That ticket above allowed me entry into an IMAX 3D theater to get a sneak preview of 23+ minutes worth of Tron: Legacy, the sequel to the 1982 film, Tron. Legacy is shaping up to be a big blockbuster during the holiday season and Tron Night, as it was called, was part of Disney’s huge marketing campaign for the film.
After having signed up, I received an e-mail that urged attendees to arrive at least one-hour before the screening because the event was overbooked on purpose. This meant that admission was first-come, first-serve for those with a ticket with a standby line for those without tickets admitted if there were still seats available.
I arrived at 5 p.m. for the 7 p.m screening and already about 15 people were waiting in line. We ate some dinner and by the time we had finished, at 5:30, the line extended to still only about 25 people. We got in line and it started to fill up closer to 6.
The demographic at the screening was surprising. It was full of mostly middle-aged men with children, though closer to the screening time the younger crowd began to filter into the line.
Around that same time a man with the theater came around and warned us that cell-phones or any electronic devices were not permitted and to take them to our car. The other option was to leave them in baggies in front of the theater with employees. It’s not surprising that Disney was trying to keep this event from ending up on YouTube and security was taken very seriously.
Our tickets were checked and I was given a wrist band as the line was let in to the theater. We walked into the lobby and there was another line, this time for metal detecting wands. Like I said, security was taken very seriously.
The persons waving the wand were not simply theater employees, either, as the man who checked me was wearing a police badge. Luckily, I passed and proceeded to a table where there was some postcard sized swag being handed out:
They also gave us a small copy of the latest one-sheet poster released for the film; the poster that most explicitly references the original Tron one-sheet.
After more waiting within the theater, the same guy who gave me the wrist band got on a microphone and unenthusiastically announced, “greetings programs.” He read some mumbo jumbo about the movie and the AMC theater manager read his press release, then finally things were under way.
The screening began with a note from director Joseph Kosinski typed in the command line style that is heavily associated within the film and with the marketing campaign. The note introduced the film a little bit and warned that the 3D for the opening non-computer world scenes was incomplete but they had added a bit of depth to it for 3D viewing. He also remarked that all the footage we were going to see would be from the first-half of the film. He, of course, ended his transmission with “end of line.” Each scene or sequence we saw was separated by title cards and that’s how I’ll organize the description.
Sam’s Apartment/Flynn’s Arcade
The footage showed Sam arriving at an apartment made of cargo containers on a river. He parks his motorcycle inside, says hi to his dog and grabs a beer. While scouring the fridge he remarks, “Alan what are you doing in my apartment?” and reveals Alan, aka Tron played by Bruce Boxleitner.
What unfolds afterwards is an extended version of what many have seen in trailers now: “I got a page from your dad” “Hey kiddo, lost track of time?” “Wouldn’t that be something.” That whole exchange. It lasts much longer in the scene and reveals that Alan became a somewhat surrogate father once Kevin Flynn disappeared but has since drifted away. Alan also makes quips about Sam being distanced from ENCOM and playing pranks on the company.
Finally, Alan gives up the keys and Sam gives up his sarcasm to go visit Flynn’s arcade. Again, this is all extended scenes of what many of us already saw in trailers. At this point, I was worried we would see all the build up to the computer world and only about 2 minutes worth of footage.
Sam walks into the arcade and flips on the lights and machines causing an array of boot noises and classic 8-bit sounds. A jukebox starts playing 80’s music that is deafening and was confusing at first whether or not the sound was diagetic or not.
He then ventures into the office above the arcade, famous for it’s scene in the first movie where Flynn dicusses with Alan and Lora about ENCOM. Nobody is home. That’s when we see the shot where Sam tries to play the Tron video game. It should be noted that when he first turns it on a game is already being played with orange and blue lightcycles. I am not sure if this means there is a game being played within the computer world but I think it’s safe to assume this, especially because the game rejects Sam’s quarter. (Although, as has been pointed out to me, the game was likely in a “demo mode”)
After moving the machine, Sam ventures into a deep, dark, Fincher-esque dungeon setting that reveals Flynn’s dusty old office with the laser and ENCOM computer desk. He messes around with the controls, finding out that his father’s last commands into the computer involved activating the laser. Sam follows the same commands and unsuspectingly hits yes when a prompt comes up asking if the laser area is clear. The camera moves over the laser and fade to black.
We are now in the computer world where Sam stands alone in an illuminated street while a recognizer comes down on him. The middle part of the recognizer floats to the ground and two guards come out and throw Sam on board. This is the first moment we hear any other “programs” speak and all of them sound a bit garbled or technological. At least, I assume this is reserved for basic programs as later on some of the other programs played by the likes of Olivia Wilde or Michael Sheen don’t have this same technological bend to them.
When the recognizer takes off we were treated to sweeping views of “the grid” and it’s blue-green landscape. The shots are impressive and what is really cool about this scene is that all of the lens flares are interlaced – like staring too close at the TV. When the recognizer lands, another man with a black helmet comes up and “scans” each program dictating whether they are to be “rectified” or head to games.
One program is selected to games and breaks away from the guards yelling that he’d rather be erased, jumps off a cliff and is pummeled into pieces when he hits some spinning fan blades. The deresolution effect is wildly different in this sequel. Where in the first Tron the program would freeze frame and line by line be deleted, in Tron: Legacy they break apart violently first into large blocks, then into smaller dust-like particles.
Sam is chosen for games and is strapped into to an elevator that shoots him downward. He lands in an empty room where four high-heeled women simultaneously and in-sync walk towards him. They strip away his clothes and give him the illuminated armor that looks so gorgeously chic. They walk away again and Sam asks, “what am I supposed to do?” “Survive” one replies before being succumbed back into the tomb-like chamber from whence she came.
This section opened with an expansive bird’s-eye-view shot of the game grid stadium with some loud chanting and music. Sam is stuck in a jail-cell esque chamber amongst others in the same type of container. It is raised high into the stadium when the door to Sam’s room opens and he steps out. Meeting him is another program ready to engage in the iconic disk battles. Sam quips “I have an action figure of you on my shelf…” before the man steps forward and heaves his identity disk at an unsuspecting Sam.
There’s a brief moment where Sam is confused and is simply dodging the disc. Then he takes his and starts to battle. There is a moment where Sam almost falls out of the chamber but he climbs back up and defeats his opponent by knocking his disk into the ground where the man jumps. There are no “rings” like in the original Tron but the floor is susceptible to being derezzed along with the programs.
Olivia Wilde as Quorra grabs Sam in a four-wheeled light-cycle-esque vehicle and zooms off along the game grid. Followed by some of Clu’s sentry guard, she blasts a hole in the wall of the stadium and jumps through while the bad guy has to skid to a halt. She explains to Sam that they can’t go off the grid. Her car also equips itself with all-terrain tires to make it through what is now a bumpy and desolate landscape compared to the bright, smooth, silicon-esque area of the grid.
After climbing some mountains in the car and parking in a bright white “garage,” Sam is brought upstairs with Quorra. Sitting in the middle of a white room is Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn (we know this from the trailers) and Sam is told to wait. When he realizes who it is, he walks forward and him and his father have a moment. They exchange an awkward hug and Sam sheds some tears. Flynn also reveals that he only kind of knows about the page: “Page?…. Oh yeah.”
Kevin Flynn then walks outside to his balcony, taking in the view of the grid that has become so synonymous with his character in the Tron: Legacy marketing campaign. Sam, meanwhile, is left to ponder what his father has been doing all these years and why they have finally reunited in the most odd of ways – inside a computer.
The Sizzle Reel
The meet-up between Sam and his dad was the last sequence/scene we saw before being treated to some new Daft Punk music set to a reel of action clips and awesome moments. There isn’t much to describe here – it’s much of the same stuff we’ve seen in the Derezzed music video or trailers – but there were a few things I noticed different. One of them was the sentry’s of Clu’s can fly with four wings, like a hornet insect. A lot of the “new” shots can now be seen in the newly released trailer for the movie that came out today.
It’s hard to judge this footage accurately knowing that it likely still has many steps to go through in the post-production process. Included in these steps could be refining the edit, expanding or changing the sound design/music, and small manipulations to the 3-D and CGI. With that in mind, I am going to give a very general opinion of what I saw since it’s tough to be critical with a small stamp of footage out of context.
From what I saw, Tron: Legacy should live up to the expectations of the fans that have waited over 20 years for a sequel to the original Disney flick. It should introduce them to a world that is both familiar and completely strange, a world that has grown as computers have over this time. It should also appeal to a widespread audience that may view this film without the background of the older film.
The film very much had the same feel of the original both in the real world and computer world environments. As it was with the real world in the initial Tron, it’s sequel real world feels slower and more established. I don’t know quite how to describe this, but for me, the real world footage reminded me of those high-concept 80’s films that existed in a reality that felt not gritty, but I guess, boring. Films like The Explorers, E.T., and Terminator. A world that felt way too normal.
The computer world, by contrast, is a large oxy-moron; it’s both mind blowing and familiar, clean and gritty, and bright and dark. It’s this contrast of ideas that make it seem so uneasy for Sam to be within it and that make it strange. The clash of these opposites creates an environment and setting that is unique and interesting.
One of the major differences between this computer world and the last is definitely the colors. No longer are they blue and red but instead teal and orange. The black and white photography is gone replaced with clean digital muted blues and bright white LED’s. It’s a computer world that matches the modern aesthetic but plays upon established traditions of the original Tron with the lighted suits and identity discs.
The action in the film is very slick and exciting. The stadium where the games are played has a truly gladiatorial and epic feel. It was scary to watch Sam compete in front of this big of a crowd. Before hand the games were competed for Sark with not many watching, it is now a grid-wide event, making the games have a bigger scope.
The 3D adds to the scope of this action, providing what seems natural to a world set inside a computer system. It’s neither too invasive nor too invisible, a good balance between the popping out and the window theory of which I’m a huge fan.
I was especially impressed by the disc wars knowing that I only saw one of what I’m sure is many battles and that it was fairly tame since it was the first. There wasn’t much lightcycle footage we saw but that also looks promising from some of the short clips that appeared in the sizzle reel. What it comes down to is that if you enjoyed the test footage that Kosinksi and Disney released then you will enjoy Tron: Legacy. There are even exact shots from the test footage that appear in the finished film. They definitely aren’t going to derive far from that since the reception to it was so solidly positive.
The one thing many fans are wondering, however, is how the score is with Parisian duo Daft Punk providing the jams. It’s great. It’s traditional movie score when it needs to be and wildly electronic in other areas. I was also pleased to hear a few throwbacks to Wendy Carlos’ original Tron score by the way of high-pitched synth noises. Daft Punk is going to deliver a performance that will match the film itself. The music is certainly going to be a highlight for fans of both the musical DJ’s and movie.
There were a few downsides to the extended footage we saw, however. Again, I repeat, there can still be some small changes made to compensate for this stuff. Garrett Hedlund’s performance, for instance, was spotty. There were times he was on, such as seeing his father again, and there were times he was a bit off, like meeting Alan at his apartment. I’m not sure how much of this has to do with the editing, but his performance seemed like it had the potential to be awkward. I hope they fix this since he is anchoring the film.
The other bad part of what we saw was a lack of true sound design. Some scenes felt empty because they were lacking true atmosphere in terms of sound effects. It seemed like they rushed a quick cut of the sound design with all the major effects but hadn’t truly fleshed out an entire setting of sounds. Because of this, both worlds felt empty at times and while I think that worked in the real world (part of the reason it felt boring/normal), the computer world suffered from it since it’s a world that should feel busy and constantly in motion.
Overall, Tron Night provided a glimpse into what should be a major hit this holiday season in Tron: Legacy. The action and visuals coupled with a strong score by Daft Punk is going to make this movie unique and intense in the best ways. Many have been waiting over 20 years for this sequel and, at this point, as long as it has light cycles and identity discs most won’t be disappointed. Disney, however, is betting big and what’s this film to push up a tent-pole franchise and I think they’ve placed their chips in the right corner.
Tron: Legacy hits theaters December 17th, 2010. The Daft Punk soundtrack is released 10 days earlier on December 7th, 2010.
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