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  • Contests and Simulations: Tron: Legacy’s Connections with Technologies
  • Aylish Wood (bio)

The trailer campaign fortron: legacy (2010) reintroduces the story-world of Kevin Flynn and the Grid first encountered in Tron (1982), while also showing off the latest incarnation of light cycles, disc battles, and recognizers. Though the film received mixed reviews for its story, the special effects—or F/X—sequences of Tron: Legacy were widely applauded on its release in late 2010. The F/X are central to the ways in which the film imagines the interiority of a computer game, with much of it depicting technological entities (Alter; Bradshaw; Ebert). Stories of technology also reside, however, in the connections between the story-world of Tron: Legacy and a range of contextual materials. In paying attention to these connections, Tron: Legacy offers an opportunity to expand ways of exploring technology in contemporary popular cinema.

The contextual materials relevant to a discussion of technology in Tron: Legacy are primarily the mythology of Tron and also production culture disclosures. Contextual materials include stories that intersect with those of Tron-world and that have the capacity to prop up the fiction’s story-world, extending or undermining it. The mythology of Tron starts with the original Tron film, released in 1982, and is added to by a range of transmedia texts, including comics and computer games. Production culture disclosures include “making of” featurettes, interviews released online, and articles about how various aspects of the film were achieved. These two sets of materials form part of a network with which Tron: Legacy coexists. The idea of transmedia storytelling is more usually associated with a fiction created across more than one media platform (Kinder; Jenkins). But contextual materials too are transmedia texts, each making a contribution to a story about technology. This perspective takes its lead from John T. Caldwell’s position that production disclosures are trade narratives. Instead of seeking out the trade narratives of production culture disclosures, this discussion explores them as sources for stories about technology.

Tron: Legacy is more than a spectacular revisioning of light cycles and disc battles. Instead, when placed in a network of contextual materials, Tron: Legacy can be explored as working through an active contestation of our understandings of technologies. This involves something more than a stand-alone recuperation of a film often critically reviewed on its release. What is distinctive about Tron: Legacy is its connectedness with transmedia iterations of Tron-world. A connecting thread running through this network links computers in actuality with computer games and also with films about computer games. Across this thread questions are raised about both familiar and new technologies. The following discussion focuses on three areas. The first concerns Tron: [End Page 31] Legacy and its transmedia texts. These place the imagined and futuristic technologies as familiar, our understanding mediated through connections with objects in the world. A consequence of placing technologies in the world is that they become knowable as technology, rather than only standing in for constructions of humanness. This idea is followed through in relation to two elements of Tron: Legacy: data bodies and the evolving technologies depicted in the entities Clu 2.0 and Quorra.

Back to the Grid: 1982 Revisited

The marketing strategy of Tron: Legacy drew on the legacy of Tron. Steve Lisberger, director of Tron and producer of Tron: Legacy, comments that as the Tron story has “continued to evolve and grow the simulation has got more perfect and more realistic” (qtd. in “Tron Legacy Shoots in 3D”). Lisberger’s suggestion that the simulation has become more perfect picks up the connecting thread running through Tron-world. Via this thread, the imagining of futuristic technologies in Tron-world is mediated by a series of connections linking both reality and fiction.

In Simulation and Its Discontents, Sherry Turkle asks, “What does simulation want?” (6). Her answer is that simulations want immersion, the full imaginative engagement of architects, scientists, artists, and also viewers:

Immersed in simulation, we feel exhilarated by possibility. We speak of Bilbao, of emerging cancer therapies, of the simulations that may help us address global climate change. But immersed in simulation, we are also vulnerable. Sometimes it can...


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pp. 31-42
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