Tron: The Original Classic (Disney) is coming back to home video after years of being on moratorium. The Blu-ray is available exclusively in the deluxe “Tron: Legacy 5-Disc 2-Movie Blu-ray Combo Pack,” but the DVD is also available separately as a two-disc special edition. The animated menu alone is more sophisticated than the then-pioneering digital effects of the 1982 original, but that’s nothing against the film, which was groundbreaking in its day in terms of effects and stiff and silly as a dramatic adventure.
In light of the “Legacy” sequel, Tron is a quaint product of its time, a visualization of computing culture before home computers, point-and-click operating systems, and cyberspace. The digital world is envisioned as a video game and the Master Control Program super-villain is HAL by way of Roman Emperor Nero, an all-powerful computer program with a God complex and a love of terminal video games. Take away the zippy motorcycles and the ethereal sailship and it’s a downright gloomy purgatory where ghostly B&W figures in incandescent suits wander a dungeon-like maze that periodically surges and cackles with electrical pulses—surely not what Disney thought they were getting into with the original video game adventure. Jeff Bridges makes for a shaggy fun video-game geek turned cyber-warrior and Bruce Boxleitner is stalwart as the good guy program Tron and nerdish as his human user/creator. Cindy Morgan and Barnard Hughes co-star as fellow video rebels and David Warner does villain duty again as the corporate shark and his cyber alter ego.
Tron: Legacy (Disney) is a videogame of a movie that is, in fact, about characters living inside a computer world that has transformed cyberlife into a despotic realm where life is a (mostly fatal) videogame and the losers of the digital bread-and-circuses are “derezed.” Garrett Hedlund is the ostensible hero, the bad-boy genius son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges’ character from the first film) who follows his missing father’s trail right into the matrix. But the real draw, outside of flashy but soulless effects, is the return of Bridges himself as a grizzled guru hermit living in exile outside the core and (thanks to digital scrubbing) an ageless, creepily artificial cyberversion of himself that has turned himself (itself?) into a ruthless dictator eradicating all forms of life in the grid.
The original Tron was groundbreaking in its day for visualizing computing culture in an era before home computers, point-and-click operating systems, and cyberspace, and for using rudimentary computer animation to create the computer imagery… or at least most of it. Director/writer Steven Lisberger came from an animation background and resorts to old-school tools and simple animation to enhance the live action shooting and computer effects. And for all the dazzle of the cybercycles and sailships and glowing game characters, it’s a pretty simplistic film: the first videogame movie. Which is to say it takes inspiration from the imagery of arcade games of the era and then creates its own conceptual world out of the cues. Just not a particularly deep one.