Interview: ‘Tron Legacy’ Director Joseph Kosinski
We’ve been talking about Tron: Legacy so much I almost forgot the movie isn’t out yet. Reviews are in, including mine and some more contrary ones. First time feature director Joseph Kosinski is still making press rounds, this time calling up during a speaking engagement at ILM (he’s talking to the FX artists in house about Tron).
So, if you’ve been following, you know pretty much what this movie is. Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) goes back into the Grid to find his dad Kevin (Jeff Bridges). The villain is Clu (young Jeff Bridges), who Kevin created in his own 1989 image. Kosinski answered my questions, inspired by both my interests and others’ complaints about Tron: Legacy, and his next film, The Black Hole. He also saw Daft Punk's faces!
Screen Junkies: What were the metaphysical ideas you wanted to explore in Tron Legacy?
Joseph Kosinski: I think the idea of our relationship to technology. That’s kind of the idea that’s fundamental to the original Tron and on this film. It seems particularly apt in the world we all live in today with our smart phones and online identities.
SJ: But it goes beyond that with the idea of programs spontaneously manifesting as life forms.
JK: Yeah, to me that’s pushing into the future of digital technology. The idea that life will be discovered not in outer space but inside the computer is not science fiction. That kind of research is being done as we speak. I think even this year certain scientists have started the very initial steps in creating digital life forms. Even though they’re acting more like bacteria, it’s still a really exciting concept.
SJ: Do you think my Angry Birds app will become sentient?
JK: You know what? A couple years down the road, it might be. It’s not that far off. It’s a pretty cool notion, although I like the idea in our film better where digital life forms come out looking like Olivia Wilde.
SJ: Are there things you set up in Tron Legacy for possible sequels?
JK: Certainly there are some leaping off points if we’re so lucky to come back and do another one. I’ll say this: no one’s taking anything for granted. We’re not in pre-production on a sequel or anything like that at all.
SJ: No, but are you thinking the new head of Encom might rear his head as a bigger force?
JK: Yeah, I think it could happen. Obviously we’ve set the table for some exciting possibilities. I think the idea was we wanted to flesh out the Tron universe. There’s a lot of opportunity there and we’ll see which storyline makes sense to pursue if we’re lucky enough to do another one.
SJ: How hard was it to keep the focus with all the things you might want to explore?
JK: Certainly that’s a challenge. From a conceptual point of view, we tried to be ambitious with this film. There’s a lot in there. You certainly need to pay attention to every line in the movie in order to understand exactly everything that’s going on there. It’s certainly a challenge to balance everything in this movie and everything we wanted to say. Believe it or not, there’s some stuff we weren’t able to include that we talked about at a certain point.
SJ: I was wondering, we now see in the Grid they have books to read, food to eat and nightclubs to go to. What ideas didn’t make it into the film?
JK: There was certainly some discussion of this program uprising that Bartik, the character in the club, the guy Castor’s talking to before Sam’s introduced to him. He’s got the scar down his face. Bartik represents a storyline we wanted to originally flesh out more which is the idea that there are kind of three factions of programs that he was trying, Bartik and Laertes and some other programs were trying to round up this revolution to take Clu down from the inside. There are some hints of that in our film of this revolution that’s trying to get some momentum. In an earlier version of the script it was one we explored a lot more deeply. Ultimately it was more story than our film could handle.
SJ: Did you ever want to have Kevin Flynn in action more to see what skills he developed in 1000 cycles?
JK: Yeah, in our film we were only able to kind of hint at the potential that Flynn possesses. The idea was that when he was in his early stages as Kevin Flynn and he was creating the world, he had tremendous power and was able to create anything he wanted. Now that we’ve found him 1000 cycles later, he’s in some ways the shell of the man he once was. Obviously at the end of the film, we get a glimpse of that potential coming back but we’re not able to explore the concept too deeply in our film.
Q: Did you get to see Daft Punk’s faces?
JK: Well, it’s kind of one of the prerequisites of working with someone for a couple years is you eventually have to have a face-to-face conversation. So yes, I spent a lot of time with Thomas and Guy-Manuel working on this film. It was an incredible experience and a great collaboration.
SJ: How do they look?
JK: They are both stunningly handsome.
SJ: In the beginning of the movie, Sam wants to make Encom’s software free. Is the Disney corporation behind that philosophy?
JK: That’s funny, I’ve had that question a couple times. At least the idea in terms of the film is that Kevin Flynn created the Flynn OS as an open source piece of software. So when Encom decides to package it and sell it, it’s something that Sam Flynn just can’t stand and must release to the wild. In terms of software that’s meant to be free, it should be released out there. However, I think when it comes to intellectual property like Tron: Legacy, I don't think Disney would be happy with it floating out there on the internet.
SJ: How are things going on The Black Hole?
JK: We’re working on the script. Travis Beacham is the writer who’s working on it, a talented guy that I’ve been wanting to work with for a long time. He’s furiously working on the script as we speak.
SJ: With Tron Legacy you got to explore something you thought about based on the original. What’s your entrée into The Black Hole?
JK: Well, that’s more of a re-imagining. That one I’m really just interested in the fundamental concept at the heart of it, this idea of taking an interstellar journey to a black hole and knowing what we know now about black holes, the incredible phenomena that surround them, the warping of time and space and what it would actually be like to exist in that area and what you could do dramatically in those kind of conditions. So not nearly as tied to the original film as I was on Tron but the fundamental concept to me is fascinating.
SJ: Do you have a new way to approach the space journey, since we’ve seen it so often now in film?
JK: Yeah, I think we do. I think we have a really interesting angle into it but nothing I can talk about.
SJ: The reviews are out on Tron Legacy. Are you surprised what people are picking up on, what’s being missed or people seeing things that aren’t even there?
JK: I’ve only been able to talk to press about it. I haven’t really gotten the opportunity to see it with a general audience yet but it is always interesting. Certainly there were things that I would expect some things I knew would be a challenge or things that would polarize people. Like I said, I think it’s a movie you really have to pay attention to and it is surprising I guess how much people miss the first time watching it. I’ve had a couple people tell me they had to see it twice to get everything we put in there.
SJ: For people going this weekend, where would you tell them: don’t go to the bathroom during this part/pay close attention to this scene?
JK: Gosh, obviously the first 10 minutes is pretty important. The safe house sequence, you get a lot of information there. The problem is no one’s going to be walking out during light cycles, but I guess I would say this: Go before the movie starts. It’s only two hours long. You can make it through. Pay attention and I would recommend seeing it in IMAX 3-D. I think that’s the best way to see it.
Tron: Legacy hits theaters Friday.