Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writer(s): Eddy Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde
Amongst its Oscar haul Avatar scooped the 2010 Academy Award for Best Special Effects. In 1983 the original Tron was left out of nominations for this award as its use of computers to create special effects was deemed cheating. How the times have changed.
It’s strange to think that it was only a year ago Avatar came along and completely changed the landscape of filmmaking. Since then we’ve had some truly inspired efforts, fun 3D revamps of old classics and some deeply unsatisfying 3D conversions hoping to cash in on the new trend. Even Sky have been getting in on the act with their recent push for 3D football and 3D boxing coming just in time for Christmas. This year we have Tron: Legacy rolling out in the same slot as Avatar with the hope of having a similar impact. Still, it will have some job in outdoing the legacy of the original Tron. Despite being released 28 years ago it helped define the modern cinematic landscape in a profound way.
Disney’s Tron has what could basically be described as a cult following. Given the length between original and sequel you could hardly consider it in the terms of the modern franchise. I only ended up watching it after a joke in a Treehouse of Horror Simpson Episode. Yet, the look and distinctive visual style of the film isn’t just incredible for its time but even stands up to many of today’s offerings. I guess this will happen when the pre-production team includes Jean Giraud (Moebius) and Syd Mead (Blade Runner). The film also deserves recognition for the manner in which it represented the advances in computer games and technology. The concept of the total immersion video game is only now fully catching up to the ideas proposed in the original film. To put things in perspective the computer used to put Tron together had 2MB of memory (less than the size of an average MP3) and a disc size of no more than 330 MB (just about enough for an album of songs). It truly defines the term ahead of its time.
What particularly excites me about this release is the manner in which the filmmakers have used the 28 year gap to their advantage. The look of the world of Tron has evolved along with advances in computer technology. Everything is sleeker, sharper, faster and more dangerous. Performance capture technology has allowed Jeff Bridges’ human character to age but his in world avatar to look as young and fresh faced as it did in 1982. Plot details are quite sparse but what we know is that the film has Sam (Garrett Hedlund) entering the world built by his father Kevin (Jeff Bridges reprising his role from the original) and embarking on a journey across this land and discovering his father’s legacy. This will of course involve light cycles, disc battles and Olivia Wilde. The original Tron was one of the very first studio films to use the computer graphics that are now part of every film from low budget indies to big budget releases. Expect the film to provoke debate over the pros and cons of our society’s move toward the digital age. Ultimately, what is the legacy of Tron to the modern movie landscape?
Yes digital technology gave us Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man and Benjamin Button. It also allowed Eddie Murphy to become The Klumps. It’s almost too wide ranging a subject to consider. I guess the only fair way to judge Tron is on specific examples. Take Daft Punk – they have over the years made numerous references to the film’s influence on not only their future pop sound but also their distinctive robot look. I guess it’s only fitting (and totally awesome) that they’re providing the soundtrack to this sequel with the backing of a 100-piece orchestra. I haven’t mentioned Tron’s position as a Disney film. Apparently the original filmmakers received a frosty reception from Disney’s animation department. Maybe these legendary animators recognised the threat this new technology offered to their livelihood. Still, there was at least one young animator who was more receptive to their ideas. He’d only recently started in Disney’s animation department and jumped at the chance to watch a test of Tron’s light cycle sequence. His name was John Lasseter and he took these ideas on board and went on to co-found Pixar. He is of course the current Chief Creative Officer at Pixar and Disney Animation as well as Creative Advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering. I think it’s no coincidence that the release of this sequel came along around the same time as his rise to prominence. Maybe this film can inspire a new generation of John Lasseters. I’d like to think so.