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Toon Thursday: GAME OVER for TRON's first director

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Toon Thursday: GAME OVER for TRON's first director

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It's been a week now since that "TR2N" teaser trailer ran at Comic-Con. And Disneyana & sci-fi fans are desperate for additional information about this Summer 2010 release.

Well, let me share some info that I'm sure will send all of you "TRON" fanboys out there straight off the Game Grid. Guess who's the real power-behind-the-throne (The Master Control Program, if you will) on this particular Walt Disney Pictures production? Would you believe John Lasseter?

Yep, the Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios has quite the soft spot when it comes to the original "TRON." Lasseter still remembers when he first saw this Steve Lisberger film. Which was back in 1981 when John was just a lowly animator toiling away on "Mickey's Christmas Carol."

One lunch hour while wandering around the Disney lot, Lasseter came upon the trailers where all of the 16 X 20 Kodalith cels that were used in this 1982 production were stored. And it was here that John first saw "TRON" 's lightcycle sequence. And as Lasseter looked at this CG sequence ...

"It absolutely blew me away! A little door in my mind opened up. I looked at it and said, `This is it! This is the future!'"

Mind you, John was quite taken with the look of "TRON" (as well as -- of course -- that film's use of computer animation). But as for that movie's storyline ... Lasseter wasn't really a fan. He felt that Lisberger had missed some obvious opportunities to create a truly compelling piece of entertainment. Something that would have touched an audience's emotions as it dazzled their eyes.

Copyright 1982 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Which is why -- even though Steve (i.e. "TRON" 's original director & co-writer) has spent the past five years developing a script for a sequel -- none of that material will now be used in the production of "TR2N."

Don't get me wrong, folks. Lasseter is still extremely respectful of all the groundbreaking work that Lisberger & his production team did on the first "TRON." Which is why Steve will receive a co-producer credit on this 2010 Walt Disney Pictures release. But as for Lisberger having any real creative input on the sequel ... "GAME OVER !," man.

"So -- if Steve isn't working on the 'TR2N' screenplay anymore -- who is then?," you ask. Well ... Allegedly at John's insistence, Disney hired Eddie Kitsis & Adam Horowitz to create a script for this sequel. Given their long association with "Lost," Kitsis & Horowitz have lots of experience when it comes to guiding colorful characters through surreal settings. Which made Eddie & Adam an obvious choice for the "TR2N" assignment.

And if Lisberger's no longer slated to helm the "TRON" sequel, who's Disney now going to get to direct this movie? Joseph Kosinski. Who has yet to actually direct a full-length feature film but has created some award-winning commercials for Saab, Nike and X-Box.

In fact, if you want to get some sense of the visual look that Joseph wants to bring to "TR2N," click on the above links. Or -- better yet -- check out Kosinski's animated architectural renderings. These will give you a better sense of Joseph's eye. The way this guy moves a camera. Which offers a hint of how truly dazzling a Kosinski-directed version of "TRON" could be.

Speaking of which ... To convince Disney executives that his vision for "TR2N" was commercially viable, Joseph spent six months working in secret with the folks at Digital Domain. Laboring to create a vivid, updated version of "TRON" 's famous lightcycles. With the hope that this three-minute-long sequence would then prove to the suits that a sequel to this 26-year-old film would actually appeal to today's gamers.

Which brings us to Disney Interactive Studios' involvement in the "TR2N" project ... To help prime the pump for this potentially-hugely-profitable profect, Disney's gaming division actually released an Xbox 360 version of those classic arcade games, "TRON" and "Discs of TRON," last summer. Given the huge number of units that were then sold to video game players as well as "TRON" fans ... It was clear that there are a lot of people out there who -- just like John Lasseter -- have a very soft spot in their hearts when it comes to this particular Walt Disney Productions release.

But that said ... There are still those at the Studio who are saying that it may be a mistake to release a "TRON" sequel 28 years after the fact.

Which is kind of ironic, given that Walt Disney Pictures' other big picture for 2010 is also a sequel.

Copyright Disney Pixar. All Rights Reserved

What film am I talking about? "Toy Story 3." Which rolls into theaters nearly 15 years after the first "Toy Story" film debuted.

So what do you folks think? Do you think that "TR2N" has a better chance of becoming a truly entertaining motion picture now that you've learned that John Lasseter is shepherding this project? Or is it just too late for a "TRON" sequel to connect with today's audiences?

Your thoughts?

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  • I have never seen the original Tron film.

    Not out of choice.

    But as an avid gamer and a huge Disneyana fan,





    Yup, that sums it up.

  • Great article Jim! Except, being the Tron fan-boy I am, wouldn't a better headline have been "It's END-OF-LINE for Tron Director"?

    Just a humble suggestion :)

  • First, while technically a sequel, since the original is ancient AND was semi-unseen, it's more a re-launch a la the recent (and much closer to its original version) "Hulk" movie. Toy Story 3 is more definitely a continuation of an existing franchise.

    Second, good joke re "END-OF-LINE" but that brings up an interesting "problem" re. both the old film and the new. The first was full of computer jargon catchphrases like that--something that both endeared it to the "in" crowd at the time and alienated the general audience it failed to capture the imagination of. SO....if they do too much of that now, its a problem...but, since today the computer terms and phrases (LOL, etc. etc.) have become a part of general lexicon for most people, there's less alien-ness on the one hand, but less special-ness on the other. An interesting problem to solve in the script and line to walk in the film.

    Lastly, Tron's rabid fans were few, but that was part of THEIR fun--they were the cutting edge computer geek community that finally had a movie for THEM made. To make a mass-market hit, Lasseter knows it has to have more than that--goodies for the in-crowd, but feeling, humor, and heart for everyone (and btw, characters like that just happen to work better as spin-off products from plushies to video games, too.)

    Frankly, I was cool to the idea of the remake/sequel/whatever when Jim first told us about it, but now that I know where the impulse comes from, I'm more encouraged and interested.

  • For a "numbers guy" I gotta congratulate you Jim on not reporting the quarterly earnings report and how Disney seems to be OK while weathering the economy.

    TR2N or whatever sound ok but I find it kinda weak as a tentpole idea.  Isn't Prince of Persia or Dawn Treader coming out that year?

  • No Jim, it's not ironic.  It's not ironic at all.

    Toy Story 3 is the continuation of a VERY popular / profitable franchise.  TR2N will probably make a bit of cash for Disney, but my bet is that it will just attract the gamers / fan boys.  Yeah, Tron was an iconic film for visuals, but so was the Matrix...

    An effects driven movie with Jeff Bridges in the lead?  

    It's got 'turkey' written all over it.  

  • Yup, just like that other effects-driven movie co-starring Jeff Bridges, with Robert Downey, Jr. in the lead.  Turrrrkey.

  • Hey, There are quite a few people who are waiting for the sequel/prequel/whatever to 20,000 LEAGUES! And that one's been over 50 years in the offing......

  • I saw TRON as a kid at the movie theaters, and I was frankly unimpressed. I'm equally unimpressed by news of a sequel.

  • I am VERY excited, but I saw Tron in the theatre. Although I have shown the movie on DVD to my son, my daughter and a few nieces and nephews (ages 2 - 12) and they all liked it too (more the boys than the girls).

    I knew that Lasseter was involved in this. I had heard that Tron was one of his inspirations for getting into computer animation.

    Lostincrowds said this would be a turkey and related it to the Matrix. This actually is a GREAT comparison. These two movies are very similar in their geekdom appeal and tone. Lets looks at worldwide grosses for all 3 Matrix films.

    The Matrix  -  $460.7 mil  -  1999

    The Matrix Reloaded  -  $738.6 - 2003

    The Matrix Revolutions  -  $425 mil  -  2003

    Yeah, that sounds like a real Turkey! ;-)

  • I agree with John Lassetter's assessment of the first film. TRON was visually stunning, but the storyline was rather dry. Just like the other big Disney sci-fi film from that era, "The Black Hole." I think that if they can combine cutting-edge graphics with a compelling story, TR2N could be a fairly big hit. I was at Comic-Con and saw the clip, so I'm not worried about the graphics.

    My only question: In the first movie, the titular character was played by Bruce Boxleitner. Will he also be returning? I hope not. As much as I enjoyed "Babylon 5," I think Bruce is a pretty lightweight actor.

  • Does it really matter that it's a sequel? I think that video they showed at Comic-Con would get a lot of people, fans or not, interested in this movie. It looks sweet, the action is good, and if it was in 3D then that could attract even more people.

    I don't think Disney needs to spend $150m on it, but I do think it would be successful enough to warrant making. I think there are enough dedicated fans to make a reasonably expensive TRON movie profitable, sequel or no. A lot of the movie can be shot "digital backlot", with the only real CG being the big action sequences, which would probably be fairly affordable.

  • Re the budget, droidguy1119....here's the conundrum. IF you make a digitally-created/enhanced feature these days that uses the tried-and-true existing tech, yes, it can be done relatively inexpensively. BUT...if you make it that way, you abdicate claims to be "the next advance" and thus a huge chunk of the "gotta have the latest and greatest" audience. It causes you to REALLY have a GREAT story and characters to overcome your "lame" visuals--and yes, that can work. But usually not cheaply because the reflex is to hire more expensive actors, even voice-over actors, and other gimmicks. When it works--"Kung Fu Panda" comes to mind as a not-particularly-advanced-animation-visually but heart-and-stars content hit---it works. When it doesn't, people at the studio AND in the audience are left saying "Yeah, but how much would we have made if we'd invested another $50 mil in really GREAT and NEW effects?"

  • Hmmm ..This has digital 3D written all over it. Seems like it's destined for a narrow audience of gamers, though, like a skateboarding movie is for skaters.

  • Re Digital 3D...there has been a LOT of grousing in the trades lately and at industry conferences about how SLOWLY the US theater exhibitors are converting to digital and digital-3D projection capability. Recent releases were planned for MANY more screens than they could actually get on because of slow-downs in construction and other delays by exhibitors. The basic feeling among producers is "Hey, you guys wanted a better mousetrap to get people to come to the theater instead of staying home with their flatscreens so you can sell them your overpriced popcorn, and we give it to you and you haven't stepped up and spent the cash to put in the gizmos yet. What gives? Do you WANT to be obsolete?"

    But the untold story is more complex. One of the not-so-secret within the biz facts of life when producers deal with theaters is this: Movie theaters, even the BIG chains, are VERY SLOW PAYS and enjoy making money on the producers' money for a while before paying up, especially on megahits like Batman and Ironman and the like. Well one of the doohickeys built into a lot of the digital projection systems or proposed for them is a way for distributors to police that--literally by having the digital projector check in online before every showing to make sure the bills are up to date--otherwise, NO SHOW.

    So....there's a lot of infighting going on in the biz over these side-issue ramifications of digital exhibition. In major cities and great locations, the theaters have an added incentive to put in digital projection, especially in multiplexes with varying sized houses---they are doing a pretty good business in renting theaters to business conferences in the daytime or even on off weeknights because that big digitally-driven screen can run powerpoints just as easily as it runs feature films.

  • I don't think classic movies should be remade, and a sequel after that many years is essentially a re-make. OTOH, Tron, while a good movie, was no classic, and given the huge progress made in CG since then I am looking forward to it. I have some concern based on the teaser trailer shown at SDCC. I really liked the Jeff Bridges character, and I would hate to see him "Iron manned".

    As for Toy Story 3, it's basically the same guys who did the first one, so it will likely be good.

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