We checked out the Tron: Legacy "secret screening" today in Manhattan, along with about 100 other die-hard fans. Here's what we discovered.
The event was part of a viral marketing scheme for the film, which comes out in December. Fans had to sign up and create a profile on the site flynnlives.com and then request tickets at 4pm Friday to get the latest on Tron: Legacy. So all of us had put some effort into this. A motley crowd of mostly die-hard Tron fans was conducted through a gauntlet of security and received "Flynn Lives" t-shirts and 3D glasses. We waited in the IMAX movie theater for about ten minutes while excited discussions ranged all things Tron.
A hundred or so people were in attendance, with a median age of 30 but outlying teenagers and seniors. At one point, a man announced, "Someone flew in from Toronto just for this!" and a ski-hatted Canadian raised his hand proudly. This prompted a shout-out of "Florida guy right here!" which was followed up by a rather weak "there's a guy here from the Alderaan system" that fell flat amongst the fans. "Did he make it in 12 parsecs or less?" someone finally obliged, but we were not here for Star Wars.
1982's virtual reality hacker/video game cult classic movie Tron, starring grand high cult pooh-bah Jeff Bridges, retains enough of an enthusiastic following that a sequel 22 years later motivates its fans to travel to a snowy New York City for footage. There hadn't been many clues about what we'd actually be shown.
At last, the lights darkened, the studio logo popped up in 3D, and this is what we saw:
Kevin Flynn's now grown-up son, Sam (Eragon's Garrett Hedlund) misses his heroic hacker dad. He's talking to Tron's old computer programming pal Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), who tells Sam that his father was doing work of importance to "science - medicine - religion" and that he suspects Flynn could still somehow be around. This prompts Sam to approach the dusty, abandoned Flynn's Arcade, with its covered-up consoles, to find the Tron machine and the office behind the wall.
The quick cut-scenes complete with 3D effects that we were shown of Sam in the virtual world are very cool, if a bit jarring. We see Sam and other players popping out of the screen in aggressive gladiatorial gaming. We see an epic virtual city, an attractive, white-haired lady, and a man inexplicably playing a futuristic guitar.
Finally, we see a figure in the beloved Tron glow-suit, the screen darkens and a hint of the Bridges beard appears: "Dad," Sam's voice says. "Sam," says the dude. "Long time," Sam says. "You have no idea," says Kevin Flynn. Does Flynn really live or am I living a lie in my new t-shirt?
The screen flashes to Tron: Legacy, and then comes back to give us the roaring hint of a 3D virtual reality motorcycle romp. Then the lights came up, and we were being ushered out of the theater.
The trailer could not have been more than a couple of minutes, a pre-movie standard. The crowd went a bit indignant: "Show it again!" several shouted. People had come from Canada for this!
While people seemed enthusiastic, that was tempered by a feeling that they hadn't seen enough and what was shown wasn't new. "The best fifteen seconds of my life," a guy only half-sarcastically declared as we shuffled out, summing up the experience for most. Others seemed less persuaded. A group I talked to weren't die-hards and had been curious about the screening; one of them had seen fifteen minutes at a Con was annoyed at the whole production.
His friend said that some of the 3D shots felt slightly off, and that the trailer made it seem like "you already know what happens." (It's true that anyone who's seen genre/action movies or any movies could probably put together Tron: Legacy's plot arc, but we're in it for the Bridges.) He went on to wonder if the computer-generated vector look from the first film would really translate in 3D. And the scene of the guy with the guitar moves: "What was up with that?"
Their friend was more optimistic about the whole thing: "I love a movie with daddy issues," he said dryly.
Downstairs, I talked to two fans, Tehnakki and Waterborn, who had come from Boston for the screening. It seemed fitting with the theme of the day that they went by their online handles. Tehnakki had on a great Flynn's Arcade shirt and had enjoyed the trailer, but was somewhat disappointed. None of the footage had been new to them, they said, and felt recycled and repackaged from past Con presentations. Still, were they excited for the new movie? Incredibly so — they had stopped to take pictures by the poster in the lobby. Everyone left talking about Trons old and new amidst the grumblings that we hadn't seen more of the film, which was what the studio wanted from us in the first place. Two decades in, Tron and its offspring's virtual world remains a cyberdream.