We recently had the opportunity to speak with TRON: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski about what it’s like to be on the cusp of the opening weekend for his first feature film. Kosinski is in the unusual position of making his feature debut with not only one of the most anticipated movies of the last several years – but also (potentially) one of the most expensive.
Of course, according to recent projections, widespread audience awareness of the film does not seem to be quite what we, in the world of online movie news, might have assumed it was, and getting an exact read on the budget for TRON: Legacy has been a bit of a slippery affair.
Over the last several years there have been budget reports for the film with estimates as high as $300 million; however, Steven Lisberger (the original Tron creator/director and a producer on TRON: Legacy) has denied that the film cost “anywhere near Avatar money.”
Whatever the exact numbers turn out to be, the team behind TRON: Legacy is definitely feeling the pressure. A virtual army of workers are at the ready, waiting to see how TRON performs this weekend – hoping that the film will do well enough to justify a third instillation in the Tron franchise, and the plethora of merchandise that’s already in the pipeline.
Kosinski has already given a lot to the project: his cinematic vision (he was formerly an architect), tech savvy, understanding of video game culture (he directed video game commercials – prior to TRON: Legacy), and of course, three years of his life. Now, the only thing left for him to do is to sit back, let go, and wait.
On The Pressure For The Film To Succeed:
Screen Rant: I’m guessing you are pretty much all talked out right now (we were scheduled with Kosinski at the close of a day full of interviews). But were gonna force you to talk just a little bit more.
Joseph Kosinski: Bring it on.
SR: I’m bringing it! Tell me what it’s like to have TRON: Legacy be your first feature film?
JK: It’s been an incredible experience, I feel very lucky to have gotten the chance. It’s been a long process, but, it’s been an incredible experience.
SR: Well from out here, it looks like there must be a lot of pressure for this movie to perform. This is one of the most ambitious projects that Disney has undertaken, does it feel like a lot of pressure from the inside?
JK: Certainly there’s pressure while your making the movie. You know you want to…I’m glad you used the word “ambitious,” because that’s what we strove to be in all aspects of this film – there is a lot to live up to in terms of the first film. How ambitious it was, conceptually, and visually, and technically. So, I definitely felt pressure in making the film. As to where we stand now; my work on the movie is over, and now it’s just about spreading the word. But in terms of my job, the pressure has certainly eased a little bit.
Disney has been working very hard at getting the word out over the past few weeks. Soft opening weekend box office predictions (about $35 million) seem to have the studio reaching into, what might have before been, territories they would never agree to enter. There is even a TRON: Legacy themed spread in Playboy.
SR: You must be paying at least some attention to the critical response and the box office expectations?
JK: Well it’s hard not to because, ideally, you want the film to be critically successful – you certainly want the film to be financially successful so that you can…well, because that’s how movies like this are made, you know, they need to make money. But as a director, you can only make the movie that you want to make. You can’t take those things into consideration while making the movie, because then you’ll start running around in circles trying to please different masters. So, I think that while you’re making the film it’s important to just keep your eye on the ball and make the best movie you can, and then realize that it’s out of your control.
On Jeff Bridges And The Collaboration On TRON: Legacy:
SR: From everything we’ve heard, this feels like it was a very collaborative effort as the film evolved, even more so than many films. Jeff Bridges wanted to bring in elements of Buddhism, and his work with Buddhist monk Bernie Glassman; Michael Sheen seemed to have a great deal of influence on the look and mannerisms of his character, Castor. How collaborative was it?
JK: Well any film is a collaborative process, and in a movie like this, this big, you’ve got thousands and thousands of people working on it, so my idea on it was that the best ideas should win. It’s important to listen to those around you, and ultimately you have to decide which path you’re going to go down. You know, you’ve got an actor like Jeff Bridges with something like seventy movies under his belt and your certainly going to listen to his thoughts about the character. You know, I thought he brought a lot to the character of Kevin Flynn. There is a lot of Jeff’s ideas in Flynn’s character, and even some of Flynn’s lines are Jeff’s lines.
SR: Like which ones?
JK: “Chaos, good news.”
SR: What about “your messing with my zen thing man?”
JK: I’ve got to give credit to Michael Arndt for that one.
The Message Of The Film:
SR: Jeff Bridges, and others, are talking about this film as a sort of modern myth about technology – at least, in part, about some of the potential perils of technology. What’s interesting is that (like Avatar) the film is pushing the edges of technology in the world of film, only to, at least to some degree, criticize technology.
JK: Well I think our film talks about the good and the bad of technology. Technology can be a very powerful thing, it can take us to the world of Pandora, it can take us to the grid, it can allow us to communicate with one another when we are on opposite sides of the world. So there are all these amazing things that it affords us – but, at the same time, left unchecked it can be a bad thing. If we lose our priorities and get too obsessed with it, we can forget about what’s really important – which are those human connections around us and in our lives. So, I feel like Tron talks about the idea of balance and how important it is to maintain human connections in this ever-increasing digital world. I think it’s a topic that makes a lot of sense today – and one that Steven Lisberger was ahead of the game with back in 1982.
SR: In terms of balance, how did you find the balance between the conceptual ideas that you wanted to address, and the entertainment you wanted to deliver? Light cycles per metaphysical pontification?
JK: Yeah, well that’s the struggle with a movie like this. It couldn’t be a pure action movie [but] at the same time, it can’t be a two-hour treatise on modern technology. Hopefully you create a movie where people can enjoy it on different levels. You know if you’re coming for a 3D thrill ride you can take that from the film and if you are prone to musing on the more thematic and metaphysical aspects of the film, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in there from that point of view as well. I’m hoping that it’s a film that can be enjoyed on multiple levels.
The audience will be the ultimate judge of that – however, some of the critical rumblings about TRON: Legacy are that it suffers a bit from trying to be too many things at once – without a full commitment to one clear through-line, or a smooth synergy between the many threads present in the film.
Some people have felt that it needed less of a metaphysical focus, and far more action – more light cycle chases and more disk wars. Others felt that it was far too dumbed-down and simplistic of a film – that the story and characters are thin, and the thematic elements were over-simplified and heavy-handed.
The first Matrix explored various spiritual, cultural, and technological themes while delivering fresh and inspired action. However, that film did not have three years of anticipation to live up to. In some ways, TRON: Legacy is suffering the consequences of the very technology that the first film predicted. The internet culture has created a mythos around the film for the last three years, and built up expectations that would be almost impossible for any film to live up to. It would be a fascinating cultural experiment to see how critics and audiences would react to the film if they had not previously heard anything about it.
SR: The film seems to be looking at the balance between freedom and control – that there is a danger to both. Kevin Flynn starts out with this naive idea about a completely “free” and open system, which, as we have discussed, can become its own kind of trap – but then Clu is this really restrictive sort of dictator.
JK: Clu is given the directive to create the perfect system and Kevin Flynn didn’t realize at the time that, if he did that, what kind of monster that would create. Perfection is not something that you can create and, in attempting to do so, you are going to find yourself in this kind of potentially very dangerous situation. So it is a balance, there’s the risk of a completely open system, and there is the risk of over-controlling it. It is a balance. I think that’s what the film says – that we need to keep things in check and above all focus on what’s important — which are the people in our lives.
SR: So is that the legacy of TRON in a way? To grow up and move past Utopian ideas?
JK: I think the legacy of our film – I mean who knows. I think it’s something that we’ll see twenty-eight years from now, but I hope that this film continues this discussion of our relationship with technology and how to manage it, and how to use it to do good and how to prevent it from driving us further apart. I think that this is something that we will continue to deal with over the next few decades.
SR: What so you think the legacy of the film will be in terms of the technology that was used in the creation of the story?
JK: I would have to say that we did a couple of things in this film that were pretty cutting-edge, but that the most ambitious one, and the one that I think we are going to see continuing in the film business, is the idea of digital actors. So our character Clu, obviously, is a fully digital character driven by Jeff Bridges, and I feel like, because that opens up some new types of storytelling, I think that is something you are going to see more of in the coming years.
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SR: Everyone is talking about the Cillian Murphy cameo at the beginning of the movie, and what that might mean for a potential sequel, and his role as a villain. Can you talk about that a little?
JK: I think that obviously, if TRON: Legacy is successful, and people want to go back, then we try to figure out a way to do that – and that story thread, the Dillinger story thread, is a really fascinating one to build off of.
Time will reveal the legacy of TRON. Right now, it is receiving a fairly mixed critical response – alongside those less-than-stellar opening weekend projections. It is possible that TRON: Legacy may in fact live up to the legacy of the original — in other words, become a film that is beloved by a few – and missed by many.
For myself, I enjoyed the film. I see its flaws, as I see the flaws in many films, however I found it to be a fun, visually-engaging experience, with some (yes, none too subtle, but still enjoyable) metaphysical notions. My sense is that the film may have, to some degree, fallen victim to its own marketing campaign. It is an action film, set in a digital universe. It feels as though some critics expected far more of the film than that. As to what audiences expect from the film, they will speak this weekend, and we will all have our answer.
Are you planning on seeing TRON: Legacy this weekend?