By Christopher Campbell | Spout November 17, 2010 at 5:55AM
Imagine if it was currently impossible to watch the first six "Harry Potter" movies in preparation for the first part of "Deathly Hallows." That's how I feel regarding the recently discovered difficulty in seeing "TRON" before next month's release of "TRON: Legacy." I haven't seen "TRON" since I was a kid, at least 25 years ago, and if I don't have the chance of revisiting it I likely won't end up seeing the sequel. Fortunately I have a friend who is a diehard fan of the 1982 original and will likely get to borrow his copy of the apparently rare and out-of-print 20th anniversary DVD (which is being sold new on Amazon for nearly $100). What about the others who desire a refresher? And all those young people who've never seen it at all? I have a feeling that Disney's "highly anticipated" return to Flynn's Arcade is not going to be so highly successful without a number of newbies getting a proper introduction to what the heck Flynn's Arcade, not to mention ENCOM and the TRON system, is beforehand. Honestly, I don't even recall what this stuff is all about, and even if the new movie provides expository reminders, this is a problem for me.
I don't know if this is truly a conspiracy or simply a big mistake for Disney in terms of the potential for "TRON: Legacy." Given my current theory that mainstream moviegoers aren't interested in totally unrecognizable imagined worlds as film settings unless they have some investment or familiarity with that world via an already popular franchise or property, I do believe that if the masses aren't exposed to the original (which let's not forget wasn't a box office smash in its day), they'll have little interest in the sequel. This doesn't have the support of being a James Cameron movie, as "Avatar" did, and Disney's choice to copy that movie's marketing stunt by showing extended footage in theaters is somewhat misguided. I just don't think the same sort of curiosity is there. And oh yeah, "Tron Night" already happened weeks ago, and I seem to have heard nothing of its positive effect. Of course, I also, like many, thought "Avatar Day" was a flop and never expected the film to be as good or as successful as it ended up being.
Here are some comments heard round the film blog water cooler regarding the "TRON" DVD "conspiracy":
Studios rarely miss an opportunity to capitalize on interest in one of their catalog titles. [...] but it’s possible the company is deliberately holding back on printing new copies of a movie that could alienate the broad, non-geek audiences they’ll need to make “Tron: Legacy” a success.
Which I think means that if people see how dated the original Tron looks now, they'll be less interested in seeing an updated version. But it's still a bit odd to be paying homage to a 30-year-old film that you're hoping people won't have seen recently. I guess Disney really believes our rosy memories of Tron are better than the real thing.
I’d imagine that the reality of Tron - it’s not really that good! It’s more than a little boring! – is what’s keeping it hidden from sight. [...] Disney would rather you not revisit this film and then say to yourself ‘Holy shit, that was turgid. Why would I want to pay up to 17 bucks to see the sequel in 3D IMAX?’
Which then raises the question of ‘Why would Disney want to make a direct sequel to a movie they’re so embarrassed of?’
My educated guess in response to this is that Disney's hoping for the same kind of magic that comes from remaking minor classics. The name recognition is there for moviegoers to say, "oh, I've heard of that." It's also a movie that's so old that some of us who haven't seen it in years may remember it more fondly than we should. Or think we remember it being a bigger deal, at least in pop culture if not actual popularity.
Definitely strange, especially since Disney (the ones putting out 'Tron') just recently re-released 'Toy Story' and 'Toy Story 2' in theaters (and on DVD/Blu-ray) prior to the theatrical release of 'Toy Story 3' this past summer. You'd think there would be an audience interested in catching up with the original 'Tron' prior to watching its sequel, right? Surely a studio wouldn't pass up the opportunity to capitalize on all the hype floating around this franchise right now ... right?
I think so. And I think like the "Toy Story" re-releases, "TRON" should have been converted into 3-D and put out in a similarly limited engagement. I would settle for an original print, though, even as a midnight movie. I know NYC's Landmark Sunshine has shown the movie in this way before. But the title is nowhere on their "Sunshine at Midnight" schedule, which lists "Christmas Vacation" as booked for the weekend prior to the opening of "TRON: Legacy" and "The Shining" playing the weekend of its release.
Late last month, Blue Sky Disney ran an editorial on this very subject. In it, they cite a focus group screening of the film that went horribly awry as a possible reason for Disney pushing back the original’s Blu-Ray release date. Could this also be the reason why copies of Tron seem to be disappearing before our eyes? Is Disney really trying to hide or disfigure all memory of the 1982 cult classic? Doesn’t it seem like we live in a society too advanced for this shit? This isn’t Ancient Egypt. You can’t just go in and chisel off the faces of previous rulers you don’t want history to remember. Tron made 33 million dollars when it was released. Since then, it’s become a serious cult classic. People care about this movie. It’s culturally relevant. It’s too big to stifle.
This is the same studio hiding other embarrassments, most notably "Song of the South." But "TRON" isn't that politically incorrect as far as I can recall.
From that referenced Blue Sky Disney post:
Word has it that earlier this summer the original Tron was screened at one of the theme parks and was laughed at by people who had not seen the original film and mocked it for its now-outdated effects and silly attire of leotards and hockey helmets parodied by the infamous "Tron Guy." Rumor has it that some Disney execs witnessed their reactions and it made them very, very nervous.
There's also mention of "The Black Hole" in that post, which is interesting to me mainly because of the laughs a scene from the original received during a recent DOC NYC screening of Errol Morris' documentary "A Brief History of Time" -- also unavailable on DVD, as it happens -- which includes an unintentionally hilarious clip of Maximillian Schell at his worst. I do have the feeling that if we want to watch "The Black Hole" before its remake hits theaters, now might be the best time to add it to our Netflix queue.
As for "TRON," if you can't revisit the original I recommend you ignore "TRON: Legacy," at least until it arrives on disc along with next year's (strategically?) late-scheduled Blu-ray of the original.