Wednesday, 5 January 2011

My thoughts on Tron Legacy, should you care...

At risk of giving away my opinion to early, I would like to pre-empt this post by saying I really try hard to not be negative about films I don't like in this blog. All art is subjective and generally I tend to disregard notions of 'good' and 'bad' art when it comes to films. Also, the other day I watched Surrogates, a film generally regarded as being pretty bad that had not been awarded any recommendations from any of my film-loving friends. But I kind of enjoyed it. I was in the mood for Bruce Willis with improbable robot hair jumping over cars. Had I been in a more objective mood I may have enjoyed the experience a lot less, but at that time in that particular frame of mind it was kind of perfect. It is for similar reasons that Save the Last Dance is genuinely one of my favourite films, although I can see the further I go down this road the more my taste will be questioned (but while I'm at it, The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift is another film I am alone in regarding as a classic).

So ignore everything I say and make your own mind up.

That said, I am going to talk about Tron: Legacy which I saw last night because what I have to say relates specifically to writing and I do feel vaguely qualified to talk about writing.

I am a huge fan of the original Tron. This is partly because of how it was built up. I saw it in the days of VHS at which point Disney films were notorious for taking forever to be shown on TV so we had to rely on the local video rental place having a copy. Which they didn't. For ages. And I just remember my dad telling me about this film that was made with computers and it sounding like the most amazing thing I'd ever heard of. It sounded like the future, but a future we could experience if we could ever find that elusive VHS copy. Then one day we did find it and it was indeed awesome.

So like everyone else I was super-excited when a sequel was announced. The teasers and occasional images online reminded me of the anticipation of seeing the original. I really wanted it to be good. I mean really, desperately wanted it to be good.


It was better than good. It was perfect. The design was more impressive and out-there than I imagined and not toned down at all for a modern audience. It was directed in a kind of minimalist style that suited the world and all this was helped along by an awesome soundtrack. This wasn't the future anymore - it was the past, but not the past we remember, an idealised past that we like to think we remember. It was the 1980s for people who didn't live through the 1980s. And it was all constructed with such confidence in the design and the world. I liked the casting, thought Garrett Hedlund made a good hero and it was refreshing to see a main character in his late twenties which happens less often than you would think. I would have preferred it if they hadn't used CGI Jeff Bridges in the real world but didn't mind it so much in the Tron world. I even liked the fact that the screen was 90% black at all times -I am a goth at heart if not in practice and I like black things.

But all this perfection was let down by one crippling problem. A really terrible script. A dull script. An over-worked, contrived mess of a script. Because of that script the whole experience was rendered dull and lifeless.

There may be spoilers ahead.

It started well, then as soon as we get into Tron world there's a new plot point introduced every second and everyone is spending a lot of time sitting around talking. Seriously, how many times did they cut back to the flying train thing to show them still sitting there, still chatting away. It could've been filming on the tube.

Nothing is set up properly. The magical ISO people for example - where did they come from then Jeff Bridges? Oh, I don't know, they just kind of turned up.

The world wasn't set up right - how come it takes 5 minutes to drive from the centre of town to Jeff's house in the desert but the journey back takes two thirds of the film.

None of the characters really developed or changed.

And most of all it lacked the confidence of the design of the film. It felt like too many people had messed with it and then got taken off before they could tidy it up again. There were four writers credited and probably double that would've had their hands on it at some stage.

Here's how I imagine it went down. Say you start with a base idea of Jeff Bridges being trapped in Tron world and his son coming to find him. Fine. Only the script isn't working and Writer A doesn't seem to be getting it, but Writer B has this awesome idea about Jeff Bridges creating a twin that turns out to be evil. Awesome, lets bring in Writer B to do a pass on the script. Great, but this evil Jeff Bridges thing isn't working like we wanted it to. Hang on, I met Writer C at a party and he came up with this really interesting holocaust analogy. Cool, let's get him in, have him do a pass on the script. Y'know, that seemed like such a cool idea at the time but it's kind of bringing the tone down. Any ideas Writers A, B and C? Don't ask those guys, they don't know anything. I was talking to Producer F who had a conference call with Actor Y and Caterer J and they all think what the film really needs is a religious metaphor. Not only that, they know this other guy, Writer D, who worked the same thing into that other script about the robots and the dinosaurs and that worked so well I'm sure he could do the same thing here. Bring him in, give him a pass at the script.

And so on, until finally what exists is a mess of ideas and half-finished storylines that are never really paid off and never truly come to anything. So what do we do with this? Call Writer A back in to see what he can do to fix it? How about that Writer E guy - he's always fixing stuff like this. Then there's Writer F who has this really original idea about Tron-monkeys...wait, there's a problem! Filming is due to start next week!! Everything is paid for and ready to go except for the script!!!

We'll just go with it as it is and fix it in post.

Example of it being fixed in post? Those really unnecessary flashbacks of Jeff Bridges frolicking with his son, like someone in a test screening said 'I really didn't feel like Jeff Bridges cares about his son enough' and in comes Writer G...

Meanwhile all the audience ever wanted them to do was to bring David Warner back...


Anonymous said...

I also loved/tolerated this film. And your comments are spot on but don't forget the disney set-piece mantra. Evrything in Legacy happened in the same order as in the original film:
Get zapped
Turn up in stripy light suit
Fight with disks
Ride light-bikes
Escape through crack
Meet old man
Be chased by Space invaders
Get on a train
Use disk to escape through big shiny light thing.

Only problem being as you say no David Warner. Though I was encouraged by Boxleitner banging on about a father, though for once not his own.

Mark Moynihan said...

You hit the nail on the head. the artistic design on the film was exceptional, in keeping with the original but not dated in any way. The story was a fucking mess, the dialogue was appalling and the plot had holes big enough to drive a light cycle through.

drive2 said...

The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift: really??....

Chris Regan said...

Gez - It was awesome to see Boxleitner on a big screen.
Good point about the identical setpieces.

Mark - The dialogue was really terrible - I think I may have laughed out loud at the line 'Tron, what have you become?'

Andrew - The Fast and the Furious films in order of quality:
1: Tokyo Drift (because it is awesome)
2: 2 Fast 2 Furious (because of Cole Hauser)
3: The first one (because I suppose it has to be there somewhere)
4: The fourth one (which was genuinely dreadful. And not set in Tokyo.)
The question is, where will Fast Five be on this list?

Ross said...

I fell asleep several times during Tron Legacy. An utter, utter mess of a script, and more importantly nothing that happened actually led anywhere. In the first film it felt like Bridges had to overcome obstacles/levels for a specific purpose, but here it felt like there was no rhyme or reason to anything. Here are light cycles, which are awesome but then the race goes NOWHERE. The characters can all do Tricking and Parkour which became out of date about a month after films started having every chase/fight made up of Parkour and Tricking (in other words instantly). And most of the film is talking, talking, talking. Which goes nowhere.

drive2 said...

ok, now do a list for the Step Up films in order of quality....

"because of Cole Hauser" see also Pitch Black, Tears of the Sun and most importantly, The Cave....brilliant...

Chris Regan said...

Can't do a Step-Up list until I've seen the 2nd one (which I do own so it's only a matter of time). Even so, I can guarantee Step-Up 3 will be at the top of the list.