A few weeks ago, Tee Morris, friend and reserve producer for the Back Seat Producers asked me if I would like to host his thoughts on TRON shortly after the release of the trailer for TRON: LEGACY. Having a man-crush for Tee and everything he does, plus his awesomeness in regards to getting my picture on the cover of his Twitter guide, ALL A TWITTER, you just know I said, ‘Hell, yes!’ What follows is the essay that Tee submitted. He asked if he should read it or just leave it as text, but I think you’ll agree with me that, if you’ve heard Tee on BSP before that in reading this you can HEAR him.
On March 9, one of Twitter’s trending topic took me for a wild ride in the Wayback Machine to what, I believe, history books will regard as the Golden Age of Gaming. I talk, of course, about the 1980’s. Yes, much like the Hot Tub Time Machine, I was thrown back to the days before iPhones and BlackBerrys, before World of Warcraft and Dragon Age, and before Playstations and Xboxes. I talk of days when I’d hop on my ten speed and pedal like the wind through the sweltering heat of a Virginia summer afternoon to cool off in the dark, dim lighting of Funway Freeway; or when my parents would drop me off at Putt-Putt Golf & Games where I would feed-feed-feed machines that went by bold, imaginative monikers like Zaxxon, Defender, Battlezone, and Joust.
Welcome to my days as a Gamer in the Coin-Operated Video Game Arena.
Hollywood, as it might not surprise you, tried to keep up with the 80’s (and with the amount of cocaine available that should have been easy…) and started producing movies centered around video games and computers. There was the Twilight Zone-eque horror film Nightmares (1983) where a young Emilio Estevez combats a video game from Hell. The “wacky sex comedy” Joysticks (1983) attempted to be the Porky’s for geeks. And the tale of King Arthur was retold in The Last Starfighter (1984) where a video game chooses a run-of-the-mill geek to save the galaxy from the Ko-Dan Armada.
And before you ask, yes, I’ve seen all of these films. Even Joysticks. Perhaps not the finest moment in Joe Don Baker’s career.
All these films followed what could be called the Avatar of the 80’s: Tron (1982) from Walt Disney Studios.
We had never seen anything so immersive or revolutionary as Tron. As one of the O.G.’s (original gamers), I can still recall this movie speaking volumes to me as the scriptwriters really captured the culture (and the thrill) of video games. It wasn’t that far of a stretch to think that there was some sort of digital alter-ego inside your favorite game’s or mysterious home PC doing all these things you were telling it to do in the Real World. There had been some real though put into this world, such as making its people (a/k/a “programs”) pay homage to a “user” and security routines into gladiators within this binary universe. There were also parts of Tron that were eluded to but never fully explained or realized such as the origins of characters like “Bit” and those grid spiders that were apparently doing something important for the MCP (Master Control Program).
However there were your obligatory “Let’s play with the new filmmaking toys” scenes that did little to further the plot, a plot that was not as well thought-out as the world itself.
Not that I really cared. This was a completely geektastic ride, and those light cycles were completely and utterly badass!
All these memories came back to me on March 9, 2009, because of Twitter and the online release of Tron: Legacy, the unexpected and now highly anticipated sequel to Tron.
So let’s just side-step for a moment the frustration that Hollywood has “run out” of ideas and are going back to wells that will insure them ticket sales…
Okay, let’s dwell on it for a moment…
Tron came out in 1982. 19. 82. Twenty-eight years ago. What. The. Hell?! I remember when it felt like forever between Star Wars and James Bond films, but twenty-eight years? Part of me shakes my head ruefully and asks Hollywood if this is what filmmaking has stooped to? Recycling old characters and concept from nearly three decades ago. What about a film adaptation of Scott Sigler’s Ancestor, P.C. Haring’s Cybrosis, or J.C. Hutchins’ 7th Son? Or, closer to home, how about a film version of MOREVI? (I wouldn’t say “no”.) Between films based on toy lines and remakes of films within a five-year window (*cough-cough* Hulk *cough*), the idea of a film that picks up twenty-eight years later after the original is just sad.
Right then. That’s the cinema purist in me. Now, switching to geekboi mode…
Sweet crapslinging monkeys on a jungle gym, it’s about goddamn time!
Yes, it has been three decades since the original Tron graced the screen, and when you watch the film now it may look a little dated in its concepts and (of course) the graphics. Back in 1982, though, this was how we perceived computers and video games. Things were very two-dimensional, cold, calculated, and stayed within the confines of a set grid. We look at ENCOM’s “state-of-the-art” facility and our jaws drop at how huge the company’s servers are. When you consider and compare their processing speed and power to your home computer, you’re on the floor, gripping your sides, laughing until you hyperventilate. But computers evolved. Networks gave way to the Internet. Hackers were now targeting one another as opposed to the evil empires of commerce. (They still do, of course, but there is more money to be made off the unsuspecting everyman.) Email went from a novelty to a necessity. Hard drives that took up an entire, climate-controlled room now fit in the palm of our hands. And now we live in an age where networks instantly go global, and we communicate to this international audience via status updates, podcasts, and tweets.
Computers evolved. So should filmmaking.
Tron: Legacy has the potential to be placed in the same class of sequel as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Considering how technology has completely reinvented our waking world, it is mind-boggling on a 2001-StarChild scale what the digital world has become under, what the trailer seems to insinuate, the guidance of Kevin Flynn. There is also the technology in filmmaking and how far it has come since 1982. Avatar, from a visual perspective, has removed all physical barriers. If a filmmaker can dream it up, the right effects team can make it happen; and from the briefest of glimpses that we have seen in the trailer they have. So if all these advancements and possibilities have made Tron: Legacy seem “easy” to put together, what will set it apart from the original and not reduce it to a Michael Bay-esque eye-candy fest?
This to me is the most exciting bit: The filmmakers, in order to meet the potential of Tron: Legacy, must focus on the story.
Yeah, I know, I know…I may be asking a lot here, but Walt Disney Studios can spin a good yarn when they put their minds to it. What has been revealed to us so far in the trailer insinuates that not only have the filmmakers ramped up the visuals, but the plot itself sounds intriguing. For over twenty years, Kevin Flynn has been missing, leaving, ENCOM’s heir apparent and Flynn’s estranged son, Sam, and his college and friend Alan Bradley wondering what happened. Then comes a page — not a phone call, but a page — from a phone number disconnected decades earlier. And as we see in the preview, Sam follows in his father’s footsteps into a very different take on Second Life.
From the trailer Tron: Legacy’s story will be far stronger than the original, setting it apart as the rare sequel that tops the original. As much as I love Tron, I always wanted a stronger story at its core with slightly better characters at its core. As we all have been stung by trailers being better than the feature film, I believe Tron: Legacy is a different case. There is something compelling in the mystery of exactly what Flynn has been doing and if he ever intends on leaving the digital plane. More to the point, what drove him to return to this world, and did it become the Utopia that we receive a brief glimpse of following the downfall of MCP, or have things — like technology — changed. Perhaps waiting twenty-eight years for a sequel, in this case, may be a good thing.
Cynics will scoff and say “Tee, you’re pinning a lot on Hollywood and Disney to deliver…” and I would agree; but I will argue that this is not a Summer but a Christmas release. Already, that is a point in my playbook. Another point is scored as this is a Disney release. They were able to make Tron work back in the eighties and while often copied, their success was never replicated. Finally, there is the presence of Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner reprising their roles. I think that is a very good sign. Actors usually need a good reasons (aside from a paycheck) to return to a property nearly thirty years old. This speaks volumes to me. So bring on the light cycles, the flying discs of death, and the Space Paranoids. This going to be one hell of an upgrade.
Granted, if I’m wrong, this means the Back Seat Producers have new “rant material” the next time I’m on pod. And in the same vein as Kingdom of the Crystal Suck, I will probably call it Tron: Vista.
Good God, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Tee Morris has been an active member of the Twitter community since 2007 and part of the Social Media movement even longer. He established himself as a pioneer of podcasting by being the first to podcast a novel in its entirety. His fantasy epic, MOREVI, went on to be a finalist for the 2006 Parsec Award for Best Podcast Novel. That production also led to the founding of Podiobooks.com, the writing of Podcasting for Dummies (with Chuck Tomasi and Evo Terra), and the writing of Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies (with Evo Terra and Ryan Williams). Tee continues to explore the application of blogging, podcasting, and Twitter at Imagine That! Studios (online at imaginethatstudios.com), and has spoken across the country and around the world on Social Media for Book Expo America, NOAA, Te Papa Tongarewa: The Museum of New Zealand, and LIANZA.
Along with being a Social Media specialist, Tee is a columnist and critic for AppAdvice.com and writes Science Fiction and Fantasy found in print at Dragon Moon Press and in audio at TeeMorris.com. His fantasydetective novel, The Case of The Singing Sword: A Billibub Baddings Mystery, received an Honorable Mention forForeWord Magazine’s 2004 Book of the Year award, Finalist for the 2005 Independent Publisher’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Best Audio Drama: Long Form at the 2008 Parsec Awards. Find out more about Tee Morris at imaginethatstudios.com and teemorris. com on the Internet.