comes with plenty of extras, including a commentary by director Steven Lisberger, producer Donald Kushner, associate producer and visual effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw, and visual effects supervisor Richard Taylor. It's a very interesting track.

The Tron Phenomenon brings us the cast and crew of Tron: Legacy to talk about the old film. Photo Tronology brings us Steven Lisberger (who also produced the sequel) and his son, Carl, poking through the Disney archives of concept art and stuff that still survives from the original.

More substantial is the full length "The Making of Tron," though it isn't new to this release, having been on "Tron's" DVD release of several years ago. This is just the first of several recycled pieces included on the Blu-ray and we don't really have a problem with that because there's some pretty good stuff included and people who didn't buy the original  DVD won't notice the "environmentally friendly" way of adding program material anyway.

"Tron: Legacy" picks up the action in the present day, after a brief stop in 1989. After his first adventure on the Grid, the world has been Kevin Flynn's oyster and ENCOM has now become really big business (I guess it was only big business in "Tron"). Flynn's also father to a young son named Sam, now, and it looks as if all is going to be well.

Fortunately for us, all isn't going to be well. One night, Flynn disappears with no trace.

Flash forward to now and Sam (Garrett Hedlund) has grown strong and smart but messed up. He has no interest in leading his father's company, which suffers for it because it's being led by a board of directors who dare to be capitalist and expect a return on their investment and intellectual property. Sam takes care of that with what turns out to be his annual prank, publishing the company's new operating system so anyone could download it.

Perhaps this was actually "the Gillette Syndrome" of giving away the razor and selling the blades: if the product's anything like what we see in the real world, there'll probably be innumerable updates and service packs, so maybe that's where Sam sees ENCOM making its money.

Just kidding, but it's funny how such people can think you can give everything away, and still have enough money to pay for your food and shelter. Fortunately, "Tron: Legacy" avoids becoming a tiresome paean to liberalism, though it never gets too far and, to be fair, it has some definite "personal responsibility" themes that seem to have sneaked in.

Anyway, after Alan (Bruce Boxleitner, returning) tells Sam that he got a message on his pager from Kevin – an atavistic way of communicating in the age of smart phones – Sam visits his father's old arcade, where he discovers a secret door that reveals his father's secret laboratory.

And this is how he gets onto the Grid, where he's sentenced to the game grid and from there into a very cool light cycle contest he uses to make his escape, thanks to a rebel named Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who takes him to his father. It turns out that Flynn the elder has been trapped on the Grid and in hiding ever since a coup by his program Clu (which viewers of the first movie will remember) turned the place into a police state again.

Sam's quest is to save his long-lost father and prevent Clu from escaping the digital world to wreak havoc on the real world.

The movie is a lot darker than the original, and even reminded us somewhat of "The Dark Knight" in the way it feels overall.  And while the awesome CG left us wanting just a bit – in that the Grid is a very dark and atmospheric world, closer in some ways to "Blade Runner" than "Tron" – it is visually stunning and shouldn't be missed.

Vehicles from the first film – such as Recognizers and light cycles as well as all-new technologies - take on a 3D solidity they couldn't way back when, and couple that to advances in simulating movement in the past three decades and you have a remarkable home theater experience.  

We watched the 2D Blu-ray and it was up to Disney's high standards except, once again, for its excessive bassiness – though it wasn't as bad as "Tron" was: we only had to turn down the subwoofer once!

But the 1080p Blu-ray picture is outstanding. As with "The Dark Knight," it shifts between aspect ratios (2.35:1/1.78:1) for big effects scenes, but you almost don't notice it. And 3D deniers such as ourselves will still find a stunningly crafted image that, while dark, is reference quality, with excellent depth that's almost 3D-ish without carrying the burden of replacing your existing equipment.  

The audio is in dts -HD MA 7.1 and if it weren't for the darn bass it would be reference quality. The surrounds are active nearly all the time, whether just providing ambience to enhance the setting or zipping various Grid noises around your head as various Grid denizens zip around as well. It's wonderful.

The 2D "Tron: Legacy" features abundant extras, including the new "Disney Second Screen" that lets you download a "Second Screen App" from Disney's website so you can access a bunch of interactive features (for PC, Mac, or iPad) that run in sync with the film.

There's also a "First Look at Tron: Uprising," a new animated series based on the films, while "Launching the Legacy" is a quick look at how the second film came to pass. I was curious to watch "Installing the Cast" because I wanted to see how they "un-aged" Jeff Bridges for his role as Clu, who hasn't aged like his human counterpart. Clu is a major part and though there's always something somehow artificial about his face, it's absolutely remarkable that they can do this at all. I wonder when we'll see retired or dead actors taking major roles in products, thanks to advances in the technology.

Okay, so neither "Tron" is going to go down in cinema history as masterpieces except technologically. They're both remarkable movies and deserve to be seen on Blu-ray, however, and on the biggest screen you can muster.

Just be sure to unplug your subwoofer before you start...

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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