Steven Lisberger Talks 'Tron 3' & the Global 'Tron' Phenomena

Tron Legacy Steven Lisberger Interview

Over twenty minutes of Tron: Legacy 3D footage was screened in cities all over the world last night, at the preview extravaganza known as Tron Night. The footage looked just as gorgeous as you would imagine, and fan fervor has no doubt increased exponentially.

Our own Paul Young has full coverage of the actual Tron Night event. I had the opportunity to speak with Tron: Legacy producer and original Tron creator/director Steven Lisberger after the Universal City screening  in Los Angeles.

Here are some of the highlights from our chat:

Screen Rant: It's not even been released yet, but the success of Tron: Legacy feels like a foregone conclusion, will there be a Tron 3?

Steven Lisberger: We're working on the development of it, we're playing with storylines. It's officially in development, but we don't have a script [yet].

Screen Rant: How involved are you in the writing process?

Steven Lisberger: I work as a sounding board and as a historical reference guy, to give perspective. But Adam (Horowitz) and Eddie (Kitsi) {the screenwriters for Tron: Legacy} are perfectly capable of coming up with great Tron stuff. We get together and we kick it around, I think they trust me, and I trust them -- but they're writing the script.

Screen Rant: How far along are they in the writing process?

Steven Lisberger : They're in the early stages now.

While introducing the footage, Lisberger talked to the audience about the evolution of the original Tron, and why he felt it was such a cultural phenomena. The original character design started as a sort of mascot, or "Mickey Mouse" for his animation studio in Boston, but the disks were there, as well as all of the basic elements.

The video game Pong became a further inspiration, and the final light bulb went off when he realized that the only way that the CJ of the day would work for a film, was if the film was meant to take place in the world of a video game. With all of the elements for inspiration firmly in place -- Tron was born.

Jeff Bridges younger in Tron Legacy Featurettes Clu 2.0

Lisberger tells us that the screenings of the first Tron were the moments when he really understood what the movie was all about. Parents took their ten-year-old children to a see a Disney movie, and for the first time, did not understand what the movie was about. The ten-year-olds, in turn, were excited to have something that was speaking directly to them, and to their understanding of the world.

In a sense, it took thirty years for a Tron sequel, because it took thirty years for that ten-year-old to grow up and become Disney President of Production Sean Bailey.

Since the time of the original Tron, we have all delved into the world of cyberspace; we have all become "users," the IBM's of the world certainly no longer dominate and control all (though it could be argued that others now do). Lisberger feels that, in the sense that we all have become "users," that the story of the first Tron has come true, and we've "overthrown the mainframe."

Fan anticipation, marketing strategies and promotion for Tron is staggering. It is fascinating to watch the phenomena unfold. I asked Lisberger why he felt this franchise inspires such a massive cultural reaction.

Ton Legacy Ton Night Steven Lisberger Interview

Screen Rant: Why is Tron such a phenomena? It's huge, and inspires such a passionate fan response.

Steven Lisberger: It's interesting that you ask me that, because it is unique to Tron that this energy always happens. It's funny because in  terms of the scope of the movie, in terms of budget and whatever, it's really not as big as people say. It's in line with a lot of films. You know we are similar in scale to Bolt, remember Bolt?

The Disney animated film Bolt was budgeted at $150 million.

Screen Rant: Well, what was the budget?

Steven Lisberger : It's, well I don't really talk about that, I'm just saying that it's not a's not Avatar by a million miles in terms of budget. But there's something about Tron, and I think what it is, is that it has really become, in a way, a part of a generation that grew up and became digital natives.

You know the aliens didn't land, there are no vampires, we didn't go to outer space and land on other planets, and now we're looking at the situation and saying we're probably not going to have that stuff happen in our lives. Those are all going to remain fantasies, and the irony here is that Tron was considered such a far-out fantasy at the time, and now it has come true.

We all are "users," we all have our avatar, and we spend so much time in that world, in terms of whatever we do, and it turns out that it really matters what happens in that world. I think that's interesting, because for a long time people thought, 'Well, this is all just a game, this is something that one dabbles in,' and now it turns out that what you do in cyberspace can last forever.

What you put in your social network, what emails you send...are you acting like a program or are you acting like a user?

The recently-canceled Syfy series Caprica operated under the premise that our digital selves, the record we leave of ourselves in the digital world, has the potential to become so intimately detailed, that it could be used to create a fully realized holographic clone; a replication so real that it is virtually interchangeable with the original subject.

Screen Rant: So in many ways its more real for us, and you think that's why it resonates so much?

Steven Lisberger: Well I think that's a big part of it, and I think the other part of it is that it really  is pretty surprising that after twenty-eight years Joe [Kosinski, Tron: Legacy director] has been able to take the look of Tron and you still say -- that's Tron, when you see the imagery. You don't say 'Oh there have been so many other films that look that way.' It just feels like its own thing.

Screen Rant: Yes, the dynamic visuals are a large part of why people respond to it so strongly.

Steven Lisberger: It's definitely the other world, and in some ways it's very seductive. We're spending more and more time there. We're feeling in some ways more comfortable in that world than in this one. The problems that we are now encountering in the real world seem so intractable: global warming, AIDS, war, it doesn't go away. So I think that there's a feeling -- we can't help it -- that there is a world that we do control, that's ours, and it's not riddled with all these problems of infinity that never can be resolved. We know it all comes down to bits and bytes and ones and zeros, and we all are sort of demigods in there, and that is more true now it seems than it was in 1982.

But I'm surprised by how much energy it generates.

Screen Rant: Can you tell me a little but about the inception of Tron: Legacy?

Steven Lisberger: Well it was on and off at the studio for decades, and I went through a bunch of storylines and settled in on Flynn and the mystery of where he has been. Because in some ways it was autobiographical to me -- where have I been, you know? Somewhere lurking in a cyberspace fantasy, you know. And I had gone around the lap so many times, that the new guys sort of took the baton from that point and they ran with it, and I've been happy to be there as a sort of Obi-Wan for them.

Tron Legacy top 5 most disappointing movies 2010

Tron: Legacy is no longer a lurking cyberspace fantasy, but rather a massive, global and three dimensional reality; and from what we have seen, audiences anticipating this film will not be disappointed.

Tron: Legacy hits theaters on December 17th

Follow me on twitter @jrothc and Screen Rant @screenrant

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