Comic-Con: 3 Lessons From the Comi-Tron Party

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Will TRON: Legacy live up to all the hype? Who knows. But I learned three big things from the packed TRON party Friday night inside Flynn’s Arcade on Sixth Avenue in downtown San Diego. For starters, Disney is banking some major coin on the TRON future. Second, even if the movie is a disappointment we’ll have at the very least five months of extraordinary teasers and mini-events.

But the biggest lesson of all: The atmosphere of an arcade trumps that of a cramped dance floor at a Comic-Con party any night.

So here’s my Friday night: I wander from an event across town through a very drunken San Diego to Flynn’s Arcade. Huge line of “VIP’s” waiting to get in. I am on the list, so instead of being pushed out of line I get merely a grunt of approval – no eye contact mind you – and then wait another ten minutes to get inside the doors.

The front room has the arcade on the right, with the red carpet on the left. A lot of photographers without a blue bracelet. I have a blue wristband, so that means I can go beyond the front room to the hidden treasures of the back corridors.

You wander through the door in the back wall, and you take a winding, darkened hallway – with Daft Punk score blasting above – through Flynn’s presumed workspace, into another hallway ramping up to a twisting light. It’s blinding – meaning those going in can’t see the others coming out. But what’s cool is that you turn left, and the blinding glare in your eyes slowly fades to reveal a glowing, surging dance floor. Enter this End of Line Club and the bars are off to the right, the TRON costume is off the to left. The main dance floor is a lifted space in the middle – the same place where I interviewed Garrett Hedlund not 12 hours earlier.

The lighting design is intricate, capable of rotating between primary colors and bathing the entire room in a single shade in any second. And every 20-30 minutes, the party stops as a 60-second preview of the film begins, pulsing with Daft Punk beats, cutting between old Jeff Bridges, young Jeff Bridges, the brightly colored cars and frisbees, and, of course, the hot girls in long white hair and short black hair. Models with similar features, and hairstyles, wander the dance floor in TRON costumes.

There really wasn’t much dancing in the party room – nor many happy faces, as everyone seemed to be scouring the room to see who else was there. I wandered back and forth between TRON command the arcade thrice, just to take it all in. My takeaways: Man, Disney spent a lot of money on this joint. An elaborate maze of lights and music, a couple dozen renovated arcade games, a whole team of security personnel to ensure only people as cool as me were let in – this was intense. And Disney has used this warehouse-converted Flynn’s space to monopolize the time of a good many Comic-Con-goers. This is the place to be, with lines forming outside at all hours of the day.

Beyond that, damn this intermittent preview footage looked great. The party may have stopped the first time the videos started out of politeness, but all the following previews earned our attention because they were genuinely awesome. We wanted to watch. The musical score is loud and catchy, the sleek aesthetic of this film is addictive, the double dose of Jeff Bridges at various ages is intriguing, and the visuals are lush and intricate. Even if this movie isn’t the Next Great Thing, believe you me, we are in store for a half year’s worth of awesome ads. The hype will just keep building.

But what struck me most, as I kept wandering back and forth to the awkward dance floor, where models being checked out by nerds with video cameras (and spotlights!) not only didn’t punch the gawkers but posed cheerfully for them, and the arcade, was how the vibe out front was so much more fun than that of the lights and glitz and booze in the hidden back room. In sort of a fitting Comic-Con overthrow of the night’s hottest party, the producers and the pretty hired things hung out back behind the velvet rope, while so many of the rest of us spent our night playing Ms. Pac-Man, and Pinball, and Donkey Kong, and Track & Field, and Space Paranoids. As well as about 15 other games that I remembered vividly from childhood. Including that game with the joystick, where you’re a fighter pilot avoiding heat seeking missiles. Name eludes me at the moment.

It was out here, by all these low-tech games, where people were actually talking, flirting, giggling. In an ironic way, the TRON party rocked because it had a cool side room for the nerds – which increasingly became the best room in the house.

A bottle of beer, a game of Donkey Kong, and smiling people on all sides. One hell of a happy Friday night in San Diego.

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