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Who Exactly is the Target Market for Tron Legacy?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m brimming with excitement for the impending release of Tron Legacy – it’s one of my most anticipated films of the year, after all. And the trailers look pretty damn spiffing, if I do say so myself (and I do). However, I can’t help but wonder what the book office appeal of the film is? I mean, it looks absolutely stunning, like a huge amount of work has been done on it (the effects look pretty incredible) – but I’m wondering where Disney’s renewed fascination with the Tron franchise came about.

Will the crowd go Wild(e)?

I realise the original is a “cult classic”, but the emphasis is very much on “cult” part of that. It wasn’t a financial disappointment (earning $33m on a $17m budget), but it certainly didn’t set the box office on fire. The effects on the film have not aged particularly well, to the point that I suspect that’s one reason we rarely see the film on television these days. Rumours of a 3D cinematic re-release in the lead-up to the Christmas release of Tron Legacy don’t exactly fill me with confidence that younger audiences will directly engage with the original film. On the other hand, it’s reassuring to hear that Disney have brought in Pixar to work on the script – it’s nice to see them utilising their sub-company for the greater benefit of movie audiences everywhere.

Tron is a hit with movie geeks like myself and probably those reading this, but I hardly think it’s an Indiana Jones type franchise that you can return to after twenty years, pretending that you can pick up where you left off. I’m not saying that the brand lacks recognition – it’s still the subject of jokes and homages in Family Guy, indicating it can’t be too far off the pop culture grid. However, when discussing the film with my better half and my brother, it’s always described as “the film with the light-cycles (you know, the red guy and the blue guy)”, which leads them to instantly get it. Okay, maybe not instantly, but they feel vaguly familiar with what I’m talking about. So there is some hint of recognition, even if they can’t link it to a particular title.

Who needs CGI, when we've got neon?

And twenty years seems the perfect time for it to cycle back around, if you’ll pardon the pun. At the start of the recent trailer, there’s a shelf packed with old toys and relics, among them a Rubiks Cube. Perhaps that’s indicative of the nostalgia market that Disney hopes to corner, perhaps seeing it as a reflection of the general trend towards recycling the eighties. Still, that’s a heck of a gamble – those cubes, for example, only came back into fashion for a minority, and weren’t ever really re-embraced in the way that a major investment like this would seem to need to be.

Even with fans such as myself, we talk about the original not as a great story or a wonderful character-based drama, but in terms of the technological specifications. There had literally been nothing like it before. Those motorcycle bits had to be hand-animated, because the CGI simply did not exist. I’ve never had a sense of talking about Flynn or his arcade in the same way you’d talk about or discuss other iconic or even cult properties like, I don’t know, Deckard, for example.

The series has, in fairness, been a success in other media – a spin-off video game sequel was released in 2003, for example – but these seem designed to cater specifically to the cult appeal of the original. I’m wondering what aspect of the property led Disney to believe that a belated sequel could appeal to the movie-going masses – particularly given the… well, unfortunate trend about long-delayed sequels like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

So the movie seems a strange choice – a very strange choice – to place as Disney’s big live action release of the year. It’s opening on the 17th December 2010, which places it roughly where Avatar was last year – a film which didn’t have franchise appeal, but did have revolutionary 3D, a huge name director and simplistic appealing plot going for it. On the other hand, Tron Legacy pretty much just has its brand name, Jeff Bridges and its fairly impressive looking visual design to attract patrons looking for a holiday blockbuster.

Still, I can’t help but admit that I’m glad that they have – it’s just something I can’t quite wrap my head around, and would be something I wouldn’t mind have being witness to. Perhaps it’s like the trend of green-lighting sequels before the original released, and an example that executives realise that a movie’s potential is not (solely, at least) determined by box office figures and calculations (of course, this ignores that other considerations are likely just as fiscal – merchandising, home media, re-releases, etc).

4 Responses

  1. I’m unsure myself. I guess it’s playing the nostalgia factor (from all those 80’s movie remake) with baby boomers. I certainly have no idea what the movie is about and the trailers, albeit visually striking, have done nothing to clarify that, making me a bit hesitant to even give this a chance when the time comes.

  2. Nerds.

    That’s my best guess. Gamers and film geeks– the people who have seen the original Tron. Given how “geek” has become its own category of “cool” and gaming is closer to being socially acceptable today than it was in the 80s, you’re talking about a much wider audience. In theory. I think?

    The other point to consider is that Tron can probably be sold on eye-catching visuals alone if Avatar (which admittedly had 3D behind it) and Inception (which admittedly had “from the director of The Dark Knight” behind it) prove anything, and it also seems that everyone loves Jeff Bridges these days. Tron: Legacy may be a risk, but people have shown up in droves to see mainstream blockbuster science fiction movies lately; I think Disney’s hoping they can recreate the same phenomenon here.

  3. I don’t know who they’re gearing it’s unveiling to either, but like you I’m quite attached to the idea of it myself, for unknown reasons. Maybe because technology has caught up with the concept enough to make a film that could blow our minds, or maybe I feel like Speed Racer stimulated me visually but never really went beyond that, and Trons world might be able to do that.

    And I’m with Andrew. Who doesn’t love Jeff Bridges? Also, I’m a gamer so therefore intrigued.

  4. Bridges fan, for one. Geeks like myself for another. I figure if there is a big enough group to keep Hero afloat that Tron will do fine.

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