Friday, December 14, 2012

TRON's last chance?

When The Hollywood Reporter broke the news last week of Disney moving forward on a "TRON: Legacy" sequel, I was honestly shocked. The 2010 film was a very big, very expensive gamble for Walt Disney Pictures. Though a $400 million worldwide gross seems to indicate a solid hit, there aren't too many people in the industry or the movie blogosphere who honestly believe the picture only cost $170 million to make. (Hah. Only.) Then you throw in the marketing costs, which were obviously substantial -- honestly, had you ever imagined the TRON brand being as visible, as all-encompassing as it was in the last few months before "Legacy" dropped?

Given TRON's potential value as a long-term franchise that would appeal to males, Disney was counting on this improbable sequel to be among the highest-grossing movies of 2010. Here in North America, it just barely squeaked past the Coen brothers' remake of "True Grit" for the No. 12 spot. (Thanks, 3D IMAX!) The critical reception was generally better than you probably think it was, and all of those positive reviews basically said the same thing: It looks great. It sounds great. But it's often dull and dumb, and the Clu head-replacement gag doesn't quite work. I love the movie and have seen it 15 times or more, and I generally agree with those statements.

"TRON: Legacy" didn't leave a huge impression on many people aside from the already-converted, but it did sell a lot of soundtrack CDs and downloads -- and it probably helped Best Buy sell some 60-inch 3D TV sets. The "TRON: Uprising" animated series elicited oohs and aahs from the hardcores, but has already been doomed to a midnight time-slot on Disney XD. Until last week's news broke, I assumed my dreams of a "TRON 3," a TRON attraction at Disneyland and another album of incredible music by Daft Punk had been dashed.

But Walt Disney Pictures' new chairman, Alan Horn, isn't ready to give up on Flynn and friends. "TRON 3" has a new writer named Jesse Wigutow and at least one star on board. The no-name writer of the Michael & Kirk Douglas weepy "It Runs in the Family" and the rather bland presence of Garrett Hedlund (Sam Flynn) don't exactly inspire confidence, but I'm not going to refuse a third TRON movie under any circumstances.

What can we expect from this new movie? One can reasonably assume that Disney doesn't want to spend quite as much on "TRON 3" as they did on "TRON: Legacy," which could put most of the movie's action in the real world (also known as a studio backlot). Lucky for them, Sam and Quorra (Olivia Wilde) escaped The Grid at the end of the second movie, and there's already a potential villain waiting for them in the form of Edward Dillinger Jr. (Cillian Murphy). Will Jeff Bridges return as Kevin Flynn? Probably, but I bet we won't see him until the last 10 minutes of the movie.

We can also expect the screenplay to stick to the current blockbuster playbook: Extravagant opening action scene. A villain out for revenge who gets captured halfway through the movie, only to escape and up the stakes. Lots of explosions. An ending that wraps things up but teases another sequel.

But forget expectations; what do we want? I can think of a few things:

• A TRON movie that actually gives TRON (Bruce Boxleitner) a big role would be nice.

• More focus on Quorra. Wilde did everything she could to inject life into a movie that needed it, and a more substantial role for her in "TRON 3" would definitely help the movie and would almost certainly vault her into the superstardom she deserves -- assuming the movie is well-received.

• The Grid bleeding into the real world. I want to see blue and orange trails taking out Priuses on the San Diego Freeway. I want to see a Recognizer floating over Graumann's Chinese Theater.

• A real sense of danger. Maybe you kill off a main character halfway through. (Like Sam!)

• Small parts for Cindy Morgan and Dan Shor.

• Better dialogue. (Is that asking too much?)

Hopefully "TRON 3" (or "TRON: Revenge," or "TRON: Clu Rises," or "TRON: Dark Grid" or whatever) is a huge success, and ten years from now we'll all be lining up to ride a lightcycle at Magic Kingdom. Until then, I guess Test Track 2.0 will do!

What do you want from a new TRON movie?

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