Tron changed the sci-fi landscape. Tron: Legacy didn’t change a whole lot. As a fan of both, I was disappointed that Legacy didn’t lead onto an immediate expansion of its visually fascinating world. That is, until now: Jared Leto’s long-rumoured involvement with the franchise has been confirmed by the actor and we’re getting a third Tron film.
But Legacy failed to engage audiences and the box office receipts showed that, even with the involvement of the original Tron’s stars Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner. So, what will it take to get audiences flocking to the film theatres? I have a few suggestions that might turn Tron into a Disney staple: a change in narrative focus, an emphasis on the game features and a quirkier atmosphere.
Getting rid of the God Complex
Despite enjoying it, I can accept that Tron: Legacy took itself a little too seriously in terms of its narrative. That’s not normally an issue, except this is a world where its actors are forced to wear skin tight suits and throw discs around like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost tossing vinyls at zombies. You can’t have that and also have Jeff Bridges spouting prophetic dialogue, trying to prevent Armageddon.
Tron must move away from end of the world scenarios. They’re tiresome and with the Disney logo attached, there’s little chance it’ll end badly to spice things up. So, they should exchange that for something more personal.
The digital domain has its own conflicts: information being held and sold, data being manipulated to encourage people to buy or show interest in something. The first and second films dabbled in corporations: why not have our lead character venture into the Grid to prevent a deal, or to hack into a piece of technology for their own gain? A heist affair à la Inception, just with Tron visuals. There’s no reason why the protagonist’s gain can’t be a humanitarian one, so as to keep Disney and its audience happy. As long as Tron’s computer world is more than a pretty aesthetic.
Black and blue? Let’s add a bit more colour
That aesthetic is definitive in Tron, if a little muted in Legacy. The noir-esque shades of the sequel looked unique but lost the vibrant edge of the first. With Leto onboard and knowing his previous experience with colourful roles (green and white being the most notable), he could encourage a return to a zanier palette.
It’s Disney after all and they’re no strangers to more fantastical settings: see Alice in Wonderland or Beauty and the Beast for cases in point. Let’s see them work their magic in expanding this digital environment with new colours and characteristics. Weather was introduced in Legacy; why not integrate that into the action directly? Rain in the shape of code. Thunder storms that empower the hero’s equipment. This integration is one of many ways of directly linking the world to the action so it’s not just a pretty picture.
Build on the Tron spectacle
If you’re going to evolve the franchise by brightening it up, it still needs a solid foundation to honour those fans that stuck by both films. And if this isn’t to be a similar narrative with characters we’re familiar with, then it has to be the action.
Everyone can admit that Tron’s finest moments involve its definitive light bike races. Then there’s the disc wars that end in pixels flying across the battlefield. As these are so unique to the Tron name, let’s feature them regularly.
Going back to the corporate focus, why not include these disc and light cycle battles as firewalls that the protagonist has to tackle in order to get the data he needs? It’s simple structuring, but Disney won’t want Nolan levels of non-linearity. Let’s tie the narrative directly to the disc combat and light cycles so these elements work in unison, rather than the action feeling like a brief highlight. You can then design some innovative set pieces around these scenarios so both stand out in a way that only a Tron movie can.
Jared Leto is the star but Tron 3 has a long way to go before it hits theatres. More importantly, there’s a lot to be done if they’re to make a lucrative franchise. Ditch the seriousness, play on the digital more and develop the visuals in a way that doesn’t distract from what makes Tron so popular: the light bike races and the disc fights. Bring all of this together and you’ve got a film that pleases fans and newcomers.