- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2010

Audiences eager to rediscover the 1982 film “Tron” before seeing “Tron: Legacy” this weekend are out of luck.

Much like the hero of “Tron,” Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), disappeared into the grid nearly 30 years ago, “Tron” the movie is MIA. The film is no longer available on DVD, nor can people stream it via Amazon.com or iTunes.

A Netflix spokesman told The Washington Times the title is “on moratorium from the studio” — Disney — and that the movie-rental company cannot buy enough existing copies to provide it to its mail-based subscribers.

Brandon Gray, publisher of boxofficemojo.com, said it’s “highly unusual” for Disney not to use the original “Tron” to goose interest in the sequel.

“They’re making a concerted effort to make it impossible for people to see it, almost a retraction for what’s out there in the past,” Mr. Gray said. “They’re probably hoping for some nostalgia … not the reality of what the ‘Tron’ movie really is.”

A “new” “Tron” DVD on eBay was selling for $134 on Dec. 15. According to a Disney spokesman, Steven Lisberger, who wrote and directed the original “Tron” and is a producer on the new “Tron: Legacy,” is overseeing the digital remastering of “Tron” and it will be released on home video in early 2011.

When sequels, remakes and reboots hit theaters, the films that spawned them often experience a resurgence in popularity — and sales.

This year, both “Toy Story” (1995) and “Toy Story 2” (1999) cracked the top-50 DVD sales chart while the third film in the trilogy mopped up money during its theatrical run. And Paramount Home Video released the 1969 John Wayne film “True Grit” on Blu-ray on Tuesday, coinciding with next week’s release of the Coen Brothers’ remake.

Did Disney lose out on DVD sales revenues by keeping “Tron” on the shelf? And will the “Tron” blackout affect the box-office grosses for “Tron: Legacy”?

“Tron” earned mostly negative reviews during its initial release, but since then has developed a cult following.

Mr. Gray said “Tron: Legacy” already stands on shaky ground with movie goers. The “Tron” cultists hardly represent the majority of consumers.

“If you haven’t seen the original, it doesn’t make complete sense to you,” he said of the sequel. “There’s little reason for non-‘Tron’ fans to care.”

“Tron: Legacy,” which focuses on Flynn’s son (Garrett Hedlund) who is drawn into the grid where he meets his long-lost father (Bridges), drew rapt interest at recent Comic-Con events. However, the annual convention hasn’t been able to predict hit films of late, witness the disappointing ticket sales for 2010 films “Kick-Ass” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”

Jonathan Stromberg, a contributor to Cinespect.com and a filmmaker with experience in the television industry, said Disney may be withholding “Tron” for a more favorable, and lucrative, licensing fee.

“If Disney had agreed to license the film a year ago, they might have missed out on a much larger payout,” Mr. Stromberg said, especially if “Tron: Legacy” proves to be a blockbuster.

Branding strategist Adam Hanft, CEO of the marketing firm Hanft Projects, calls the decision to keep “Tron” out of the public eye a “completely misguided marketing move.”

Disney has a long tradition of withholding content from the public, Mr. Hanft said, dating back to re-releasing animated classics like “Pinocchio” only “once every seven years” to target emerging generations.

Today’s movie audiences, used to streaming film content on a whim, may grow frustrated by the “Tron” blackout.

“Consumers are expecting all media available on all platforms,” he said. The 2010 demand curve is markedly different than it was a few years ago.

“The new generation of young people, kids, who never saw [‘Tron’] want to satisfy the immediate gratification. They want it streamed. They want it now,” he said.

Mr. Hanft doesn’t think the move will affect the grosses for “Tron: Legacy,” but said Disney will lose out on cross-media synergy between DVDs, toys and video-game sales.

“The inability to connect the current [film] with the previous one will have a negative effect,” on “Tron”-related sales, he said.

Keith Nissen, a principal analyst with the market research firm In-Stat, said the consensus on “Tron,” despite its initial box-office results, is that it was ahead of its time, but the special effects, while impressive for its era, couldn’t convey the full breadth of a video-game universe. That won’t be the case with “Tron: Legacy,” a dazzling production that uses every scrap of modern movie technology to tell its tale.

• Christian Toto can be reached at ctoto@washingtontimes.com.

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