Let us get something out of the way up front. I love Tron. It is one of the movies that most influenced me into my life long love of computers and of filmmaking both, and to me is just as watchable today as it was when I first saw it as a kid. To realize years later the influence it had on filmmaking when it comes to special effects just brought a smile to the face of an already adoring fan. So, it won’t surprise you, few people in the world were more excited for Tron Legacy than me.
So it is a sad day to be (not really) asked to come in and fix what clearly went wrong with Tron Legacy. But we are professionals here at Re-Film It, and the best news is there isn’t nearly as much to fix here as some other sequels and reboots!
The first film, way back in 1982, made $33 million at the box office, $4 million of that in its opening weekend. Disney considered it a failure, a story well tread by now and echoed by many other cult movies.
Tron Legacy made $43.6 million in its opening weekend alone, and ultimately made $400 million between US and world wide box offices. So, what do you need re-film it for? This was a big success, right?
Maybe. But in the face of huge series and franchises making into the billions (many of those already owned by Disney, coincidently – can anyone say Marvel?), it didn’t really feel like the launch of a new franchise, did it? Tron toys didn’t dominate your local Disney store, and we are not all anxiously awaiting Tr3n (alright, that last one is not entirely true, I am).
Is it that in today’s multi-film, multi-billion blockbluster world, a $400 million movie is not a success? Or is it that the world and story of Tron has way more potential – for both good science fiction and for a big marketing franchise – then Legacy delivered on? The answer is yes. Basically, we all know deep down inside, something was wrong here. It needs to be better.
Despite that feeling, deep down in our Tron hearts, there is a lot to love here. This is not the disaster that Star Trek or Man of Steel was. The Daft Punk soundtrack, the Idoru ending, the Buddhism elements, the homages to the original, Jeff Bridge’s performance, even the cinematography in the real-world sequences – this is no massacre of a reboot. This film has a lot going for it and for the most part treats it subject matter and audience with respect (JJ, please take note).
Which probably means the trouble with it is subtle, and therefore harder to fix. A warning sign for us. Indeed, the majority of critical reviews focus on a lack of humanity in at least one (if not two) of the main characters. That is a hard thing to fix with just a few cuts, re-shot scenes or changed effects.
Maybe we can’t fix something as hard to quantify as the humanity of the story. But we can certainly pump up a few moments in the film that fail to reach their goal, and perhaps by doing so, just perhaps, we will regain enough interest that some flatness in other moments will be more easily overlooked.
With all that out of the way, I think we are finally ready to look at what to actually fix!
Fix 1: The Battle at End of Line
Sam makes a classic, head-strong blunder into danger. Quorra tries to undo her mistake by rescuing him. Both are in way over their heads, and it shows quickly. A pack of elite troopers blast in, slaughtering innocent programs. Pulse-pounding EDM plays throughout the scene. Who or what can possibly save our heroes as things so quickly go wrong? When in walks god. God in the form of Kevin Flynn, who has been in hiding for years, decades. Who has resisted fighting back because he felt it was doing no good, but now is left with no choice but to show his power. A god who can touch the ground and literally change the way the world around him works and behaves.
This sounds great right? Spectacular? And that is the point, it should be the best action sequence of the year. It should be the kind of fight scene you remember for years to come, that when the movie is on endless repeat years later on cable, you have to leave on just to see that one scene again, even if you are already late for High Tea. It should be Neo on the roof top, learning to dodge bullets. And here lies one of the core problems of the movie: it’s not.
The reasons why not are a few, but fairly easily fixed:
- The fight choreography is weak. Particularly for Olivia Wilde as Quorra, whose moves are unconvincing and amount to only posing.
- The exact role of Kevin Flynn is left vague and unclear, and it should not be.
- That the disk that contains the exact equation to all of creation is so easily stolen is ridiculous.
Let us take these one at a time. Each one is not such a bad fix, in terms of depth of changes.
Other scenes in the same movie show plenty of fancy fight choreography, so its clear the crew knew how to do it. So how did this fight end up so wrong? In particular after Quorra’s initial surprise jump into the fight, her pose when blocking the two red fighters is such a weak posture that even an untrained eye can look at it and figure out that you could never block full-strength swings that way. Its silly.
Did Olivia not want to do extra fight training? Did you run out of time in production to do the more careful choreography you used before? Whatever the reason, get over it. This scene, as outlined above, needs to be the centerpiece of your movie from an action standpoint. This is it, so get it right. Reshoot these scenes of fighting (its basically less than a minute of screen time) until the most disciplined of martial artists is convinced Olivia Wilde is a total bad ass. This is particularly important because it then makes her and Sam’s failure to fight their way out of this situation all the more compelling, and Kevin’s intervention all the more exciting.
God Saves the Day
In the midst of their failure, god walks into the room. It is a wonderful moment, it should be the most intense moment in the whole film, save perhaps the very end when Kevin merges with Clu. But what is it Kevin Flynn does exactly? He touches the floor, clearly exerting his programming power over the digital world around him, and changes… what? Turns the lights out? Rallies the blue programs in the room with… more morale? More energy? On the one hand, leaving some room for interpretation on what exact role a god standing in the middle of a kung fu fight would have on the winning side is a good thing – it shows a respect for the viewer we haven’t seen in other Re-Film It movies.
But on the other hand, we need a more tangible sense of just what Kevin Flynn being out of Buddhist retirement means. We need to more viscerally see how mighty someone who can change the world around them can be. We need to be sitting in our seats saying “oh @#!%#@#$ you !#%@#@ with Kevin Flynn, you are going to regret that”. Such a feeling would both sell this scene as an action scene, but would also lend such a stronger feeling to the character of Kevin Flynn – just what he means to the world he helped create, then destroy, then abandoned in an effort to stop harming it.
Stealing God’s Code
We all know of course the precious disk will fall into the wrong hands. That is the price of Sam’s blunder, of him failing to see what Kevin was trying to communicate about not being part of the equation. And yes, it has to happen in this scene. This has to be the price of Kevin stepping in and using his power to rescue his son (note, all the more reason him stepping in has to be more tangible). None of these ideas are wrong.
What is wrong is the little yoink it takes to steal the most powerful piece of information in the entire world off of Kevin’s back. Seriously? Kevin wouldn’t be holding his disk, in anticipation of just such a problem? He would turn his back on the entire room, still full of enemies, knowing on the same back is the exact thing the enemy wants?
We need to re-tune this a bit. The taking of the disk needs to feel inevitable. Flynn knows this is a trap, we have to buy that either they out-smarted him, or that he was willing to give up that ultimate price to save his son. I vote for the latter, since I think it feels more true to the character. So instead of the little yoink to take the disk, there should be more of a sense that Kevin has purposefully sprung this trap, uses his power to save his son (see above), but when the moment comes, he knows what price he must pay. Perhaps the forces in the club are too great even for him, overwhelming him and at the last moment the only way to create a distraction big enough to get them onto the elevator is to throw his disk.
Even better, maybe he begins to suspect that Rinzler is Tron, and can’t bring himself to de-res him. This would lead into our fix for our next problem and probably works the best. But as with many fixes, identifying the problem is the bigger effort – exactly how to write the fix could go in several satisfying directions.
Fix 2: Better Develop the Tron/Rinzler Story
We are looking for more humanity, as well as perhaps a reason that even god could be bested in a physical contest, and certainly the hinted at (but really underdeveloped) story of Tron could provide those things.
Despite that potential, Rinzler/Tron spends 99.26% of the movie with a helmet on – about as de-humanizing a decision as you can make. At first, this might build up some surprise that Rinzler is actually Tron, but I don’t think that deception is well done nor do I think the film makers intended it to be. We all know, from the start, Rinzler is really Tron, and by the time Kevin confirms it, its not done as a big reveal or shocking moment. At best you could argue for the inclusion of the helmet during the initial disk battle with Sam, the only moment that its really not clear where this uber warrior has come from.
So why then do we not get a face for Tron? Budget? Clearly the effects of Clu were some of the most complex in the movie and I am sure account for a big part of the effects budget. Doing two characters was just out of the question?
Strangely, in era of directors going the other direction, and making decisions like putting moving lips on Optimus Prime (or non-moving lips on Stormshadow), here we have a completely reflective helmet. It instantly makes the entire storyline of Tron’s re-programming seem flat.
Beyond that, one or two more scenes describing exactly what happened would have helped. Can we have a flashback of Tron’s reprogramming? A scene or two better establishing how having Rinzler on his side really lead to Clu’s martial dominance of the grid? This is strikingly interesting storytelling that deserves ten more minutes of film time. The movie is a touch long already but ten more minutes wouldn’t break it, and in fact could make it by including this compelling, and notably human story.
So solution one, give Tron a face. The most ideal scenario of course would be the same special effects magic used on Jeff Bridges for Clu. But assuming for a moment the budget just doesn’t allow that, we would have settled for a young actor with a resemblance to the younger Boxleitner. Let’s face it, the original was 28 years prior to this movie – no one was fixated on what Bruce Boxleitner looked like in that movie, or would have felt a continuity interruption to see another actor portraying Tron – even with Boxleitner in the movie as the character of Alan.
And solution two, add in two scenes that round out the story of Tron’s capture, reprogramming and eventual recovery. Take your pick of two, no more than 3 minutes each. That small amount of storytelling is all it would take.
These changes are our smallest, and therefore easiest yet proposed for a film on Re-Film It. By settling for another actor portraying Tron, we could basically avoid any massive new effect shots altogether (maybe we would need Clu in one of the new scenes with Tron, which would certainly come with a price tag, but even so the total delta here is still small). For these small changes, we not only center the movie better on its pivotal central scene, but we add back a huge piece of humanity by filling out one of the more compelling subplots of the film.