24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Tron: Legacy

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

Critical Mass: 'Tron: Legacy'

December 17, 2010 |  3:28 pm


Disney's original "Tron" may or may not be one of the great underrated movies of the 1980s. Current debates about the movie's merits are not easy to conduct because it's hard to find on DVD -- a mysterious situation Disney (never one to shy away from a chance to make a buck) noticibly isn't rushing to correct.

So with only collective hazy memories of the original to guide them, how do the critics rank the long-in-the-works follow-up, "Tron: Legacy"?

Not well. At least not in the categories people usually care about in their movies, stuff like plot and character and action. But boy, oh, boy, does it sure look good.

The Times' Betsy Sharkey sums up "Tron's" problem at the end of her lukewarm-to-negative review: "The film arrives in an age populated by a generation or more who have spent great portions of their days obsessing over increasingly sophisticated video games built around labyrinthine challenges. They are masters of this universe, one in which 'Tron: Legacy' turns out to be just an average player."

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Disney's 'Hovercar 3-D': Harry Potter, but with racing?

November 17, 2010 |  7:17 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Fans of  "Tron: Legacy" who are eagerly awaiting that movie next month could soon be in for another Disney futuristic thriller.

According to two sources who've been briefed on the film, the studio is working on a live-action techno-thriller titled  "Hovercar" -- a movie about a hovercar racer (yes, it's a real job) tasked with escorting an informant to safety as the two come under fire from corrupt government operatives (a setup that will no doubt allow for plenty of "Tron"-like chase scenes).

Hover Video and commercials director Fredrik Bond -- he's worked with Moby, among others -- is one of the directors who's being looked at to direct the film, and the up-and-coming writer Blaise Hemingway will write it, the sources said.

Disney declined to comment.

Based on an online serial that turned into a popular young-adult book series from the Australian novelist Matthew Reilly , the property was actually set up at Disney six years ago with the creators responsible for "Smallville," who remain involved. But "Hovercar" has now been restarted and put back on track, with all the attendant puns that implies.

Like "Tron," the film will be in 3-D. And like "Tron," there will be merchandising possibilities -- in this case, we imagine, cars along the lines of, well, "Cars." So there's a certain logic to it.

Reilly's story lines, developed over the course of several books, contain a series of discrete challenges and adventures that some fans have compared to Harry Potter. Which, given the mad dash in Hollywood to find a replacement for that franchise, we suppose provides "Hovercar" with a different type of logic.

-- Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: 'Hover Car Racer' book jacket. Credit: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

'Tron' tries to build a stronger legacy

September 30, 2010 | 10:00 am

When "Tron" came out 28 years ago, it was hailed as a visual spectacle and a technological marvel, but was written off on storytelling and entertainment grounds.

Disney wants to make sure that doesn't happen again.

In a presentation on the studio's lot Wednesday afternoon, "Tron: Legacy" director Joseph Kosinski showed more than 20 minutes of footage from the alternate-reality adventure that's being released Dec. 17, a straight-up sequel to the flash-heavy original.

In the new film, Jeff Bridges reprises his role as computer programmer Kevin Flynn, who disappeared into a virtual universe back in 1982. The movie treats real time and cinema time as the same, and now, his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) has slipped into that world to find him. (The film also offers the sight of a modern-day Bridges playing against his younger self; when we caught up with him at Comic-Con, Bridges said he starred in it because of that challenge, and because "it's a modern-day myth, and we need more of those.")

Disney is intent on broadening the movie's appeal beyond the sci-faithful, an impulse very much in evidence at Wednesday's presentation. In the pre-screening introduction, Kosinski made his case that the film would appeal to more than just a narrow band of fans. In a turn of phrase that could easily have been used to describe "The Social Network" or "Catfish," he said his film was really about "finding human connection in a digital world."

The scenes did show plenty of visual pizazz as Flynn the younger is thrust into a sleek world that has him dodging Tron's famous discs and engaging in light-streaked chases (you can see the trailer below). But the footage notably included a reunion scene, another indication the studio wants this story to be thought of as much for its emotional pleasures as its visceral ones.

Disney has a lot riding on the 3-D film (not yet rated), which features plenty of cost-intensive effects and goes outside the studio's sweet spot of tweens and children that turned films such as "Alice in Wonderland" into blockbusters.  ("Tron: Legacy" producer Sean Bailey is also now Disney's president of production, adding a layer of consequence.)

But even with the movie's populist ambitions, those involved in it say a philosophical aspect is unavoidable. "It's a story about what's authentic and what's inauthentic -- it asks the question 'Is technology going to get between me and my loved ones or is it going to help me get closer to them?'" Steven Lisberger, who wrote and directed the original and served as a producer on this one, told 24 Frames at Comic-Con.

Kosinski, meanwhile, told us that he thought the idea of "Tron" had more relevance than ever. "The notion that people have a digital alter ego is not something I think people understood in 1982," he said. "Now it's something we take for granted. The real world has caught up with 'Tron.'"

We'll see if audiences do too.

-- Steven Zeitchik



Preview review: Tron: Legacy

Comi-con 2010: Jeff Bridges returns for Tron: Legacy (both of him)

Photo: Tron: Legacy. Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Comic-Con 2010: 'Expendables' swim in testosterone, 'Battle: Los Angeles' burns our retinas, and Jeff Bridges really doesn't like Arrowhead

July 22, 2010 |  8:34 pm


We're down at Comic-Con, in the land of Batman capes and Chewbacca-Storm Trooper fights, writing primarily for our colleague Geoff Boucher's Hero Complex blog. But at the end of a long day of dodging the costumed masses, we wanted to offer a little sample of what's been happening in and around the grounds of the San Diego Convention Center.

Earlier today, we watched as the cast of "Tron: Legacy" offered some motivations for the new film. Star Jeff Bridges and original "Tron" director Steven Lisberger described the need for "new myths," with Lisberger also citing the prophetic qualities of his film.  "The generation that grew up with 'Tron' accepts it as the founding myth of the Internet and technology that's theirs," Lisberger said. "The story came true."

A surreal moment -- Dude-like, even -- came when Bridges took a turn to talk about the "darker side of technology,"  that is, how he's repulsed by the use of plastic water bottles. (He held up an Arrowhead bottle, called for the product's elimination, and directed attendees to a website offering information about the cause.) The Hall H panel also saw an unusual moment in which the entire crowd, numbering about 6,000 people, was asked to quiet down, and then instructed by some text on a giant screen to shout out various catchphrases and stomp their feet in unison. We could have sworn it was an elaborate psychological experiment of group behavior, but director Joseph Kosinski said the idea was to mix some of the sound into the final cut so the Comic-Con attendees would essentially become vocal extras.

Meanwhile, as our colleague Alex Pham wrote, Jonathan Liebesman's "Battle: Los Angeles" showed itself to be a kind of first-person shooter with a heavy dose of destruction porn. Readers who live in Los Angeles and are feeling a little self-flagellating might relish the latter; as Pham writes, "Angelenos who enjoyed watching their city crumble in '2012' will be treated to scenes of its sandy beaches, concrete freeways and skyscrapers blown into smithereens in this upcoming movie from Sony."

Almost as explosive was a panel for "The Expendables," what with its footage of half of Brazil getting blown up, lots of talk of how Sylvester Stallone, Steve Austin, Randy Coutoure and Dolph Lundgren all broke each other's necks on the set; indeed, there may have been more testosterone on that panel than there is anywhere outside of a BALCO lab.

If attendees' retinas were burning after watching all that footage, they were glowing as Angelina Jolie made a rare Comic-Con appearance to promote "Salt," in a gambit that has the studio trying to flog a movie that opens in just 24 hours.

An odd moment came with the day's biggest news: that Guillermo del Toro would direct a movie based on Disney's Haunted Mansion theme-park attraction. (It was considerably more exciting than the other bit of fanboy news: Joss Whedon's announcement he would direct "Avengers," which everyone and their cousin knew.) The Del Toro news came at the "Tron" panel, after another surprise, a Johnny Depp video teaser for "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," which itself came after the "Tron" panel. A good number of fans were filing out before they realized the genre legend was on stage talking about his vision for the haunted house.

Some of the the biggest non-surprises, meanwhile, came when two big personalities didn't show. Despite teasing of same, neither Brad Pitt nor Arnold Schwarzenegger turned up for the panels for their respective movies ("Megamind" and "The Expendables"). "Megamind" co-stars Tina Fey and Will Ferrell brought out a cut-out of Pitt, but the actor never turned up. It was a rare moment of absence in a day filled with over-the-top presences.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "Tron: Legacy." Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

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Premature Sequelization: Sequel culture runs amok. And this time it's personal.

April 7, 2010 |  7:00 am

Time was, months or even years might pass before a studio decided it was interested in a sequel to a popular film. But these days, the culture of franchises in Hollywood is such that studios are taking flyers on follow-ups months before the first film gets released. Pretty soon they'll be committing to a sequel before they even decide to make the original.

Jaws The news Wednesday that Disney has already commissioned the writers of the December movie "Tron Legacy" to write a second (and possibly third) film in the rebooted franchise is only the latest example. Last year Warner Bros. created a stir when it seemed to move forward with a "Hangover" sequel two months before the film was released.

Then came Sherlock Holmes, which signed new writers to tackle a second Conan Doyle-derived tale as many as three months before the holiday film hit theaters. And a few weeks ago we reported on producers and executives bringing back the writers of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" for another go-round before the first movie came out.

In some ways, there's a logic to what studios are trying to do. Companies shell out millions on development anyway; if executives think they have a hit on their hands, they may as well put a marker on an existing property. There's also a timing issue: Hits are scarce and investors want results quickly, so better to maximize every bit of available time.

A quick turnaround on a sequel is also, not coincidentally, a savvy political move. If you're a studio executive worried about whether a film will be a hit, pushing forward a sequel is as good a way as any to telegraph confidence to your colleagues and bosses (and also, presuming the studio wants the news out there, to audiences).

But in watching sequel-mania hit earlier and earlier, it's tempting to ask these cowboys to slow down. Part of the defense for premature sequelization is inevitably that a studio isn't really committing to anything; they can, after all, always change the script or chuck it and start over if they don't like it.

But developing a sequel months before a movie comes out sends a questionable, if not hubristic, message to audiences -- "We're thinking about cramming another movie down your throat, and before you've even told us if you've liked the first one."

It also risks suffocating a process that, while always at least part calculation, in some circumstances can be organic.  The best sequels grow out of not just the original film but the reception to it. Plenty of movies whose sequels outdid the original -- everything from "The Godfather" to "Spider-Man" -- happened that way because writers got a chance to consider both the mythology and the reception to it. Start writing a new film before you fully know what you have with the first one and you risk missing what makes the original worthwhile (and worthy of a sequel in the first place).

We get that there's a desire to go quickly. But there are also reasons to wait, and not really much downside to doing so. Take your time, Hollywood. We're not going anywhere.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "Jaws" sequel DVD cover. Credit: Universal Pictures Home Video

Preview review: Jeff Bridges ditches the cowboy hat for 'Tron: Legacy'

March 9, 2010 | 12:57 pm


In the newly released trailer for December's "Tron: Legacy," the long-awaited sequel to the 1982 cult classic, it's at first a bit jarring to see Jeff Bridges in such a fast-paced, futuristic setting. Bridges has, after all, spent the past few months on the awards circuit inhabiting the laid-back cowboy attitude of "Crazy Heart's" Bad Blake.

But once you get past that, you get the sense that the movie is a fanboy's dream, with a world that will look pretty fantastic in 3-D, what with hi-tech Recognizer vehicles, neon game-warrior suits and, of course, the beloved Bridges. 

In the trailer, we're immediately introduced to newcomer Garrett Hedlund, a.k.a. Sam Flynn, the son of computer programmer Kevin Flynn, the protagonist from the first film and a role that Bridges reprises here. Sam is told by old "Tron" pro Alan Bradley that some new information about his father, who disappeared 25 years ago into the digital world of Tron, has surfaced. He hops on his Ducati and heads over to Flynn's arcade, whose many games are now covered in dusty cobwebs and plastic tarps.

What he uncovers there catapults him into Tron, a dark, ominous world with menacing skies and neon lights where he will be reunited with his father and try to save him from the Tron program. (For a deeper analysis, check out this awesome play-by-play on our sister blog Hero Complex.)

Over the weekend at the Indie Spirit Awards, Olivia Wilde -- who plays Sam's friend Quorra in the film -- told us that though the sequel seems like a big-budget adventure flick, many fans don't realize that the original film was seen as risky.

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