Friday, July 9, 2010

Insert Coins...

Greetings programs...

Twenty eight years ago I was sucked into another world. It was a world unlike anything anybody had seen before. It was a place that existed on the other side of the computer screen when video games dominated the cultural scene and arcades like Aladdin's Castle existed as places of enchanted amusement. Tron was my second Star Wars. Just five years after being taken away to a galaxy far, far, away, I was transported to an entirely different place not so far away, an electronic Wonderland, that would change my life forever. Star Wars had already changed cinema with its groundbreaking visual effects and set the benchmark by which blockbuster films would be produced but Tron would again alter the course of visual effects in cinema, albeit on a much less successful commercial level. While George Lucas was the undisputed master of the box office Force, lesser known visionary Steven Lisberger was the wizard of an electronic Oz. Tron was a film that was both technically as well as metaphorically ahead of its time by almost two decades as it narratively struggled to define itself in a relatively uncharted technical frontier and convey complicated themes, ideas and modern colloquialisms that hadn't yet existed. I vividly remember watching the film's opening day coverage that weekend on Entertainment Tonight where they interviewed audiences leaving the theater and most were left scratching their heads. Two teenage girls in particular were perplexed by their reactions such as "I just didn't get it," which seemed to sum up the the reasons why Tron had failed to resonate with mainstream audiences at the box office. Coincidentally, science fiction author William Gibson would be the first to coin the phrase "cyberspace" in his short story "Burning Chrome" which was published that same month in the July issue of Omni magazine while Blade Runner having been released just two weeks before it and whose initial reception was seen as both a critical and commercial failure, would go on to be regarded as one of the most influential films ever made.

Tron has a very unique place in cinematic history in that it is the first and only film of its kind to employ the complex techniques that were used to create its electronic world under the stewardship of Disney special effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw, commercial artist Peter Lloyd, and the conceptual designs of artists Jean Giraud a.k.a Moebius and Syd Mead whom had also worked on Blade Runner that same year. To render the film's ambitious computer graphics, several industrial computer animation companies such as Information International, Inc. were approached and a tediously complicated process of marrying the graphics to the film by blowing up the 65mm film negatives into "kodaliths" and matting or "rotoscoping" the elements into each individual frame of celluloid by hand. For this reason, Tron would be the first and last film of its kind to use these cumbersome methods to deliver special effects and as a result gives the film a stylistically unique look and quality that could not quite artificially be replicated per se in the digital filmaking world of today though many such processes have become simplified and streamlined by digital technology to the point that almost anyone can render similar looking visual effects on their home PC with relative ease. Ironically, several Disney animators refused to work on Tron out of fear that computer animation would inevitably replace them and render their jobs obsolete, a prophecy that would come to pass nearly 22 years later when Disney shut down its traditional ink-and-paint animation studios but would eventually be resurrected by Pixar's John Lasseter.

Tron was released on July 9, 1982 grossing $33 million on a $17 million dollar budget. While some might argue that the film was a commercial failure, and certainly not the blockbuster Disney had hoped it would be, it was still marginally profitable. On December 17, Disney will be rolling the dice again on its long-awaited sequel, Tron Legacy, which hopes to set another benchmark for computer visual effects and animation much like its predecessor. Let's all hope this time audiences and critics have caught up to Tron and this time will be much more receptive.



Anonymous said...

Good article. I too love Tron and hope that the sequel lives up to the original.

Anonymous said...

The original was made in an effort to push innovation and a yearning to fulfill the desire to "do what Walt would've done."

The sequel is being made to attract young boys and their mental equivalents.

I have no doubt in the ingenious wizardry involved to make the sequel a reality but there's a "been there, done that" nature to this project that simply can't be dismissed.

What is "TRON: Legacy" doing that no one else has ever done before? "TRON" was unique - No one had ever used CGI graphics so extensively before in a motion picture. What is "TRON: Legacy" doing that is unique? Viral marketing? No. CGI graphics? No. 3D? No. Setting? No, it's a sequel.

In my mind, this sequel is gratuitous - It adds nothing to the franchise except money into Disney's pockets while trying to lure young boys back into a Disney corporation that overplayed it's hand with the "Princess" card.

Somewhere, out there, is the "true" TRON sequel. It doesn't have the TRON IP... It probably isn't even a film... But it will be entirely dependent on a new or emerging technology in order to tell it's story. I only hope that I live long enough to recognize where it is so that I may witness it.

TRON UNIT said...

I disagree. Tron Legacy is pushing the innovative technology once again in a way we haven't seen before with photorealism and the ability to "de-age" actors is going to be a game changer for Hollywood and how films are made. Imagine your favorite actor being able to perform a younger or even older character without makeup. I am quite excited by the evolved look of Tron Legacy that will take the original ground-breaking film to the next level with 21st century technology.

jim said...

@Anonymous #2

Oh, come on.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1: So what's your real gripe? I could take every one of your arguments about Tron Legacy not breaking new ground, and apply them to Toy Story 3, arguably one of the best reviewed films of this year. Films don't have to be "breakthroughs" to be good/enjoyable/etc.

I can't tell you the number of posts I've read, on Facebook and other sites, of adults tearing up at TST. The story moved them, yet on the surface one could easily say that Pixar was just milking the franchise for a third run to the bank.

I'm not a Tron fanboy, my memories of the original are more of the arcade game than the actual film. In fact, I didn't see the film in theaters, though I was THE target age when it came out. However, I will tell you that there was SILENCE and AWE when the trailer came on when I saw TST in IMAX 3D. There were lots of "wow"'s when it ended, and the crowd around me had that look of lust in their eyes, like they would have plunked down $18 right on the spot if it were possible.

I am eagerly awaiting T:L, for the very reason that too many people have spent a lot of time and energy trying to engage the existing Tron fans. bringing this new film together, very little of it being from a "what the hell do we have that we can repackage for a quick buck".

You could be right, but I don't suspect so.

Figment571 said...

I just saw Captain Eo in EPCOT... I mean Epcot (sigh). It seems as if they used some of the same effects as they did in TRON; in a few shots with that show Eo and the backup dancers a few of the dancers have the lowing costume effect that is exactly like that in TRON. I'm not sure if the same process was used to create this effect but I thought it was interesting none the less.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first guy. I saw Tron waaaaay back when, and while I appreciated its technical aspects, it was a dead fish of a movie. I can't imagine why anyone would feel sentimental about it. But I suppose there are those "adults" who go all misty-eyed about The Black Hole too. Some people can't let go of their childhoods, apparently; there are even those few who get wet thinking about a new Muppet movie. Why? God only knows.

Again, I saw the first Tron, and have no deep nostalgic feelings about it. So I'll likely give this ridiculous remake a pass. What's wrong with Disney these days? Tron, The Black Hole, The Sorcerers Apprentice, The Muppets...jeezus christ, with all the NEW books and properties out there that could be made into movies, you'd think Disney could find SOMETHING new to present to an audience...

Anonymous said...

I happen to be one of those sentimental adults that can't let go of their childhood and I love the Black Hole and Tron. Nothing wrong with that. I just feel sorry for the generations who grew up attached to Power Rangers and Barney because the studios will be exploiting those franchises next and us adults will really have a reason to complain there are no good movies to see.

Cory Gross said...

The story moved them, yet on the surface one could easily say that Pixar was just milking the franchise for a third run to the bank.

That's exactly what they did. Regardless of how good TS3 may or may not be, Pixar plays it safe every time. They found their niche and damned if they'll leave it, exactly because its so profitable. They'll do Toy Story 15 where Andy's great-grandchild gets Buzz and Woody in the will if they can make money at it, while the aesthetic and jokes won't change one iota.

It is a little redundant, though, to say that Disney is doing T:L for the money. Of course they're doing it for the money. They looked at their stable of franchises, figured that interest in TRON has been steady enough with video games and comics and things to give it a shot. That they're reaching out to fans means nothing except that Disney marketing is doing it right for a change.

While I am interested in seeing T:L - with the hope that the lack of innovation in it will be compensated for by story (BTW, the real conceptual sequel to TRON was The Matrix) - I am the first to admit that it is a gratuitous attempt by Disney to nurture their boy-and-young-male demographic IP, and that is all it is.

Anonymous said...

"BTW, the real conceptual sequel to TRON was The Matrix) - I am the first to admit that it is a gratuitous attempt by Disney to nurture their boy-and-young-male demographic IP, and that is all it is."

Tron was decades ahead of the Matrix. The Wachowski's owe a debt to Tron and to cyberpunk authors and anime all of which they admittedly "borrowed" from. The Matrix was successful because it was more accessible in a way that audiences could easily understand whereas Tron was very abstract and was attempting to convey similar ideas years before audiences could understand what they were talking about. If Tron had been released around the time of the Matrix it would no doubt have been more successful. That's why Legacy will make a lot more money because today's audiences are demanding that these kinds of films be made. It has nothing to do with Disney catering specifically to fans of Tron (do they even have an official fan club?) but has everything to do with targeting the 15-35 year old demographic because those are the people who are buying the tickets. If they were targeting Tron fans specifically then you'd only be seeing the Tron Guy standing in line by himself.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Cory Gross, but you and Anonymous #2 are as wrong as usual.

jedited said...

Is it only Disney MORONS who don't understand that the Walt Disney COMPANY exists to make a PROFIT!! They are NOT a non-profit, they are NOT an art house, they are NOT a museum, they exist to make MONEY. Walt Disney wanted to make MONEY too. Don't kind yourself.
Now, yes, SOMETIMES you can make a movie that wins awards and/or pleases the art community and/or does something groundbreaking, but they usually DON'T make any money.
And SOMETIMES, AFTER Disney has made alot of MONEY, they can do something that DOESN'T make alot of money just for the sake of the art form, or for nostalgia, or just for fun. Things like the Tiki Room rehab or those Japanese animated movies that they tried to market. BUT those are the exceptions NOT the rule.

Anonymous said...

The description sounds advanced("a tediously complicated process of marrying the graphics to the film"), but the result was a bore. There wasn't much action in the Tron original. It was bit like pasting live action into a slow moving realistically drawn cartoon. All I saw was a bunch of neon-blue, grays, and blacks. That stuff about Disney animators that didn't want to work on it is hilarious. The lack of total commitment to the project made the film very unsatisfying. It was a half-baked project.

The original film resembled an educational film. Let's hope they stop with the technical jargon and get on with the action. Learning about computer viruses is so yesterday.

Anonymous #2 said...


"De-aging" is old tech. That's not innovative. Innovative for you but not innovative for movie-making in general.


With you, no. I'll stay here, thanks.

@Anonymous #3:

I'll assume you meant me (Anon #1 had the more positive comment). I didn't say anything about Pixar and Toy Story 3. However, since you've breached the topic, my opinion on it is this -

Pixar is starting to make an awful lot of sequels. They seem to not want to get out of the G / soft-PG range of film making. While they may continue to add technical wizardry as CGI technology advances, their storytelling cliches are beginning to get monotonous.

As for your example that implies "If it's popular it's good"... No. It isn't. I won't supply examples, I'll let someone else do that. Or, you can do the research yourself.

@Cory Gross:

I considered The Matrix as a candidate but besides the perfunctory graphical improvements, I really didn't see a lot of structural innovation. The Matrix appeared to be live-action anime which didn't interest me all that much. It is a nice thought, though.


Walt Disney made money by being innovative. "Snow White" wasn't just the "Toy Story" of it's day, it was "Toy Story" if it had debuted a decade earlier. You can either make money by being exploitative or make money by being innovative. Walt Disney knew that long-term growth could only be achieved with the latter, not the former.

@Everyone in General:

I'm not here to start a flame war. However, until someone can back their assertions up with fact, I'm not going to back off.

If you want to enjoy T:L, fine. Good for you. Pay your $15-20 dollars for the 3D experience and enjoy. However, remember that Disney management openly and actively resisted a TRON sequel in many forms for more then 2 decades. The only reason why you're receiving a TRON sequel now is to bolster Disney's street cred with young boys that not everything in the Disney pipeline has the word "Princess" in it's title... NOT because they had faith in the property... NOT because they found a great script that moved the story forward in a logical manner... NOT because Disney is being influenced by the "Pixar culture" of innovation.

Have at it.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous #2

Perhaps you could back up your assertions with FACTS instead of providing baseless commentary. How about some specific examples of how computer animation is being used is cinema to de-age actors on a regular basis? And don't use Forest Gump as an example of photorealism to bring deceased actors back to life or CGI to hide Kevin Costner's receeding hairline, I'm talking about everyday occurrences of how actors faces are being aged according to the roles they are portraying without the use of prosthetics or makeup. Please list them all since you seem to have knowledge that no one else has or stop trolling.

Anonymous #? said...

CGI was used to de-age Patrick Stewart as Professor X in X-Men Origins but it looked fake. Besides I don't think that is what the writer was referring to. I think he was talking about using it innovatively to make actors return to roles of their youth, etc and used to enhance their performances. I mean you could theoretically have Arnold Schwarzenegger making Terminator movies looking just like he did in T1 forever but in Terminator Salvation they mapped his face over a body double so it wasn't the original actor giving the performance. I'd like to see them use the technology in ways similar to T:L where an actor's performance is enhanced by making them look like they did early in their careers. It would be a virtual Fountain of Youth for Hollywood.

jedited said...

To anonymous #2:
You don't normally make money being innovative. Disney made money with Snow White, but lost money with Fantasia (which was WAY more innovative). Disney lost money with Tron which was also innovative. Sometimes it just has to do with timing.
I agree with SOME of your comments to "everyone". However, John Lasseter said that one of the reasons that he got into computer animation was because of Tron. So I think that he had SOMETHING to do with the sequel. I don't think that the Disney brass had ANY idea how much of a fan base there was for this type of thing. I think that the reaction at ComicCon to the Tron test footage took them by surprise. And THAT was what convinced them to greenlight the sequel.

Anonymous said...

Well, Russell Crowe demanded Ridley Scott digitally remove a lot of his belly in the new Robin Hood movie (fact). He's a fat old actor who couldn't be bothered with getting into shape for the film.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Disney is in trouble with the new Tron. While they're trying to take control of the bad p.r., insiders at Disney have been chatting that the film is a confusing mess, and that more than a few reshoots and editing have been called for. Blame has been laid on a weak script, and a weaker/inexperienced director.

They Call Me Bruce (Boxleitner) said...

Yeah? Sounds just like the original Tron. I'm not worried.

Anonymous said...

Reshoots are not necessarily a bad thing on larger budget movies or for certain directors (some of whom are known to "find their movie" in the editing process) but they are a cause for concern. Even if you have a bunch of A-list directors doling out advice, there's no guarantee that it's going to be GOOD advice for THAT film.

Industry insiders always point to the movie "Congo" for the textbook example of "Too many chiefs, not enough Indians." On paper, that film should've been bigger then Harry Potter but it failed at the box office.

T:L will probably get to $150m domestic just on pure hype (and inflated 3d prices) alone but I'm doubting that it's going to go big for it's budget. Given it's budget, it'll probably be a fail at anything less then $250m dom, $400m worldwide. Right now, based on hype and word-of-mouth, I'm guessing about $80m opening weekend with steep (for non-summer) drop-off second weekend, close to or just over 50%.

They Call Me Bruce (Boxleitner) said...

Most films get 60% or more of their revenue from international grosses. Tron will make its money back even if it doesn't make it in domestic.