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Tea For TRON and TRON For Tea

Walter Cronkite is one of my heroes. Authoritative yet avuncular, his constant reassuring presence during the events of the later 20th century made him the perfect choice to narrate EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth from 1986 to 1994. So if I love Walter Cronkite, and I love TRON, what would I love the most? Why, Walter Cronkite in TRON!

Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome… programs!

To promote TRON‘s 1982 release, Cronkite recorded a segment about the film’s cutting-edge special effects for his science-related summer series Universe. According to a 1982 issue of Disney Newsreel, “Cronkite was persuaded by ‘TRON’ director Steven Lisberger to appear in a scene shot here at the Studio that was then inserted into the new computer-generated images system used extensively for ‘TRON.’”

Walter Cronkite and TRON director Steven Lisberger

“Cronkite ended the segment with a soft-shoe routine and humming ‘Tea for Two,’ admitting that it had always been one of his unrealized dreams. ‘The reason I did it,’ Cronkite said, ‘was because they [Disney] said it could be done effectively with special effects. And I’m a very amenable guy. But – I don’t know whether it will get on the final show. After all, it might destroy the illusion of a serious newsman.’”

“‘However, I’m anxious to see what they’ll do with it. It’s fascinating out there. Who knows, I might end up at a pinball machine battling ‘Pac-Man.””

Sadly, we didn’t get a battle royale between Cronkite and Pac-Man, but what did result was pretty amazing. In a world where any punk kid with a copy of Final Cut Pro can slap together a sci-fi epic, it’s staggering to think of the amount of work that was required to create a single frame of TRON. Multiple elements were required for each effects shot, with several different exposures and mattes being optically printed onto the final negative. In fact, one wonders how much it cost just to do Cronkite’s simple few minutes of film. This was labor-intensive work; it’s also extremely cool.

Take a look at the final product courtesy of the wonders of Betamax tape. From the summer of 1982, here’s Walter Cronkite battling the electronic scourge with a bit of softshoe.

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