09 September 2010

How it's written makes the difference

Over Labor Day, I proudly flew my geek flag with several friends. Instead of hot dogs and outdoor things, we stayed indoors and watched two classic sci-fi movies at complete opposite ends of the good-movie spectrum: Tron and Blade Runner.

For those of you that have never seen either, a quick primer:
Tron (1982) is about a computer hacker who gets sucked inside a computer program and with the help of another program (Tron) must defeat the evil Master Control Program that's taking over and capturing other programs.

Blade Runner (1982) is about a cop who must hunt down Replicants, genetically engineered robots who must do humanity's dirty work on other colonies or risk death to come to Earth.

Tron is the first film that ever used computer CGI animation, something we take for granted now in sci-fi blockbusters and many other movies. Blade Runner is in the list of AFI's top 100 movies of all time.

And while they both have their claims to fame, Blade Runner is a great film and Tron is a laughable movie (save for the lightcycle race). Why? The writing.

The dialogue in Tron is stilted and awful. At one point the villain calls an underling a "bit brain." There's almost a spiritual metaphor about the existence of God as the programs discuss "users" but the metaphor never stays the same and the parallel can't be drawn.

Blade Runner is ripe with imagery that critics and casual viewers still debate. Even exactly what is meant by the end (we were watching the director's cut, FYI) is up for debate. The film moves slowly (nothing so speedy as a light cycle), but every frame is composed with a purpose.

When they were thought up, both Blade Runner and Tron had the ability to be great or awful films. Some might say they can't be compared because they are so different, never mind that they are both in the sci-fi category.

It's easy to just say that the writers of Tron needed to go through another pass of the screenplay, revise and tighten some more. Maybe that would have helped. Maybe it would have made it worse.

Here's hoping for the Tron sequel this winter, that we can get lightcycles AND good dialogue writing.

1 comment:

Jay H said...

Yup, here's hoping.

As the person who subjected the party to TRON, I'll chime in with what Bethany said. The guy behind TRON, Steven Lisberger, had an amazing concept, a great thematic idea, and a rock-solid visual sense - due in no small part to his advertising background. But perhaps Lisberger should have considered passing on the actual scriptwriting and directing duties to someone else, because the dialogue and much of the acting are ludicrous. (People have noted much the same thing about George Lucas: that The Empire Strikes Back, widely considered the best of the Star Wars films, was screenwritten and directed by other people.)

In fact, John Lasseter, the head of Pixar and now of Disney Animation (who was inspired to get into computer animation by a little film called... TRON!), made it pretty clear that Lisberger would be a consultant on the new film (and even cameo in it), but would not be writing or directing it.

Lisberger's thematic insight with the original - that the difference in the computer cultures of the time (big corporations like IBM on one side, upstart groups like UNIX and Apple on the other) were very much like religious differences - was highly prescient, if perhaps a little optimistic about putting the future in the hands of the little guy. Scuttlebutt is that the story of TRON:Legacy will reflect the ensuing twenty-eight years of wake-up call.

In the hands of better writers, perhaps the film's good points won't be obscured by "Video warriors! Look at the I/O towers!" *gag*

P.S. I adore TRON. I really do. But I'm not blind to its faults. In fact, every time I watch it, I'm less blind to them. A happy memory from my childhood, soured. :)