Games, Goodies and The Grid: Marketing Tron: Legacy

Geek Culture

Image: John Booth

I’ve had variations on this internal dialogue more than a few times over the past year and a half:

Cynical Me: “It’s just marketing. It’s just hype. It’s Just. A. Movie.

Child of the 80s Geek Me: (while donning my “forged” Encom employee badge and my Sam Flynn “89” pin) “Don’t care. This is excellent. End of line.”

Honestly, Tron: Legacy could suck out loud at this point, and while I’ll certainly be willing to say so if that’s the case, no matter what happens, I’ve truly enjoyed the buildup, from the well-executed sequence of movie trailers to the engaging and elaborate alternate reality game/marketing push.

Things got started at Comic Con in 2008 with the first teaser trailer – which concluded with a “TR2N” logo instead of the movie’s eventual title, but the Legacy steamroller really got rolling a year later as the ARG kicked off with promotional tokens and flash drives that led to the “Flynn Lives” website. The supposed 1989 disappearance of Jeff Bridges’ Tron character (video game programmer Kevin Flynn) and his son Sam’s actions 20 years later served as the anchor for most of the campaign to come.

Grab some quarters.

Disney’s team created far too many online puzzles and offshoot websites to list, ranging from the Arcade Aid video-game-naming challenge to a fictitious school with clues buried in its student records – but there’s a pretty extensive Flynn Lives ARG timeline here. Audio and video files are scattered throughout the sites, along with “newspaper clippings” and archived emails and shipping invoices. It’s very clear that omeone put an awful lot of work into the depth and detail of this effort.

Not living in a region where the online fun moved into the real world, I didn’t get to partake in any of the scavenger hunts or the staged press conference, but though I barely scratched the surface, I unlocked a few achievements which landed neat surprises in my mailbox, like that badge, pin, and a set of Encom promotional postcards.

The four-trailer theatrical campaign reflects similar dedication to planning. The teaser – which hit the big screen in July 2009 – remains a marvelously-crafted trailer, grabbing for geeky eyes with the raw attraction power of new light cycles, and then offering that glimpse of grizzled Jeff Bridges, who’s come a long way down the cool road – he’ll always be The Dude, of course, and he’s an Academy Award winner now, too – since the original Tron:

The first traditional trailer was released in March walking that old-and-new line perfectly, re-introducing Bruce Boxleitner as Alan Bradley (and, though Bridges/Flynn got the limelight, the actual titular character in the original Tron) while offering still more looks at the updated Grid.

Full credit to Disney for its balance between striking the nostalgia chords with things like shots of Flynn’s arcade and updated Recognizers while drawing in an audience totally unfamiliar with the original. My daughter’s 13 and expressed no desire to see Tron when I watched it last winter, but she’s awfully excited about Legacy.

The July follow-up opens with a Kevin Flynn voiceover that I still love: “And I kept dreaming. Dreaming of this world I thought I’d never see…”

… and the final theatrical preview, released in November – just in time to run with Deathly Hallowscontinued to build on the ARG-established backstory about young Sam Flynn and his father’s rise and disappearance.

Marketing and well-made trailers don’t necessarily make for good movies, of course, and I’ve had my heart broken more than once by a fantastic build-up followed by donkey crud onscreen. But regardless of how Tron: Legacy is received, the creative minds fueling its anticipation have done a geek-worthy job.

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