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In 'Tron: Legacy,' Jeff Bridges gets top billing. But is he the movie's star?

'Tron: Legacy' is further evidence that Hollywood is catering to a new generation of moviegoers whose appetite for video games and reality TV has changed the very nature of stardom.

By Staff writer / December 21, 2010

In this publicity image released by Disney, a computerized avatar of actor Jeff Bridges, left, and Garrett Hedlund are shown in a scene from, 'Tron: Legacy.'

Disney Enterprises Inc./AP

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Los Angeles

Jeff Bridges is hot in Disney Studios’ cyber-caper sequel, “Tron: Legacy.” But not as his usual, award-winning, rumpled, and very human self.

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Rather, in this big-budget follow-up to a 1982 cult hit, he portrays a man lost inside a completely computerized environment. What’s more, he has become a digitized version of himself.

The film topped the weekend box office with $43.6 million. And perhaps more tellingly for Hollywood trend-trackers, the special-effects-laden film thoroughly trounced one that in another era would have been considered a shoo-in for some top spot in December movie-theater going.

Directed by Oscar-winning James Brooks, “How Do You Know?” also boasted Hollywood star names – Reese Witherspoon and Jack Nicholson – and its own healthy budget, estimated at close to the reported $150 million for Disney’s “Tron.” Yet, it limped into the No. 8 spot for its opening weekend.

The question naturally arises, once again: What is the future of the Hollywood movie star, when special effects have become so powerful in their ability to not just create big explosions but, as in the megahit "Avatar," to create whole worlds, including people, plants, and animals?

The answer to that question lies partly in a changing notion of stardom.

The viewer as star

“This trend probably speaks to the demographics of the audience for these films,” says Susan Mackey-Kallis, associate professor of communications at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, adding that the look and feel of digital gaming drives the look and feel of popular films. Although she points out that the films may draw an audience from the over-40 crowd, most of the audience for these films taps a generation grown up with video gaming that increasingly employs digitally rich graphical environments.

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