While much attention has been pointed toward the TRON: LEGACY reboot that hit theaters in December and just hit Blu-ray this week, it’s time to remind people that the original TRON from 1982 was just as daring and ground-breaking.
Co-written and directed by Steven Lisberger (who also produced LEGACY), TRON was one of many landmark films to arrive in the summer of 1982 (THE THING, E.T., BLADE RUNNER, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KAHN and so on) and it utilized state-of-the-art techniques to create a digital world where User Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is sucked into a computer to battle it out against an evil Program called Master Control (David Warner).
The film has held up surprisingly well, and of course spawned TRON: LEGACY, but now on Blu-ray (sold separately and as part of a 5-disc super-edition with the new film) the original has been remastered and looks better than it did even back in 1982.
While promoting both TRON and TRON: LEGACY, ASSIGNMENT X spoke exclusively with Lisberger about his landmark film and what went into this latest Blu-ray incarnation.
ASSIGNMENT X: TRON never dies for you, it’s a second career just doing these press tours and publicity.
STEVEN LISBERGER: It just keeps going. Thank the Users!
AX: I watched the Blu-ray of the original TRON and it looks amazing. I think it’s the best it’s ever looked. How much work went into this Blu-ray reissue?
LISBERGER: What happened with the original TRON is we shot on 65mm and VistaVision – two different formats and the original prints that were pulled from those big negatives looked phenomenal. However, as it went through the system that gets to the release prints, the amount of degradation is horrifying. On that analog stuff, you lose so much quality and I sometimes had to wonder if the fact that we weren’t in the standard 35mm format when we started, that we ended up being forced to take a path through the whole process that wasn’t standard. And when that happened, I think it almost backfired. I think that people weren’t used to dealing with 70mm film and VistaVision film at the time and maybe it hurt us in terms of the what the final image looked liked. It was still really good, but it never had the vibrancy and the color saturation that the original had. This time with the Blu-ray, we went all the way back to those negatives and you can’t beat digital technology for keeping that quality. You just going digital to digital – it’s incredible.
AX: How much time did you spend on the transfer for the DVD?
LISBERGER: I wasn’t there every day, but I stayed on top of what the team did.
AX: Even the composites on the original TRON look so better. Over the years I would see it and it never looked as sharp as I remembered it. Now it does.
LISBERGER: We never had a chance to do a lot of tweaking and reshooting. We did all the special effects on those movies, between seven and nine months. On TRON: LEGACY we had eighteen months. On the new film, we had twice as much time, not to mention a billion times more computing power than on TRON 1. There’s always been something of a miracle that we got it to look as good as it did in the time we had. It was great to be able to go back and adjust the values between the foreground and the background and change some of the light intensity across the frame. It was very appropriate. Here we are sitting there, using these cutting edge digital tools, which TRON sort of prophesized would happen some day and now we were using those same tools to go all the way back and tweak this early analog film that was pretending to be an all digital movie.
AX: Did you find any cool archive stuff from the original TRON or any deleted scenes?
LISBERGER: When we did TRON, we edited it before we finished shooting. We couldn’t waste anything. We didn’t have the time or money to waste, so what happened was, we didn’t have a lot of footage that wasn’t on screen. One of the great things about extra features, there’s the bit of my son Carl and I going to the Disney archives. We’re like the real Kevin Flynn and Sam Flynn from TRON: LEGACY. So that was fun.
I do like having interactive [Second Screen] capabilities on TRON: LEGACY on that Blu-ray. I wish I had that on the original TRON – all that archival stuff. When I think how advanced this technology is, it’s mind-blowing.
On the first film we had three companies doing the digital effects and the only way to see their imagery from their monitors across town or in a different state was they would photograph it with polaroids and send me the polaroids in the mail. And then I would call them up and we would talk about the light cycles and MCP. That’s the level of technology we had. We didn’t have a single computer on the whole Disney lot. There was one computer on an Oxberry animation stand that helped move the animation table back and forth, so it was good at figuring out certain logarithmic curves for things like the light cycles, but there was no printer you could connect to it. It used to give us numbers and we had to hand write the numbers down on a pad and paper and enter them into the other computers.
AX: I loved the original film growing up, and seeing it again after a few years, I realize didn’t understand half the computer in-jokes. At the time I enjoyed it from the video game perspective and story, but there are so much dialogue that is common place now, you realize it really was ahead of its time.
LISBERGER: The thing is, I really thought the world was ready for this at the time and if they weren’t, they were going to openly accept it, because obviously in my mind, this was where the future was going. I learned that the world doesn’t really change that way. The way the world changes is new things come along and the establishment says that we can’t handle it and young people embrace what’s new and they grow up with it and make it part of their lives. What the digital revolution has done from us really came about through a generation growing up with it. It didn’t happen overnight.
AX: Did you want to do more directing after TRON? You did HOT PURSUIT, but that was about it.
LISBERGER: What happened, was I stopped for multiple reasons. I didn’t feel confident enough in finding a script or a story that could compete with TRON. I realized that I liked directing in the TRON style where it was iterative. It was animation and special effects and it was on a lot with a team of people who worked together. Where I was going with directing was much more like the hired gun. You’re the director, they hire you. You walk into a movie that’s going, they hand you a script and that didn’t feel comfortable to me. So I focused on script. Scriptwriting has really taken over most of my career. I think I’ve written close to 20 scripts over the years and now I find myself going back to scripts that I wrote years ago, some of which will still get made. I really took the whole cliché adage that it’s “all about story” to heart. I felt I couldn’t top myself from an effects standpoint, I figured how deep could I get into story and that’s where I am now.
AX: Is there a dream project that would make you direct again?
LISBERGER: I watched Joe [Kosinski] direct TRON: LEGACY, I tried to help him as much as I could. I don’t have a burning desire to direct again. It’s unbelievably stressful. I like the producing role a lot. I get to be a mentor and I get to inspire other people. I think I’m sometimes I’m better at inspiring other people than I am inspiring myself. In some ways, that kind of directing I did on TRON 1, was directing/producing in a way. Having your own little studio system. I don’t see Hollywood in that direction. A lot of the films that are made are made in other states for the rebates and a lot of the teams that are working on these movies are put together for a movie, then they come apart and a new team comes together at a different place and a different studio. It’s not a system I think I would work well in as a director.
AX: But you do have scripts you’d like to see made?
LISBERGER: I have a couple of projects I’m working on is a mind-bender cyber-script called TOPEKA. That script is making the rounds now. It’s sort of my version of INCEPTION, but with fewer guns and then I’m working on a period piece which I can’t talk about now. It’s a script I did fifteen years ago and I got back and I’m reworking it. That’s interesting to see where my head was at on something that was fifteen years old and revisiting it.
(additional material by A.C. Ferrante)
CLICK HERE to find out if Flynn will live again in TRON 3 – original TRON director Steven Lisberger talks about where the third film could go, plus chats about the animated series
CLICK HERE for the scoop on TRON: LEGACY Blu-ray from director Joe Kosinski
CLICK HERE for the scoop on Joe Kosinski’s TRON 3 plans
For more exclusive coverage of TRON: LEGACY (interviews, news and reviews) – CLICK HERE