With the release of Tron Legacy on DVD and Blu-ray, 1982’s Tron has been given a new lease on life. (Some would say finally, as Disney took the film off the market in anticipation of Tron Legacy) with a new DVD and Blu-ray release for the title. Director Steven Lisberg was able to go back in and remaster the film for the first time, and the film looks better than ever. We got a chance to talk about the film, and its impact on pop culture.
Tron on Blu-ray is a vast improvement on previous home video releases, features all the old supplements, and a couple new ones. Lisberger proved a great conversationalist, and had a very interesting perspective on his cult hit.
How does it feel for Tron to achieve this second life now?
Steven Lisberger: I think it’s great – better late than never, right? And it certainly makes me feel good about the first film. This has been quite a thrill to see how much the film meant to the people who worked on the film. They took this job really seriously. That’s how the world changes. I thought when Tron came out, it would change the world, what it has changed is the heads of young people who are open minded, and they grew up with that in their heads and they’re changing the world slowly over the course of their lives. I’ve seen that play out with Tron.
Well, the technical advances of the film seem to help revolutionize the effects industry.
SL: True. We’re all users now.
How do feel about how prophetic the film has become?
SL: It surprises me at times, I called the company Encom, which was before .com, but there was no com back then. It’s like we got into this place where we got in touch with the zeitgeist. It surprises me how much lines up.
It’s a gorgeous film, how was shooting 70mm back then?
SL: It’s good and bad. When you have a negative that big, you have a negative that’s twice as big, but the amount of light you need is four times as much. So at one point we blew the circuits on the city of Burbank. There’s very little depth of field. If you have low light situations – like I did with Cindy Morgan in the arcade – the DP asked me “which eye do you want me to keep in focus?” And she would start to move and go out of focus, so we put a C-Stand up the back of her blouse, and taped her to it. She had a metal rod attached so she wouldn’t move. That’s some of the joys you get with 70mm.
Are there any other headaches you remember?
SL: Well, we couldn’t hold focus on the z-axis, so when the guys are at the energy stream, they all had to be shot separately. And any time we had Tron and Jeff speaking together in over the shoulders shots, and because of the matte work I needed sharp focus so as a result they were shot separately.
How many layers then were you shooting?
SL: The average frame of Tron in the electronic world is sometime between fifteen and eighteen exposures to the original negative, and some scenes that one frame of film was exposed thirty five times. We had to shoot it in black and white 70mm because that was only way they’d good when they were re-photographed on the animation stands.
Blu-ray as Post-Production
How much were you involved with the re-mastering?
SL: I was very much involved. It was like I died and went to movie heaven. I never thought I’d get the chance to bring it up to this level.
Did you tweak the film when you brought it to Blu-ray?
SL: I tweaked everything, the color saturation, the glow, the foreground/background work in terms of value and contrast. I got to do some repositioning. When we did the movie, we were under such a tight schedule we didn’t get a chance to do a lot of tinkering. A lot of the shots in the film are first generation compositing, we put it together, we knew it better work because it was going into the movie. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to do some finesse work.
So this is like your first real post?
SL: Yeah, that’s a strange way of thinking about it. To put it in to perspective we did 1,150 compositing shots in nine months – we had nine months but we had to make prints, so we had less than nine months. In Tron Legacy we did around 1,400 composite shots but we had eighteen months.
30 Years on…
Has the process changed that much?
SL: Yeah, it’s gotten a lot slower! By adding all these computers – and there’s more computing power in your phone than we had on Tron. It’s interesting, people would say to me “with all this computing power you could a new Tron in your garage for $200” but it went the exact opposite way. We took the computers and pushed the design envelope past what they were capable of doing easily, and it was an enormous undertaking.
Some filmmakers hate going back to their older films, others love it, how do you feel?
SL: Truthfully, I’ve seen Tron quite a few times, so I have a unique relationship with it. I’m most proud of the themes and the story, because I don’t think it have the place it has if it weren’t for the themes and character. But as one moves through life your standards are always changing and growing, so what I was content with five or ten years ago is not what I’m looking for now. People underestimate how much you change and grow during the course of your life. I was thirty then, I’m pretty much sixty now. I’m writing scripts now are the most compelling thing I’ve ever come up with, but it’s great to have done something in one’s youth, and say “this might endure.”
Have you discovered anything new in re-mastering it?
SL: The one thing that’s come out is the intersection of creativity and time. It really matters when you do something, not just doing it. Sometimes I go to a museum and see something by Jasper Johns or something from the fifties, or sixties or seventies, and think “that piece of art would be completely irrelevant if someone did it today.” Ninety-eight percent of its value has to do with a bookmark in history. I look at Tron in a lot of ways now, and I see a lot of its value in its place in the timeline. Today we take digital compositing and CG for granted. But if you were take the most banal commercial or movie from today and had the ability to time travel and show it to someone in 1970, people would fall down and be overcome because of those technical capabilities. I am aware – more than ever – of the relationship between creativity and the zeitgeist.
You could say we’re spoiled with the ability.
SL: I think that’s true, and it’s a wheel. If certain things become effortless we take them for granted, and we treat creativity like an operating system. Since creativity is a mirror that way, if we treat it as such, it reflects that message back to us. We seem to be into a wheel of the seduction of efficiency, in terms of creativity and personal relationships with each other. It’s easier to deal with all your friends if their all your friends at the tips of your keyboard, because dealing with them in the analog sense is too much. So do you want 200 digital friends or one “real” good friend?
It reminds me that the thing I use my phone least for is talking to people.
SL: Yep, isn’t that funny?
Tron is available on DVD and Blu-ray now, and is also available as a double feature with its sequel, Tron Legacy. Here’s the trailer for the original: