Comic-Con Opening Day: The TRON Buzz Starts Now

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You should care about Comic-Con. Yes, you; whoever you are, regardless of what genre turns you on, or what kind of entertainment you consume.

Once upon a time, Comic-Con may have been a fringe event, more centered around comics and caped crusaders. But not any more. As sci-fi television has surged to the top of the ratings – hello Lost – and as superhero/epic-sci-fi spectacles have emerged as the most bankable big-screen properties – let’s think back to Iron Man, Spider-Man, The Dark Knight, Avatar, and, oh, Inception – Comic-Con has become not just a haven for the fans, or a marketplace for the studios, but as the single most important annual tastemaking event in American pop culture.

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This is where Iron Man was initially rolled out. It’s where the hype for Avatar began. When George Lucas was giving name to his final Star Wars film – Revenge of the Sith – he saved his announcement for Comic-Con.

Just last year, movie pundits expressed shock when the alien-apartheid thriller District 9 sprinted out of the gate at movie theaters, and then earned a best picture nomination. But Comic-Con buffs already knew it was the genuine article.

The 2010 event kicks off in earnest in San Diego today at 10 a.m., after selling out of public passes faster than any year in Comic-Con’s history. And with hundreds of events spanning the next four days, everyone’s waiting to find out: What movie will be the next surprise hit? What comics are about to take things in a new direction? What TV shows have big surprises rolled up their sleeves? What will be the next hot video game?

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The loudest buzz in San Diego at the opening bell concerns the highly anticipated TRON: Legacy, the sequel to the 1982 original, which itself was the first film to set the majority of its action within a computer-generated landscape. It’s not just that this new TRON has launched one of the most surprising and sophisticated viral marketing campaigns of all-time. Or that the earliest images of this new virtual void have captivated fans with a sleek, chic and kinetic production design. Or that Jeff Bridges is returning to the franchise – less than a year after winning an Oscar.

It represents, for many of those attending Comic-Con, the chance to return to one of the definitive titles that pushed gaming and geek culture into the mainstream – one of the breakthroughs that hinted at what the future of movies would indeed look like.

And to maybe even improve upon the original artifact.

The original TRON broke plenty of ground, blurring the line between immersive video games and digitized cinema; that said, I think even the most ardent fans would admit the story was a bit stale in parts and that being a first-mover meant relying on technology that looked outdated only years after opening night.

So the San Diego buzz is all about going back and adding some polish. With TRON: Legacy, we can build towards something new and better – a Tron with a richer story (thanks apparently to re-writes from the top talent at Pixar), with 21st century special effects, with an intergenerational theme that could add some irony, nostalgia and nuance to the mix (in the movie, Garrett Hedlund plays Flynn Jr.). And all filmed in native 3D, with a dazzling art design, fans are starting to wonder if this could be the second film, after Avatar, to be a true must-see-3-D event.

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Even now – three hours before the gates officially open – the schedule has people talking. Flipping through the program, one can check off all the big-league attendees: Harry Potter, Mythbusters, Warehouse 13, even today’s much-anticipated panel discussion that pairs icon Joss Whedon with idol J.J. Abrams….but make no mistake: TRON is starting many conversations today. It’s the big shark in the room; the movie everyone’s excited about. The Goliath that all the Davids want a sneak peek of. We’ll be joining the masses at the official TRON panel later today, and I’ll be talking to Hedlund himself – the next Sam Flynn – Friday afternoon. Tune back in Saturday morning for a full report.

So Techland’s here all weekend – we already took a stroll through the main convention hall last night during preview night – and we’ll be covering TRON: Legacy along with whatever other buzz is worth studying.

For now, chime in: Tell us what you want to know about. What you’d love to see us cover. We’ve got most of the team on the ground, in the dry San Diego heat, with only one mission: Soak up every minute of the year’s biggest pop culture party. Stay tuned!

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