This weekend, in the middle of prepping for new years eve, I took a break to see Tron Legacy with a group of friends. None of us had seen the original. We did not know the story nor were we sure what to expect. What drew us to the theater was one thing; the movie looked awesome.
What’s interesting is that this is not a figurative statement. No one wanted to see Tron because we were hooked on the story, dying to see how Jeff Bridges character had evolved within the game, or really cared either way how the movie turned out. It was strictly the visual, the light-cycle fights, the trippy 3d circuit city, and of course Cora that caught our eye. At the end of the day I was thoroughly entertained; the movie was one of the most visually interesting films I’ve seen in a while. But as I left the theater I realized one thing – nothing really happened. The story flat out sucked. Any while it wasn’t quite as bad as Avatar, which really was a Pocahontas remake with aliens, it was pretty lame.
Tron is not alone. Why all of a sudden are so many big budget movies plagued by lame writing? Have all the good writers in Hollywood die or gone on strike? No. Tron represents a larger overall trend in the movies that, I think, was largely forced by changes in technology. In the modern age, “story” is simply not profitable. The rise of the home theater, fueled largely by cheap tv’s and equipment, has made it harder for movie theaters to compete with the comforts of home. The only way to convince consumers it’s worth the $19 for a movie ticket (yes that’s what it costs in New York), is to give them something special, to turn the movies into what it used to be – an event.
While a good story can be translated easily from the big screen to the home theater, the actual physical experience of seeing something breath taking cannot. In order for movie theaters to effectively draw people to fill seats, it’s more important that studios focus on the quality of the experience than on the quality of the content. Tron is a perfect example. Visually the film was stunning. In fact it was enough to keep me entertained for the whole 2 hours. However, had I been watching this movie at home, odds are I would have turned it off in the first 20 minutes. The plot was slow, left a lot of questions unanswered (how do programs that transfer to the human world become “human” when they have no bodies?), and honestly boring. What Tron was banking on is exactly what I described, the experience. Taking people into a 3d world unlike their own, providing an escape for the duration of the film, and dropping them back off somewhere in midtown at the end.
While I doubt this is the end of stories in movies as a whole, it’s certainly something to look out for. We all saw what happened to television once the reality tv show arrived on the scene, it would be a shame to have content go out the window the same way. Because to be honest, while Tron-land was beautiful and fun to visit, I wouldn’t want to live there. At least until I know more.