What Tron: Legacy Can Teach Moviemakers
Tron: Legacy is finally out, ending 20+ years of waiting for some fans, and months and months of hype for everyone else. But, with poor reviews and an expected low box office turn-out, is this another example of a genre movie that got stuck in its genre?
Lesson One: Remember The Real World
As if Scott Pilgrim‘s sad, undeserved fate didn’t signpost this enough, Tron: Legacy‘s weekend box office estimate (Around $50 million) should be enough to teach filmmakers one important lesson: Stop caring so much about Comic-Con. Even moreso than Pilgrim, Tron: Legacy feels like it’s a film created using Comic-Con as a demographic focus group, with Flynn Arcades and scavenger hunts and test footage that skews perceptions about what’s successful, popular and necessary for the movie to work. The problem being that, for better or worse – and the argument could be made in either direction, I think – Comic-Con is not the real world… or, moreso, that mainstream audiences really don’t get turned on by the same thing as nerd audiences, and that for a movie that costs as much as Tron: Legacy to be a success, it has to have appeal to far more than just nerd audiences.
(This is a lesson that feels like is being taught continuously. Didn’t Speed Racer teach Hollywood anything? Or Terminator: Salvation? Amusingly, it’s beginning to look as if The Green Hornet will teach the same lesson in reverse, with mainstream audiences taking to it far better than the Comic-Con crowds who were filled with cynicism and disdain.)
Lesson Two: Nostalgia Is Not Enough
Being seven years old when Tron was first released, I like to think that I’m probably in exactly the right age group for this movie. But here is a recreation of my reaction to the announcement to a sequel to Tron: “Huh. That could be cool.”
Unlike Star Wars or Star Trek, Tron didn’t really define a generation’s youth, tell an epic story (or epic stories) that live on in memory or, really, do anything other than look kind of cool for its time. There’s no heart to Tron, beyond the visuals, and so Tron: Legacy had the unenviable task of being faithful to something that (a) was fairly empty and would have to be rebuilt in order to satisfy audiences 28 years later and (b) update the one thing the movie had going for it, because technology had passed it by since the original. No wonder it didn’t live up to so many people’s expectations; how could it?
Lesson Three: Let The Fans Build The Franchise For You
It’s one thing to generate goodwill for your work, but it’s another thing altogether to not actively generate the opposite. Obviously setting up a sequel within Tron: Legacy – What’s with Tron? Is that Cillian Murphy? – seemed to annoy some reviewers, who had (entirely fairly, I think) hoped that Tron: Legacy might try and tell a complete story in and of itself before starting to think about franchising options. It was a lost battle even before Legacy opened, of course; Disney have already announced not one, but two spin-off cartoon series for Disney XD in the next few years, and there’re already the pre-requisite videogame and comic tie-ins on shelves. Tron, it’s clear, is here to stay and Legacy is only the first chapter… but it would’ve been nice for audiences to have felt some choice in that matter, and some ownership over it. Being told that the movie you’re about to watch is all about the franchise instead of, you know, the movie, removes you from the experience a little bit, and makes the story seem less organic than part of a cynical machine built to eat your dollars. Tron: Legacy had seemed, at best, a curious sequel to a pretty much forgotten movie when first announced, and that made it seem more interesting for most people than Step One in a new mythology and franchise that they’d have to invest time and money in to understand.
Legacy isn’t even really that bad a movie – But at this point, that might not matter. The mistakes had been made, and its fate was pretty much set. It’d be nice to see if moviemakers can learn from its example, instead of letting the same thing happen to the next revival making its way to a theater near you, soon.