Friday, March 17, 2006

It's the Story, Stupid

Slashdot has a link to a post-mortem on the 80s computer movie, Tron.

The reason floated was people didn't get it, ala: "The concepts Tron dealt with were not in the public consciousness."

Uh-huh. Sure.

Not one mention that THE STORY SUCKED.

Yeah, it blew donkey ... but I digress.

It was still a decent little entertainment in its own right; the graphics were way cool and the look was amazing. But you had to squirm through the bad acting - only Jeff Bridges and David Warner had the chops to pull of their characters - the clunky story telling, and the Disney-esque touches like "Bit," the cute side-kick who could only say yes and no, or the biggest laugh producer: People in transistor and diode foam rubber costumes wandering around in the background.

It was just goofy, no pun intended.

And that seems to be a lesson that Hollywood just can't seem to get.

Think about it. Can you think of ONE movie that endures for you personally that didn't have a great story at its core? (Assuming it attempts a story in the first place, because, for instance, Koyaanisqatsi is more stoner metaphor than story.) Feel free to argue with me about that in the comments. I'd love to hear of a movie where the story lacked, but it still somehow has joined the pantheon of great films.

I think that's the frustration many feel with Brokeback Mountain. It has been presented as an agenda film, a social commentary, a lesson in how oppressive people can be, and so on, but try to treat is as just a movie and point out that the story itself was dull, and some act like you farted loudly and at great length in an elevator. The short story had nothing to it. No plot. Even the two guys don't really have discernable personalities. There's no real twist to it (no pun intended) other than the guys are gay. And that's all there is. Big deal. (Btw, I'll admit I am being a bit unfair in using the short story to critique the film, but with the exception of Philip K. Dick fiction, I've not seen ANY movie that was better than the source material.)

Tron has a less vacuous story, and it doth suck too, for sure.

It's the story.

The typically unspoken reason that The Da Vinci Code is a hit is: The plot's a gas. (Even if the writing itself isn't so much.) Yeah, it got legs from claiming that the underlying mystery is true (which is utter bullshit, but that's beside the point), but it wouldn't have gotten where it is without the fun chewy story at the center. Give Dan Brown his props, he can construct a breathless tale.

If Brokeback had one element that made it unique, some sort of unexpected development, then I predict it would have been that much better, and all the mewling about bigotry wouldn't exist, because it would have been a legitimate hit rather than a guilty hit.

Same thing goes for Tron (except the guilty hit part). In that article, it's mentioned that Disney expected it to top Star Wars. Well, that's unlikely in any scenario, but I tell you what, had Tron had a better story, it would've nipped at its heels for sure. As it is, it's a fun footnote to show people for its relative technical sophistication for the times. Nothing more. Alas.


Both The Opinionated Homeschooler and S. Y. Affolee have chimed in on books vs. movies. Good reads.


The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

"I'd love to hear of a movie where the story lacked, but it still somehow has joined the pantheon of great films."

Eudoxus was going to say, Life of Brian, but chickened out.

yahmdallah said...


That is funny.

Eudoxus said...

LoB was going to be my obnoxious "movie better than book" suggestion. I do think the Charlton Heston 10 Commandments holds up well against the relevant portions of Exodus, although there's admittedly a bit of a genre shift.

I think the Verhoeven ironic anti-fascistic screed Starship Troopers is a considerable improvement over the Heinlein straightforward fascistic screed Starship Troopers. I suspect that many Hitchcock movies are better than their source material, although I haven't actually read any of the sources.

Comedies are surely the natural place to look for great movies without underlying strong underlying plots, aren't they? I can't think of a single Buster Keaton movie with a plot that fills more than a sentence or two, but they're still classics.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I disagree with your call on The Ten Commandments. Many of the various added devices that smooth out and fill various plot lacunae are taken from the Midrash, so since (a) you aren't (I believe) familiar with all the actual source material for the movie, and (b) many of the improvements (dramatically speaking) were probably in the source material, I don't think it's possible to judge the movie superior to the source. I will have to be convinced that Technicolor makes the difference.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...


I can't get either of your links in the update to work.

Yahmdallah said...