24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

« Previous | 24 Frames Home | Next »

Was 'Tron: Legacy' more popular because audiences didn't think much of the original?

December 20, 2010 |  7:00 am


For years, film fans have been pointing out how little the "Tron" name meant to any but the most dedicated geeks. And yet somehow its sequel proved very popular this past weekend anyway.

No doubt the new "Tron's" $43.6 million of domestic box office was fueled by Disney's gargantuan marketing campaign, which made sure no waking human could go 10 minutes without being reminded of the film's existence. But given how infrequently most of us have thought of "Tron" since it came out 28 years ago, it's worth asking a counter-intuitive question: Could the lukewarm feelings for Steven Lisberger's original actually have helped the new film?

As Hollywood has gone reboot-crazy in recent years, particularly for all things '80s, the thinking has been that it's wise to play off a beloved name. That's how, the wisdom went, a studio can easily conjure up warm and fuzzy feelings and ensure a lot of the marketing work is done before it ever spends a dollar.

But as we get deeper into the 1980s revival, something curious is happening. We're embracing remakes of properties we didn't care for much the first time around -- and turning a cold shoulder to remakes of the movies and TV show we remember fondly.

This year, for instance, the resurrections that struggled were based on iconic properties: "A Nightmare on Elm Street," the original of which horror fans hold dear; "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," a sequel to an era-defining classic that performed decently but not great; and, most prominently, "The A-Team." The story of a crack commando unit sent to prison for a crime it didn't commit is one of the most appreciated of all '80s entertainment brands. But it struck out in 2010.

On the other hand, the '80s names that unleash a weaker stream of nostalgia have landed more forcefully. "Clash of the Titans," a movie that on its first go-round in 1981 was liked but hardly canonized by most film-goers, took in an eye-popping $163 million. And now "Tron: Legacy" -- which continued the story of a film most audiences barely remembered, let alone liked -- is on its way to becoming a hit.

Could it be that, even as most of us roll our eyes at '80s remakes, we're actually interested in them --  as long as what's being remade isn't sacrosanct? (The one exception is "The Karate Kid," the new version of which was able to overcome this skepticism with savvy casting and marketing.)

It's impossible to know if this upside-down rule of remakes will continue to hold as Hollywood proceeds in bringing back the '80s. But the evidence may now be sufficient to make the people behind the new "Ghostbusters" worried -- and those behind the new "Conan" excited.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Olivia Wilde in "Tron: Leagcy." Credit: Disney


"How Do You Know" flops; "Tron" doesn't

"Tron: Legacy" is a multi-platform bet for Disney

Comments () | Archives (19)

The comments to this entry are closed.

There is something to this. Many fans and non-fans have thought the original TRON should have been something bigger and better. Of course, that wasn't possible in the early 80's. But Disney also tried something different this time. In an effort to merge three disparate audiences, they combined the visual possibilities of modern cinema with the clubby envelope of Daft Punk's score and the energy of TRON's underlying fandom into one fairly compelling presentation that appeals to a wide base. It was a gamble that somehow worked.

Milind Shah

I have already seen it Twice. It is so amazing visually, the story is a little weak, however it is there. I think that there could have been a few more plot points, but as it is, it does work. I took my wife and her parents, they really enjoyed it as well. They said it was a different experience, and I think that is what Disney was trying to do, expand what they normally do. (IE: Cars, Toy Story) Go see it and don't judge the story too hard, it is a unique story line. Look at Avatar, that story line has been used a ton of times, but it was successful. Just as Quto says "Open Your Mind."

I prefer that Hollywood remake crappy movies than make crappy movies out of modern classics that I remember fondly. The original "Tron" is a dumb movie. So, I didn't mind them making a new one. However, I liked "The A-team" show, so I was disappointed when they made a bad movie out of it. So, leave "Red Dawn" alone and remake "Krull."

Tron Legacy has more in common with the new "Doctor Who" than anything else in the annals of reboots. There's a perception of "this is the way this great idea was supposed to be but wasn't", so now modern audiences can embrace it for the first time in a way they couldn't with the original. There's a feeling of being ushered into a world you hadn't had access to before now. Like old 'Who', the ideas of what Tron is have seeped into our culture far more deeply than the reality of what it is. I've seen plenty of people with no interest in the original Tron get shivers at clips of the new one. The sight of light-up suits and rectifiers done right seems to trigger something emotionally. Even the Star Trek reboot went this route and got a similar reaction.

Also like with Doctor Who, by continuing the story of Tron rather than redoing it, and by honouring the existence of the original in the new material, the fans are on board as well rather than campaigning against it like with the A-Team or any given Americanized British thing. You're not going to get good buzz for something when the fanbase who should be telling everyone else to go see it are telling everyone it's automatically going to be awful, and the callous way most Hollywood reboots have been happening has led to a lot of exactly that. Many remakes are perceived as forgeries of the original even when the original isn't popular. Get the fans on board by doing it right and caring about it, and that perception that it's fake isn't going to be there to scare off the newbies.

Basically, new-Who worked because there was a team of people making it who loved it dearly and wanted more. Tron Legacy had the same. There is no group in the universe more fanatical and critical than Trekkies, yet they embraced the new Star Trek because most of the people making it genuinely cared, wanted to make something amazing that honoured the original, and did it well. It's not an upside down world of remakes, it a world in which the audience can detect both Hollywood's cynicism and enthusiasm for what they are remaking when that something is loved by the audience.

Steven, You are so misguided! Films are a hit when they good and fail when they are bad. Tron: Legacy is excellent. There's a good story of an orphaned boy looking for his dad, there's good action with lightcycles and lightjets, and there's romance with Sam and Quorra. Add to that eye popping visiuals and you have a hit. The A-team failed becuase I couldn't stomach those actors in those roles. Nor could I believe that storyline. Elm Street failed because it was terrible on all levels.

After reading so many lukewarm reviews, I was hesitant to seen T:L, but I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't overloaded with meaningless action scenes, the exposition scene reminded me of "2001", Yoda Flynn was cool, the women were curvy and sexy without being stereotypical stick-figures and we had great fun playing the "so, which one is Tron?" guessing game.

Perhaps many forgot about "Tron", but maybe fewer than you think. It was featured as an element of Disney's PeopleMover for more than a decade, and had some solid merchandising in an era that was still marveling at the connection between movies and toys.

Since then, it's been much discussed and even studied as an early example of computer graphics editing and incorporation of technology into both the creation and the plot of movies.

Most importantly, something that both the original "Tron" and "Tron: Legacy" got right: they are respectful of their audience. They don't hit you over the head with anything; you're supposed to get it. I suppose that's off-putting for those who don't, but I think there's a sizeable audience who appreciates that approach.

Tron was helped by a huge amount of affection for the VIDEO GAME, even more so than the movie. The TRON arcade game was fantastic, one of the best of it's time. Teenagers spent probably 200 times more hours playing TRON the game, than watching TRON the movie.

The other thing is I'm sure a lot people thought, imagine what this movie could be once they have the graphics to do it justice. So TRON the movie was ahead of its time.

Also, when people thought of TRON the movie during the past 25 years, they thought about how cool it looked, they didn't think about the story which was kind of dull. That is, their memories of TRON were better than the experience of TRON.

the core audience for TRON is huge i think.
people keep writing about how no one was impressed by its weak story and cheesy special effects, but a whole generation of kids, now mostly in their 30s, found it hugely influential. the special effects were unique, which will give them a place in film history, but beyond the trivia factor or achievement in art and design, it was the concept that stuck in the heads of so many kids.
from what i hear, the new film revives the same concept, but with the same strengths and weaknesses of the original film - strong visuals, weak story. so it remains to be seen how history will view the second film (it's only been one weekend, let's not celebrate our successes too early). even if it is a rousing box office success, it seems to offer little of the innovation that the first film did, so what will be its lasting power? that remains to be seen.
TRON 1980, however you choose to judge it in terms of box office, is a proven cultural touchstone. Although I hear your point about whether mainstream appeal is driving the success or failure of these films, I think the first weekend numbers on this film owe more to a large core audience and the cross-over appeal of Daft Punk.

Never saw the first Tron, but the ride at Disneyland was pretty cool. Hope they bring it back.

Great interview with Jeff Bridges talking about TRON:LEGACY. http://bit.ly/grBLY6

What, what? They're remaking Ghostbusters?!?

I think you're underestimating how many people out there have love for the original. It might be cool now, but it was not always smart to be open about geeky obsessions in polite company. Even though I would go home and watch Star Trek it's not like I would tell all my friends about it. Not until years later did I find out how many of them were watching it too.

The problem in the original was that the CGI wasn't ready to carry a movie like it can today. What was so "classic" about the movie was the concept, getting trapped in a virtual world and trying to escape. Here is another problem it wasn't as relatable, getting stuck in a computer? 28 years ago how common, sophisticated, familiar, and in our face were computers, how about now? So the times caught up to the material. For more proof all you have to do is look at any post where someone says that Tron Legacy ripped off the Matrix.

Besides the movie wasn't trying to be something that it wasn't. It was a fun adventure popcorn movie that looked fantastic, it transports you away from reality for 2 hours and shows you a good time.

I remember watching TRON when I was a kid, and was mezmerized by the visual effects, I didn't understand the plot, but what I like were the graphics and the possibilities that computers could create. I haven't seen the sequal. I will see it this friday. Judging by the previews, the effects are cool. I've waited 23 years for the sequal (I saw the movie for the first time in the late 80's). It's true that the original was ahead of it's time. Just like STAR TREK, it showed us that we could dream of endless ways computers could help us.

Actually, I think this article misses a central point to success in remakes in general (TRON in particular).
First, let me point out that unless you are spelling it all uppercase you are misspelling it.
Second, I AM a "geek", but not a TRON geek. I am a movie geek; and many of "us" are responding to this new film for a perfect reason: It's a good remake.
This was an absolute faithful recreation that incorporated the original cast and original look and style, and the original struggle. THEN, new characters were added that added to the story and humanity and a great new look. It all seemed very "familiar", and yet "AWESOMER". It looks as though the people making it actually liked the original and cared about its fans. You have some director trying to "spew his seed" all over and reinterpret or "fix" something that he thought was wrong with the original. AND it was based on the original. Too many "remakes" are based on some 3rd generation book or cartoon instead of the first edition.
In great contrast, I actually enjoyed TRON more than I did Avatar. Mainly, because there was a basic struggle between good and evil, father and "son" (Clu), the reunion of a father and son, and then the hopeful romance. These all came together to make it a "human" story; whereas Avatar waved a scolding finger AGAIN at the "white man" for the whole "destruction of a native peoples"....blah blah blah. And we didn't hear over and over how much it cost to make and taking 5 years....yada yada yada.
In all, this was minimalistic and still spectacular. I give it 4.75 stars out of 5. I marked down .25 for the CGI Kevin Flynn which was not good. The soundtrack also added a lot to the movie and is a "must have". Well done Daft Punk!

As for TRON's influence....... You know, there was this guy - John - who was working down the line in the Disney Animation department at the time. He had some friends working on TRON. When he saw what they were doing, he instantly knew that this was how Disney would be telling stories - Computer animation. He tried to get the Disney folks to go along with that and, um, well he wound up working first for George Lucas and then for Steve Jobs making little demonstration films.

I wonder whatever happened to Mr. Lassiter.............?

This review pretty much Sums up how crappy Tron: Legacy is:


To sum up most of the comments here, Tron:Legacy is good. Great even. Dont believe the mediocre reviews, the original 1982 film ALSO got mediocre reviews, and both are excellent. Watched both films back to back, (which I highly recommend) and you notice a lot of crossover material, and subtle references to the first film. I give 8.5/10


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: