Home > Movies, Shooting > Visual Cues in Tron: Legacy

Visual Cues in Tron: Legacy

Let’s face it, we all have our favorite images from the movies. Every one of us has a scene that excites, terrifies or amuses us. The first time Linda Blair spits pea soup in The Excorcist (1973), or maybe when Sally (Meg Ryan) shows Harry (Billy Crystal) how much she enjoys her meal in When Harry Met Sally (1989). Movies have a way to illicit emotions that no other art form can, especially when considering that movies are arguably the most accesible of all art forms (I would argue more people have DVD collections than painting collections!).

This is why filmmakers will bring back shots from some of the most notable films in history. By using these shots, filmmakers are able to illicit immediately the emotions they are striking for. Or, on the other hand, they can use the shots to turn the meaning on its head. An excellent example of this is the use of visual imagery in Disney’s Tron: Legacy (2010).

Keeping in mind that Tron: Legacy is the direct descendant of the original Tron (1982), the filmmaking team had their hands full trying to live up to the legendary visuals of the original film. Thusly, let’s first look at the overall look of the film.

An image from the original Tron film

Quorra from Tron: Legacy

By viewing these two images side by side, we can see how the filmmakers took on the original film. They wanted a look that immediately called to mind the esthetic of the first film, but was also uniquely stylized for a new generation.

We also can’t forget how people identify with the look of the original film. We’ve seen its repercussions in modern pop culture, including a spoof in Family Guy. To wander too far from the original style would be to alienate the film’s original audience.

But aside from taking from it’s predecessor, Tron: Legacy also borrows heavily from other modern films to give the audience a sense of familiarity.

Garrett Hedlund prepares for a base jump in Tron: Legacy

Christian Bale as Batman in The Dark Knight

The image above is the first one I spotted in the film that harkens to another modern film. The scene begins with an aerial shot from above the Encom building as Sam Flynn prepares to jump off the roof. The shot of him standing overlooking the city harkens back to a similar shot from Chistopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008).

By using this shot, the filmmakers behind Tron: Legacy have drawn parallels between their film and Nolan’s. Immediately we can become invested in not only the film, but also the character. With the similar shots, parallels are also drawn between the two characters. Christian Bale’s Batman is an individual torn between his life as Bruce Wayne and his life as Batman. He is also an orphan, having lost his parents at a young age.

Garrett Hedlund’s Sam Flynn follows this same character archetype. Having lost his parents at a young age, Sam Flynn was raised by his grandparents before he lost them as well. Like Bruce Wayne, Sam is also torn between two worlds, though he doesn’t know it yet. By entering the grid we get to see grid Sam Flynn as well as real world Sam Flynn.

Kevin Flynn in Tron: Legacy

Ewan McGregor in The Phantom Menace

Costuming wise, Tron: Legacy owes a lot of cues to the Star Wars saga. The original Tron borrowed heavily from visuals established by Star Wars and the new film is no different. By using these pre-established visuals Tron: Legacy doesn’t have to convince an audience of right and wrong, good and bad. In a viewers mind, this is already set.

Thanks to the original Star Wars trilogy, audiences are aware that the people using the color red are the bad guys and the people using the color blue are the good guys. We learned this from studying the lightsabers in A New Hope (1977), when Darth Vader uses his red lightsaber to do battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi and his blue lightsaber. The tradition continues into Empire Strikes Back (1980) with Luke Skywalker.

Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi do battle in A New Hope

What we can learn from Tron: Legacy is that by taking advantage of pre-established visuals, films can circumvent some of the need to explain the universe the film takes place in. Audiences are able to immediately understand and accept the rules and laws of this universe.

The catch-22 of this concept is that, by establishing rules from another film, filmmakers run the risk of breaking those rules if they don’t fully understand them. An audience must be carefully introduced to anything new and different, or the filmmaker risks ruining the suspension of disbelief and taking the audience directly out of the film.

So what are your thoughts? How can filmmakers use imagery established by other films to help the experience of their film?

Zac Hogle is a screenwriter and producer. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/zhogle.

All images are owned and copyrighted by their respective owners. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Movies, Shooting
  1. Ron
    January 12, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    After seeing the movie, I agree wholeheartedly that they “borrowed” a lot from other movies and visual styles to elicit feelings.

    I would venture to say that they took a lot of other ideas without coming up with something unique and original to expand upon the meaning behind the original Tron.

    Personally, I found the movie to be a copy-cat and boring.

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