Image courtesy IGN

There was a moment during tonight’s Tron Legacy event where I thought a man was going to die. And where I thought he might kill me in the process.

Disney has been engaged in a long, fairly involved viral game to promote the film, one that began last summer at San Diego Comic Con. Attendees of the Con could visit Flynn’s Arcade, where they could play real 80s video games, along with a recreation of Space Paranoids, the game that put video game corp Encom on the map, but that creator Kevin Flynn didn’t see much money from. After playing game for a while a Tron game slid away from the wall, revealing a secret area where snippets of Daft Punk’s new soundtrack was played and where a life-size mock-up of one of the new Lightcycles was displayed.

The game kept going from there. A puzzle alerted fans to special 3D previews of the Tron Legacy trailer; fans were also able to get Encom ID badges sent to their homes. And the latest chapter in the story unfolded tonight in San Francisco – an Encom press conference, with Alan Bradley making a major announcement. You’ll remember Bradley from the original Tron - he was the guy whose program was Tron himself – and tonight it was Bruce Boxleitner on stage, playing the part to the tilt. Also on hand: Bradley’s wife Lora, played by Cindy Morgan from the original Tron as well.

The event had two parts; posters and fliers all over WonderCon told interested conventiongoers that there was going to be a meeting of an underground group ‘Flynn Lives,’ and that they’d be disrupting the press conference. A hundred or so folks showed up at the hotel adjacent to the press conference site two hours in advance, waiting in a very hot room to get instructions on what to chant and to be given Flynn Lives! shirts and posters.

Phase two was heading outside to an area where a very fancy stage had been set up. Here was where things first began to go less than right – the press conference was scheduled for 8pm, and people came out of the Flynn Lives! meeting 30 minutes before that. The press conference was right at the Embarcadero, meaning a brisk wind from the Bay was blowing right into everyone. That wind would be a problem later on in the event as well. 

Everybody stood, freezing, for a while. The event finally started, with an Encom flack taking the stage and introducing Alan Bradley. Boxleitner came up and talked about all the advances in computers since Space Paranoids and Tron, and he announced that Space Paranoids was being ported into a browser game, and that it wouldn’t be updated but that it would include seven new levels that Flynn himself had programmed before he mysteriously disappeared.

That was apparently the big announcement; I imagine that Space Paranoids will show up on the site in the next couple of days. I have to admit that this was a little disappointing – after all, we had been standing out in the freezing cold for an hour. Some of the assembled journos had expected that a new console game was being announced, or the Tron Blu-Ray. Most likely all of us thought we’d be seeing some new footage from the film (they had a very large video monitor up on the stage). Turns out it was just Space Paranoids.

Well, Space Paranoids and an insane stunt.

During the Bradley speech it became obvious that something went wrong. Boxleitner delivered some lines that indicated he was supposed to be interrupted, and he looked skyward to… the blackness of the night. There had been rumors that a helicopter was supposed to be involved somehow, but the wind that was chilling everybody to the bone was almost certainly screwing that up. Boxleitner wrapped things up, and then the Encom flack took to the stage and apologized for a technical problem that delayed the next part of the press conference.

And we waited.

Finally, someone cued the protesters, and a group of Flynn Lives! types took to the stage. Someone read a statement, saying that Encom continued making money off of Kevin Flynn’s work and that they had given up looking for him. People held up signs decrying a conspiracy.

For a moment that seemed like the end of it all, but then the sound of a helicopter echoed through the plaza. A chopper buzzed overhead, very low – low enough that we could see a man standing on the side of it. The helicopter was black and red, and it had a huge Encom E painted on the underside. The helicopter buzzed again, and then it began climbing. It hovered far overhead and then… something fell out of it.

At first people thought it was a package. Whatever it was, it was attached to a parachute, and it was plunging towards us. The main video screen filled up with an image of the object as the press conference cameraman turned his lens skyward. Soon we realized it wasn’t a package, it was a guy. And it was a guy hurtling through the sky, his parachute flying from side to side.

That was when everybody got a little nervous. As he got closer it was apparent that he wasn’t landing on a rooftop or in the water – he was coming right at us. And his parachute was violently flying from side to side. Soon he was a full figure, right overhead… and then flipped completely over. That was the moment when I thought I was doomed (and if you watch the video below, that’s when he goes right out of frame, as I found myself more interested in taking stock of my surroundings than keeping my Flip camera focused on him). It seemed obvious that the parachute was going to collapse and that he was going to plummet straight down. I had just been looking up at the treads of his shoes, so I thought straight down was on my face.

And then he righted himself and swung over the crowd and landed – seemingly hard – behind the stage. Probably at the exact spot where he had been told to land. Through the struts of the stage I could see the parachute being folded up and the guy being hustled into a van. 

It was a cool stunt, and it’s too bad that it wasn’t able to go off as planned. It would have been great if Bradley had been interrupted mid-speech by the buzzing chopper, as was obviously the intention. I’m guessing that the parachutist was going to be the signal to the protesters to take the stage; while everything eventually worked out and the crowd was dazzled by the derring-do, as a narrative it was kind of a bust.

The Tron Legacy viral campaign is immense; this event alone must have been incredibly expensive – thousands of dollars just for the rally, to say nothing of the planning and the buildup. And we’re eight months from the film’s release. This event simply must be topped at San Diego Comic Con, which is magnitudes bigger and more important than WonderCon, but how can Disney improve upon this (honestly, the helicopter stunt might have worked better in San Diego, where the weather is more cooperative. It rained all day in San Francisco, and Disney is lucky it dried up before the press conference)? And what else will they pull out as we get closer to the film? The Tron Legacy campaign will surely go down as one of the biggest, most involved and most expensive of all time. To be honest right now I’m kind of looking forward to what the next stunt is more than the film itself.