Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Where's the Third "TRON"?

Disney's XD network has premiered the first episode of its striking new "TRON Uprising" cartoon online, leading many to wonder about Disney's plans for a third "TRON" movie. It's been about a year and a half since "TRON Legacy," the heavily hyped-up return to the TRON universe, which didn't make as big a splash as the company would have liked, but did drum up a decent profit. Compared to some of Disney's other attempts to start a new action franchise, such as "Prince of Persia" and "John Carter," the numbers for "TRON Legacy" look pretty good in retrospect.

There has been a lot of hinting about another sequel for a while now. "TRON Legacy" set up several possibilities for future storylines, including updates on a few characters like RAM and YORI, who didn't actually appear in the movie. A completed draft of a new script by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, who wrote "Legacy," apparently exists, though we don't know much about it. Bruce Boxleitner, who plays the character of TRON himself, has suggested in interviews that a new "TRON" film is only waiting for director Jospeh Kosinski to finish with "Oblivion" for Universal. However, the longer the wait, the more momentum is lost for the potential franchise.

However, right now it's tough to get anything greenlit at Disney. The studio is going through some pretty severe managerial troubles, notably the recent ousting of Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross over the poor performance of "John Carter." Last summer, there was the long and torturous process of getting the Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp "Lone Ranger" off the ground, which was only achieved after some significant cost-cutting. Only proven franchise pictures like the "Pirates" sequels and Marvel superhero flicks are guaranteed Disney's attention right now. After the massive opening weekend for "The Avengers," Disney CEO Bob Iger was quick to confirm that an "Avengers 2" was in development.

"TRON," however, is still a risky universe to play in. "Legacy" did not receive great critical notices and only a middling response from audiences. It was clear that the picture had been rushed, that the special effects weren't as good as they could have been, and the script was pretty lacking in some important areas. Moreover, another "TRON" wouldn't come cheap. Sure, the $170 million price tag of "Legacy" looks pretty good next to the $200 million plus that was sunk into "John Carter," but that's still more expensive than "Captain America" or "Thor," or a whole "Muppets" trilogy. It's understandable that Disney is still on the fence.

Besides, I seriously have to question whether another "TRON" with this creative team is something we want. The prospect of "Legacy" was so tantalizing because it promised something exciting and different, but it didn't really deliver. Many fans were hoping for a look at an upgraded, modern-day "TRON" universe. Instead, we just got reinterpreted takes on the same old concepts from 1982, set to a killer Daft Punk soundtrack. There's the sense that the first-time director and the duo of television writers cutting their teeth on their first feature were too experienced for a project this size, but surely they'll do better the next time around, right?

I'm pretty doubtful, honestly. Kitsis and Horowitz really added nothing to the "TRON" universe, and the more I see of their television work, the more I think the next movie should be scripted by someone with stronger action chops and a more ambitious sense of scope. I'm honestly a little mystified that they haven't been replaced by now. Kosinski at least managed to come up with some interesting visuals, but unless he figures out how to do something more with them than what he showed us in "Legacy," maybe it's time to give someone else a shot in the director's chair too. Then again, I'm curious to see what he's going to do with "Oblivion," his sophomore effort.

Like most other fans, I want the "TRON" franchise to continue. I still think it has the potential for greatness, beyond what the original film accomplished, and it could make Disney plenty of box office bank too. However, looking at what another potential sequel has to work with, and who's involved, and the likelihood of more cost-cutting, more accelerated production schedules, and more managerial drama, it's hard to see how the next "TRON" wouldn't fall prey to the same problems that "Legacy" did if it were greenlit tomorrow.

So right now, I'm just going to enjoy the "TRON" cartoon and try not to get too caught up in any of this. If the new movie happens, it might be good and it might not be. If it doesn't maybe there will be other, better opportunities. As the Zen master says, "We'll see."

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