UMD Review: Tron

Gaining almost all of its strength from its incredible visual flair, Tron is a fun, light, and occasionally engrossing film. Every frame is a joy to look at, while the basic adventure happens behind the effects. On a storytelling level it’s a failure and that’s enough to make it a rough recommendation.

There’s no denying a lot of Tron is hopelessly dated. The simple computer jargon we’re all familiar with was lost on most audiences (and the likely reason why it never caught on and failed miserably). Jeff Bridges stars as a disgruntled video game programmer sucked into a digital world. Even this concept isn’t presented very well and causing confusion, yet it’s the core of the movie.

Most of what happens here is just to bridge a gap between the next special effects sequences. Some of these have become pop culture references for numerous television shows, and rightfully so. While they don’t have the impact they once had (it’s incredible how far we’ve come), they now have a stylized and kitschy look. It’s beautiful to look at, with countless brightly colored lights set against usually black backdrops. The computer world can be a desolate one.

To get to those revolutionary computer graphics, you’ll be sitting through a mundane adventure. How it plays out isn’t necessarily what’s important. It’s where it all plays out. There are plenty of chase sequences and a few emotional moments to cover all bases. In the real world, it would be a rather brain dead thriller. In the computer, it’s a unique experience with some interesting ideas that still stand out as original.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a film based purely on visuals. That’s what film is in the first place, a visual medium. That’s exactly what Tron takes advantage of, generic adventure or not. It’s a landmark film that all but a small group of people has forgotten, and that’s a shame. For all of its story problems, Tron is a decent way to kill 90 minutes, and your eyes will thank you for it. (**** out of *****)

This is a tough movie to transfer to UMD. The black levels need to be perfect, a problem even the DVD version had problems with. As expected, compression shows through every time the black levels lighten themselves up (even slightly). This is fairly common, and with the solid color backgrounds, you’ll find plenty of noise to complain about too. The style is maintained, and there is only minimal aliasing. That’s remarkable given all the diagonal lines. Clarity and detail is maintained during actor close ups as well. (***)

Picking things up is the audio. This is a fantastic audio experience for PSP owners. The stereo channels are used in every opportunity, whether that’s basic dialogue or the light cycle sequence. Bass is phenomenal with a solid pair of headphones, and there a few moments where it manages to sound like there’s surround work from rear speakers that don’t exist (or that the PSP is capable of). You’re not missing much by listening to this audio mix. (*****)

Extras are rather odd. The back of the case indicates there’s supposed to be some storyboards that show off early concepts for the light cycles. They’re not here anywhere on the disc. The features that did make it (aside from trailers) are all deleted scenes. There’s an introduction from the director and special effects supervisor. They discuss a deleted scene they argued about cutting, and director Steven Lisberger admits he made a mistake cutting it. The only other scene that might have helped with the understanding of the film was an alternate opening that explained the premise loosely. (**)

Interestingly, during that discussion about the deleted scenes, Lisberger briefly tosses out a Tron 2 idea. While it will likely never happen given how poorly the first film was received, it would be interesting to see how the effects work out given the technology. It’s hard to imagine how it would look with updated equipment at their disposal, and if they did upgrade it, they might as well not bother. It needs the simple style to work.

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