The original Tron arrived at a time of massive technological change in cinema. And whether by accident or design, the sequel born of the 2008 Comic-Con footage arrives at a similar inflection point. Tron: Legacy, which hits theaters on Dec. 17, moves the narrative of the original film forward 28 years, with Jeff Bridges, who played brash young programmer Flynn in the first movie, now reprising the role as an older, more meditative version of the character. The new movie pushes the technology forward as well. It is a single film that combines and refines almost every cutting-edge technique in cinema today: digital performance capture, advanced 3D cameras and sophisticated computer rendering of live actors into digital sets.
If any movie could succeed based on visual effects alone, it's Tron: Legacy. But the film also comes at a time of serious debate about the stresses such technology puts on the moviemaking process and its effect on the art of cinema. Shooting in 3D is expensive, the equipment is cumbersome, and audiences seem increasingly picky about what movies they are willing to pay extra to see in 3D. Plus, risky experiments in CG and performance capture can end up unraveling the virtual environments visual-effects artists strive so hard to create. Tron: Legacy is the type of movie that can shape agendas in Hollywood. If audiences love it, Tron will become the new standard for innovation. But it only takes a few missteps to turn a technological tour de force into a cautionary tale.