Dear Mr. Bailey, Mr. Lisberger, Mr. Silver, & Mr. Kosinski,
Congratulations on wrapping production on the new TRON film, and good luck this weekend at Comic-Con. I’m sure everyone will be lining up to see any footage you managed to sneak off to San Diego. Oh, and nice viral site, too. “Flynn Lives” isn’t quite as catchy as “Frodo Lives”, but it’s a good tip of the hat and a nice way to start building up the ol’ mythology.
With the film in the can, it may be a moot point to discuss this, but as a fan of the first film, I have concerns about this movie. To put it bluntly, this could be a terrible film. And by all respects, it appears to have all the ingredients of a colossal failure. The original film is highly revered and considered a classic by those in my generation; any future productions related to it would have extremely high-expectations from its intended audience. TRON2 is a studio-driven project (rather than a director-driven) with a massive budget (rivaling POTC:At Worlds End, from what I hear.) I’m sure Disney is expecting to bring in massive box office receipts to match the POTC franchise. A lot of money is on the line. TRON2 headed into pre-production without input of the original creator and director. Whispers of the “R” word were making the rounds. And, no disrespect to Mr. Kosinski, a director was hired who hasn’t had a single film attached to his resume.
Not looking favorable.
Then you guys pull off that unannounced “test footage” with Jeff Bridges (leading actor of the first film). Mr. Lisberger (the primary creative force/director of the first film) is now on board as a writer and producer. Bruce Boxleitner has a role (co-lead of the first film). You announce this movie as a sequel and not a reboot. An excited fan base is beginning to form. Plot points have been revealed that make the story intriguing. Two years in post-production will undoubtedly produce eye-popping wonderment from the visual effects teams.
This could be a very good film.
However, these developments do not assure a good film. As a courtesy to you, and speaking on behalf of movie fans everywhere, I’ve compiled a list of the things I feel is important to consider as you craft this sequel. This will not guarantee that your film will be as beloved as the first one, but it may get you in the right direction.
1. Preserve the simple real world/electronic world communication perspectives established from the first film. In the beginning of TRON, there is a scene where our intrepid hero, Flynn, is at home hacking into his former employer’s computer system using a software program he wrote called Clu. Since this is 1982 - before modern graphic interfaces - Flynn is typing commands MSDOS -style into his computer. As we see him silently type, the movie dissolves into the “electronic world” where a humanoid figure is piloting a futuristic-looking tank. This humanoid looks exactly like Flynn, so as an audience we connect the two together subconsciously, even before we hear Flynn’s disembodied voice confirming the figure as Clu. Clu responds in a monotone voice, but we don’t see Clu’s mouth moving. We assume that Flynn is “speaking” to Clu through Flynn’s real world typing and what we are hearing is Clu’s own translation of the commands in the electronic world, and vice-versa for Flynn. It’s a simple technique that is tedious to explain in words, but worked brilliantly and helps us as an audience to resolve the connection between the real and electronic worlds. There is another example later when Tron communicates with Alan at the I/O tower. We would hope that this type of visual storytelling is also used in the second film, and not become needlessly complex.
2. Preserve the faith/spiritual themes & mythology established from the first film. In TRON, much of the conflict in the electronic world is centered on a clash of ideologies. EnCom’s MCP, for all purposes is a powerful artificial intelligence shaping the electronic world into an Orwellian regime; imprisoning those who profess faith in the “users” and tout free will. Flynn, who is a “User” a.k.a. “god”, arrives in the electronic world as sort of a digital Christ - taking the form of the programs. In the end, he even sacrifices himself and, if you will, “ascends to heaven.” The I/O tower is an Old Testament tabernacle, where one may communicate with their “user”. All Judeo-Christian imagery aside, the world of TRON is certainly rooted in the spiritual realm. Plus, TRON doesn’t get goofy crazy like The Matrix mythology. I would like see that aspect continued in the sequel, as faith-based issues & myths can resonate across all cultures.
3. Preserve the “analog” look of the electronic world, while expanding upon its beauty. The first film, although hailed for incorporating computer graphics, was mostly traditional animation - using layers of film, ironically. That gave the characters in the electronic world this weird look that felt “analog” to me. They blended into the painted matte backgrounds well, (and even the CG shots) but it still had this crazy aesthetic about it that I’ve never seen replicated since. I’m sure your digital VFX teams are gonna throw in every kind of wonderment possible, but It would be nice if that “analog” feel was captured… even just a little.
4. Get weird and take crazy risks with the sound. Better yet, just get Ben Burtt, a big ass computer, a long fuzzy microphone, and get out of his way. You got all that Disney cash to pay him, and he’ll love you for helping him net his third Oscar statuette.
5. Avoid “Lucas-izing” CG characters to appeal to a younger audience. Don’t even invite the dude over for lunch to watch dailies… same goes with Michael Bay. We don’t need or want short, cute computer creatures with speech impediments or Ebonics-speaking floating triangles with gold teeth. We already have enough of it in other films. We know you are thinking about it. Resist the urge. Regardless of what happens at the box office, there is a difference between enjoying your film and making fun of it. We want to enjoy it.
6. Avoid Hollywood hacker/programmer stereotypes & computer interface clichés. We don’t want to see Kevin Smith surrounded by Bawls bottles and candy wrappers saying “That’s encryption level 22329A! That’s hardcore stuff!” and he’s the only one in the world who can break it. We don’t want to see some team of “crack” computer experts in blue jumpsuits led by a tall leggy blonde fashion model, and she solves a mystery by running a Google search. We don’t want to see detailed CG computer displays in the real world that can visually track a virus running through a network or some bullshit like that. Keep it real. As I said before, TRON managed to tell the story without all that crap.
7. Avoid pop culture references for cheap throwaway gags; create your own. We don’t want to see some electronic world character burp and/or fart and say they learned it from “Master Google” standing over there, or the “YouTube” street of the electronic world city. I think you get the idea. Step your game up.
8. Pressure the studio to get TRON remastered and released on Blu-Ray sooner than later. We do not want to wait until 2011 when the TRON 2 marketing engine is in full swing. We all want our 1080p TRON now. And while they are at it, can they throw in that “test footage” in HD as well? Just asking.
Thank you for reading this letter and I hope it serves you well as you begin the long journey of post-production. Speaking from the audience, I will not hold unreasonable expectations. But remember these few simple things, and chances are, not only will you have a successful movie at the box office, but a GOOD FILM that will worth re-watching for years to come.