The prodigious director talks about taking immersive cinema to the next level with one of the most mind-bending visual experiences in movie history
When we saw TRON: Legacy for the first time last week, it's safe to say that our jaw was firmly in contact with the floor from the moment its protagonist Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) enters it's brilliantly conceived neon-soaked universe. It was quite simply the most mind-bending, hyper-visual immersive 3D head-trip we have ever seen, and as its first-time feature director Joseph Kosinski notes in this interview, it should probably come with the tag "Drugs Not Required". To say that the much-envied CGI prodigy has taken cinema to a new dimension with this film is something of an understatement. This hyper-speed celluloid extravaganza is more than a film, it's a taste of what's to come; of what lies far beyond the accepted boundaries of cinema.
Thankfully, it's one with a well-considered narrative based upon the classic estranged father and son motif, which also takes into its sway a rather dark allegory for totalitarian regimes, and more specifically The Holocaust (Olivia Wilde plays 'Quoraa', the last of the ISOs – a miraculous digital species who have all-but-one been exterminated in 'The Purge'). If the neon-soaked light cycle-heavy landscape is not enough to entice you into this wildly disorientating nostalgia trip, perhaps watching Jeff Bridges grapple with a younger version of himself is. The legendary actor plays both the 60-something creator of the Tron universe Kevin Flynn, and his ageless clone 'Clue', and witnessing him seemingly battle with his younger self on screen is a truly bizarre cinematic experience, one with some slightly unnerving connotations. We entered 'The Grid' with Kosinski to talk about the evolution of cinema and find out why he thinks we are already living in the future.
Dazed Digital: Were you always into science-fiction? Do you remember watching the original TRON?
Joseph Kosinski: I can’t remember the experience but I do remember my impression of it – it looked like nothing else, it was confusing and it sounded weird. I don’t think I could quite grasp what was going on as it was clearly ten or fifteen years ahead of its time from a conceptual point of view. The quirky uniqueness of its vision is what really stuck with me. There’s always been something about science-fiction. It’s such a limitless genre. That’s what I’ve always found so attractive about it.
DD: It’s also widely-regarded as a prescient genre. Do you think we will ever enter virtual environments such as the one portrayed in your film?
Joseph Kosinski: In a way, I think we almost do it now. I think it’s the world we are living in. There are certainly people who spend more time online than they do talking to other people directly. The movie tries to explore the theme of what it means to be human in an increasingly digital world – how do you try and maintain human connections and what what should your priorities be? What should you focus on? There are some dangers in our relationship with technology and our film explores both the good and bad side of what technology can be.
DD: There is a dark fascistic vein in the film in the purging of the ISOs...
Joseph Kosinski: Right. Well, there is this idea of the pursuit of perfection in there, which is kind of Clue’s goal based on the orders given to him by the 35-year-old Kevin Flynn to create the greatest system possible. I think the film shows what the effects of that are when they are taken to an extreme, and how your priorities change as you get older. I don’t know if we had any aim to comment on anything overtly political, but I think it’s good that everyone can pull something different out of the film as to what its meaning is. There are some complex themes in this movie that people wouldn’t maybe expect in a blockbuster.
DD: There is the theme of striving for immortality. Do you see our species evolving in that manner? With technology expanding the biological life-span and so on?
Joseph Kosinski: I don’t know. I don’t know if our minds are designed for that kind of life-span. I mean you can extend the body but the brain is a whole other thing. I don’t know if we are engineered to live that long. The thing I find interesting about the film is the question it raises about the idea that alien lifeforms won’t be discovered on other planets but will be discovered inside the computer. It’s an interesting notion. In fact, someone was telling me last night that someone has actually started to create some sort of self-replicating digital form of DNA, which sounds pretty trippy.
DD: ‘Trippy’ is one adjective that could be employed to describe TRON: Legacy. It’s the visual equicalent of a hit of DMT...
Joseph Kosinski: I was telling Disney originally that I thought our tagline should be ‘No Drugs Required’. There are films that can do that. For me, 2001 is still the ultimate trip... Hopefully this film is both things, though. There is a pretty complicated layer of story in there and some big concepts, but at the same time it’s definitely a ride.
DD: In terms of cutting-edge CGI, the face-mapping of Jeff Bridges to make him appear younger is pretty out-there. Might we one day we see the actors of yesteryear reappear on the big screen using this technique?
Joseph Kosinski: People have been talking about that a lot but I think it’s important to note that even though Clue is a digital creature he is driven by Jeff. Without him driving the performance, it wouldn’t feel like him. You can’t animate Jeff, You can’t create his inflection or tone of voice... if someone uses it to try and create dead celebrities on-screen they are just going to be left with an empty shell.
Presented in Disney Digital 3D and scored by Grammy® Award-winning electronic music duo Daft Punk, TRON: Legacy opens in the UK on December 17 2010, in Disney Digital 3D and IMAX® 3D. The TRON: Legacy Motion Picture Original Soundtrack is available from December 6 2010