Belated news: Tron 3 cancelled

I’m really late with this, because it came out in late May, when I was super busy with a trip I was planning. I totally missed the announcement until I happened upon it recently. In past posts I had made a mention or two about Disney working on a sequel to Tron Legacy. Well, they announced that it isn’t happening. It’s been cancelled. The official announcement said that the movie release schedule in 2017 was just too full of other live-action films Disney is planning. “RaginRonin” on YouTube gave what I think is the best synopsis of movie industry pundit analysis. It sounds like it comes down to one thing: Disney is averse to live-action films that don’t relate to two genres that have been successful for them: Pirates of the Caribbean, and anything related to its classic fairy tale franchise. Other than that, they want to focus on their core competency, which is animation.

All pundit analysis focused on one movie: Tomorrowland. It was a Disney live-action sci-fi movie that flopped. They figured Disney took one look at that and said, “We can’t do another one of those.”

One thing contradicts this, though, and I’m a bit surprised no one I’ve heard so far picked up on this: Disney is coming out with a live-action sci-fi film soon. It’s called Star Wars: The Force Awakens… though it is being done through its Lucasfilm division, and it’s their staff doing it, not Disney’s. Maybe they think that will make a difference in their live-action fortunes. Disney paid a lot of money for Lucasfilm, and so of course they want it to produce. They want another series. No, more than one series!

Like with the first Tron film in 1982, Legacy did well at the box office, but not well enough to wow Disney. Apparently they were expecting it to be a billion-dollar film in ticket sales domestically and internationally, and it grossed $400 million instead. Secondly, Tron: Uprising, the animated TV series that was produced for Disney XD, and got some critical acclaim, did not do well enough for Disney’s taste, and was cancelled after one season. Though, I think the criticism that, “Of course it didn’t do well, since they put it on an HD channel when most viewers don’t have HD,” is valid, it also should be said that it wasn’t a “killer app” that drew people to HD, either. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that Tron as a genre is not a hot seller for Disney, period. It’s profitable, but it doesn’t knock their socks off.

One pundit said that he’s confident Disney will return to Tron sometime in the future, just as it did with Legacy, but the way things are looking now, Disney wants to focus on its profitable properties. I can buy that, but I wonder if the challenge was the story. Olivia Wilde, the actress who played “Quorra” in Legacy, mentioned this in an April interview. Shooting for the sequel, in which the original cast was slated, was scheduled for October, yet they didn’t have a screenplay. They had plenty of time to come up with one. Disney hired a writer for this sequel a couple years ago.

This has happened before. As I’ve talked about in previous posts, there was an attempt to make a Tron sequel back in 2003. It was supposed to be a combination release of a video game and a movie, called Tron 2.0. The video game came out for PCs, and later, game consoles. There was a clear, dramatic storyline in the game that jumped off from the characters, and a bit of the story, from the original Tron. The whole aesthetic of the video game was very nostalgic. A lot of the focus was on the subject of computer viruses, and various forms of malware, and some pretty interesting story lines about the main characters. I had to admit, though, that it took the focus off of what was really interesting about Tron, which was the philosophical and political arguments it made about what computing’s role should be in society. Steven Lisberger, who was driving the effort at Disney at the time, said that an idea he had was to talk about (I’m paraphrasing), “What is this thing called the internet? What should it represent?” He said, “It’s got to be something more than a glorified phone system!” Disney had developed some concept art for the movie. It looked like it might have a chance, but it was cancelled. Tron Legacy, which came out in 2010, was a worthy successor to the first movie in this regard, and I think that had something to do with it getting the green light. Someone had finally come up with something profound to say about computing’s role in society (I talk about this here). I think there’s more to this story than the market for live-action sci-fi movies from Disney. I think they haven’t found something for a sequel to communicate, and they were running up against their production deadline. I suspect that Lisberger and Kosinski did not want to rush out something that was unworthy of the title. Canceling it will give more time for someone down the road to do it right.

The Tron sequel is coming along

I wrote a post a year ago talking about how a Tron sequel was “possible”, given that a Tron “test reel” (video) was shown by some people from Disney at last year’s ComicCon. I’ve been reading updates (there are newer updates here as well) over at Tron 2.0 News, and a Tron movie sequel has definitely been in the works. A couple months after the “test reel” was shown at ComicCon it was announced that Jeff Bridges had signed on, to reprise his role as Kevin Flynn. Bridges said that shooting for the sequel would begin in Spring 2009. Later several more actors were announced, including Bruce Boxleitner, reprising his role as Alan Bradley (no word yet on whether the character “Tron” will be making an appearance). A new generation of main characters was introduced, played by twenty-something actors, one of them being Flynn’s son.

One of the early announcements was that the film was going to be shown in 3D. That’s a hot trend right now.

An interesting story that Tron 2.0 News talked about just recently was that the “test reel” was never supposed to have been shown at ComicCon, or anywhere else in the first place. As of last July, Disney was on the fence about making a sequel. They didn’t want the “test reel” shown to anybody because they didn’t want to raise expectations and then disappoint their audience. It really was just a test to see if the technology could handle the vision, and it was supposed to be “inside Disney only”. It sounds like a few renegade executives at Disney snuck it into ComicCon in hopes of forcing Disney’s hand. According to the story some people at Disney got taken to the woodshed for this. It didn’t take long for them to decide, though, to go ahead with the sequel, probably because of the excitement generated by the “sneak preview” at ComicCon, and the bootleg video of it that was taken there, which went viral on the internet.

Disney created an unreleased test reel for the first “Tron” film back when it was first being developed. It was just a test to show the capabilities of the gels, backlighting, and rotoscoping techniques that were going to be used in the final film. It had a story line which was not in the released film, of a character inside a computer fighting a bad guy and then freeing another character from prison.

Tron 2.0 News revealed a while back that John Lasseter, who came back to Disney once Pixar merged with them, was instrumental in getting the sequel “test reel” made. It sounded like he had to really push for it hard, even working on it semi-secretly with an outside CGI firm. Lasseter was blown away by the original “Tron” movie when he worked at Disney back then. He’s been famously quoted as saying that if Tron hadn’t been made “there would’ve been no Toy Story”. “Toy Story” being Pixar’s first feature film. In the end us Tron fans may have Lasseter to thank for doing what needed to be done to get Disney to make the sequel.

According to the latest news I’ve read, shooting for the sequel just got wrapped up about a week ago in Canada. The post-production CGI work is projected to take another year. The early projection is that the movie will be released during Christmas 2010, but I could easily imagine the release being pushed back to 2011. An exciting tidbit is that IMAX might be looking at making an IMAX version of it. That would be very cool!

The current buzz is Disney is going to release an “updated” teaser trailer for it at this year’s ComicCon. Hopefully it’ll be released on the internet. I’ll be looking for it!

Another piece of news is that Disney is working on a video game to be released with the movie…a different one from “Tron 2.0″…and they’re finally getting the release of the two right this time! A PC/Mac game called “Tron 2.0” was released several years ago by Disney, which had a sequel story line. An XBox version eventually came out as well, to lackluster reviews. It was supposed to be released with a movie sequel that Disney had planned for release around 2003/04, but the project died. The game was released, oddly, without a movie to go with it.

The plot of the game was that Alan Bradley and Dr. Lora Baines (having gotten married) had a son, Jet, played as a twenty-something in the game. Lora suffered some mysterious death (not shown in the game, just talked about by the characters), but Alan preserved her consciousness in an AI sub-system, called “ma3a”. Alan was still alive and working for Encom. I forget what happened to Flynn. There might’ve been some story line about how he “rezzed” himself inside of Encom’s computers, but he doesn’t show up in the game at all.

Jet is the main character in the game. He gets sucked into Encom’s computer system (through the “laser process”) when a corruption in the system is detected. The theme of virus corruption plays prominently in the game. Jet is immediately considered part of the system corruption by the system’s guards, and so he has to fight the system, while pleading his case that he’s not a threat. He meets up with “ma3a” to try to fight the corruption. A mystery emerges about “ma3a”, but in the process of trying to discover what it is, tragedy strikes. In my opinion this is the reason to play the game. It’s a real interesting plot twist. Jet continues trying to fight the corruption and find his way out of the computer world, with some help from his father when he’s able to make contact with him. Along the way Jet has some powerful flashbacks that reveal his family’s past.

Meanwhile in the real world an evil, thuggish corporation takes over Encom, and the higher ups imprison Alan to get him to give up some technology secrets. Jet discovers what’s been happening in the real world (and Alan discovers what happened to Jet) and uses the computer system to help his father escape captivity. In turn his father is more able to help him from the outside.

I thought the story line that was put into the game was really interesting, and made it worthwhile to play it all the way through. Everything was great…until the ending. It was written like an afterthought. It sucked. Still, I like the game. I’ve been a fan of it for a long time. There’s a good story, some great “eye candy”, and some good “retro” parts that took me back years.

Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan lent their voices to their game characters, Alan Bradley and “ma3a”. Syd Mead designed a new light cycle, and perhaps some of the other stuff for the game.

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A bit of the plot has been revealed for the movie sequel. This is obviously spoiler material, so you may wish to skip it.

The backstory is that Flynn disappeared into the Encom system years ago and has been missing ever since. In the present day Flynn’s son investigates his father’s disappearance and along the way gets sucked into the Encom system. He finds his father inside the system, and along with a female character they go on a journey that’s much more perilous than the one that Flynn, and Tron and Yori (computer programs written by Alan and Lora) embarked on in the first movie. Obviously Alan Bradley plays a part in the story somehow, but that has not been revealed yet.

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The producers of the sequel say that while it will pay homage to the first film, in parts, they’re creating it as a stand-alone movie. The audience will not need to have seen the first film to understand it. This makes sense as it’ll have been nearly 30 years since the first film was made. It reminds me of the way that the newer Battlestar Galactica series was done. There were a few references to things from the original TV series, though it was disorienting the way they cast it as “the first war”. I always thought it would’ve been better if they had just left the old references out of it and cast the series as a remake. For the most part they created it anew.

Edit 7-27-09: Disney has released an updated version of the “test reel” that they showed at Comic-Con 2008, on YouTube. It looks and sounds A LOT clearer than the out-of-focus, fuzzy, bootleg version that’s been on the internet for a year! The title they seem to be going with for the movie is “Tron Legacy”. And they say right on it that they expect the movie to be released in 2010. They also mention “IMAX 3D”. Awesome! 🙂