“Tron: Legacy” has pulled in $244 million in global box office since its Dec. 17 release, and as far as visual effects and design go, it has been the most discussed and debated film of 2010. The visions of the movie were achieved by a massive team, but right at the top of that glowing pyramid was Joseph Kosinski, who made his feature-film debut with the movie. We talked to the filmmaker about the movie’s heritage, modern digital life and those CG faces that left some moviegoers wandering the uncanny valley.
GB: The original film was certainly a landmark moment on several levels, but — for someone new coming to it now in 2011 — it may be easier to respect than to actually enjoy. Or do you think that’s unfair to say?
JK: Steven Lisberger [“Tron” director] told me, “You’ve paid homage to the film that you remember.” And that’s probably perfect in that I hadn’t seen the original film in years when I first talked to [producer] Sean Bailey about what a “Tron” movie might look like now in a post-“Matrix” era. My answers and my spirit in giving those answers were all based on the impressions of a kid seeing the movie and seeing it back then. You never watch movies the same as you do when you’re a kid ever again. I’m kind of glad I hadn’t spent time with the film more recently and got caught up in how it had aged as opposed to the impression it made on a young person seeing it for the first time.
GB: The original movie was a middling success commercially, and most young moviegoers today have never seen it. But like the title of your film, there’s a real legacy of “Tron” that echoes in today’s visual-effects community, in animation, in music, in design and most certainly in video games. Could you talk a bit about the things that made the 1982 movie so singular?
JK: It’s the first movie that really talked about our relationship with digital technology, and for an audience in 1982, that was a pretty foreign thing. And it was an exciting thing. At the time, Steven was doing something that was really out there. Now it’s something we take for granted. That’s why I feel like it’s a good time to go back and explore these ideas again to look at them and use this world as a prism. Where is our relationship with technology? To look at how it can be a powerful and good thing but also how it can lead to bad and dangerous things. What are we going to struggle with as technology continues to invade our lives in every way? That’s why the father-son story was a good emotional foundation for us; it’s all about keeping our priorities straight and focusing on what is right in front of us. I became a father while making this movie, and it resonates for me now in a different way than it did when we first got underway. The meaning of the movie has changed for me, or maybe it means more to me. That’s what makes this a Disney movie too. There’s a human story at the center.
GB: How worried were you that you were essentially making a sequel to a story that the vast majority of today’s ticket-buying public had little or no memory of? It must have given you pause.
JK: Oh yes, absolutely. Coming in, there were two promises that I made to Disney. That this would be a human story at its heart and, No. 2, that this would be a movie that could stand on its own. And that was a considerable challenge. You see that challenge int he first 10 minutes of the movie; we had to catch people up in the most efficient way possible with just enough information so they know what’s going on and they can pick it up and run with it without having seen the first movie. An established property can be a blessing and a challenge. On one hand you have all those fans of the original that you can pick up with and continue on with but then you have a lot of people out there who haven’t seen the first and might feel like this isn’t a movie for them because of that.
GB: Jeff Bridges is the connective tissue between the two films, and he plays three roles, in essence, in the film as CLU and as a younger and older version of Kevin Flynn. That’s something that makes the audience lean forward, but there’s some gamble in it, too, especially when it comes to achieving an emotive CG-crafted visage of young Flynn.
JK: We felt we had to be ambitious because the first film was so ambitious in using technology to tell its story and to tell a story about technology. There’s nothing harder in the world of visual effects right now than creating a human face or a human character. And we made it more difficult in that we put that character in scenes with a bunch of other real human beings, and we’re doing it with a face of someone that everyone knows and we’re doing it in 3-D. We were probably nuts to try. But we had to give it a try. It’s a new kind of story we were able to tell because of this — this relationship between Kevin Flynn and his digital son and his real son is, I think, an interesting twist on a classic story. I’m really proud of the work we did, and I think we pushed the bar another notch higher with this film. It will be fun to see who takes it the next step.
— Geoff Boucher
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