Has anybody seen Tron lately? Not the new Tron: Legacy—with its reported $170 million budget, it’s impossible to miss all the billboards—but Disney’s original 1982 film. It’s not available on iTunes, at Borders, or even at the Disney Store. On eBay, the movie is fetching as much as $200, and a spokesman for Netflix says it’s run out of copies (a rare occurrence).
Disney has always played hide-and-seek with its titles to create pent-up demand. But to hide from an original movie right before a gigantic sequel comes out seems like insanely bad business. Unless, of course, that movie is 28 years old and you’re afraid its now-hokey special effects will alienate the sequel’s most important demographic: teens. Just for the record, Disney says the new DVD won’t be ready until 2011 because the director, Steven Lisberger, needed more time. That was news to Lisberger. “It’s obviously not my call,” he told NEWSWEEK. “They see Tron: Legacy as a stand-alone film. By doing it this way, all the focus is on the new movie.”
Poor Tron. It’s always been the stepchild of Disney’s magical kingdom, no match for even Herbie, the Love Bug. Despite positive reviews, the original made only $33 million at the box office. The story of a hotshot hacker (Jeff Bridges) who gets sucked into a computer, Tron probably would have been long forgotten if not for the geeks who worship it. It was also perhaps the first movie to use CGI, and no doubt paved the way for The Matrix, even if it was never as popular. The Tron DVD, released in 2002, was only the 272nd best-selling title of the year, according to Nielsen VideoScan.
All of which raises the question: why is Disney even making a Tron sequel? As its film division outside of Pixar has faltered, the studio’s new favorite word is “reboot.” That worked with Alice in Wonderland, although Lewis Carroll probably should take credit for that. And Tangled was a Thanksgiving holiday hit thanks in part to Rapunzel. The next few don’t have quite that pedigree. In 2012 the studio will release The Black Hole, a remake of the 1979 sci-fi movie starring Anthony Perkins. Guillermo del Toro is on board to direct The Haunted Mansion, an update of the 2003 film starring Eddie Murphy. What, you don’t remember it?
You can still rent Tron, though it will require some patience. We had to leave Manhattan and head to Teaneck, N.J., to get our hands on a copy. “It looks f--king terrible,” says one fan on a message board who rewatched it. At our own viewing party, the graphics seemed right out of an Atari game, and the dialogue would make any self-respecting high-schooler tweet “OMG.” “Computers are just machines, they can’t think!” says one character. “The system’s got more bugs than a bait store,” says another. For Disney’s sake, let’s hope the new Tron doesn’t crash, too.