An Interview with Steven Lisberger - TRON 2.0 -- Prepare To Drool!!!!
Published at: Sept. 3, 2002, 7:20 a.m. CST by staff
Hey folks, Harry here... Our good friends at Filter Magazine, the same folks that gave us that early peek at the David Carradine interview about KILL BILL all those ages ago, have come through with a friggin fantastic interview with Steven Lisberger, which as every good geek worth their weight in styrofoam can attest, was the genius behind TRON - One of the greatest films of all time (and fuck you if you don't agree!) Ahem. Anyway, the way too lucky Kashy Khaledi landed the interview and managed to pry all sorts of stuff out of Steven - and the bits that he told Kashy off the record... I somehow sense a dinner being bought for Kashy soon... Hmmmm... Here ya go...
After the success of Disney’s 20th anniversary DVD re-release, and amidst both speculation about a sequel and renewed interest for the original, Tron creator Steven Lisberger has cautiously come forward for this interview. Although I promised him that I wouldn’t bring up the sequel, I couldn’t resist. Since Disney has apparently enforced a gag order on Lisberger, its distributor will not appreciate any leaks about what will assuredly become one of next year’s biggest sequels. Rumor has it that Jeff Bridges will reprise his role as Flynn, the insouciant video game pioneer with the knack to hack. And after our discussions about the current turmoil of tyrannical creatures from the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of the corporate hierarchy, I find it hard to believe he won’t make the issue a centerpiece in the sequel’s plot, given the background of the original. Additionally, Lisberger has made it known that one of the central themes of the follow-up will involve cyberspace, some 20 years into the future. Lisberger will ultimately revisit the origins of his glowing, intra-computer megalopolis and the subsequent effect it had on computer-generated filmmaking, video game culture, and the prophetic nemesis between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs that is mirrored in the original film’s plot. One thing is for certain: After talking to Lisberger off the record, he has no interest in simply rehashing the original. Prepare yourself for the return of Tron and all of its eerily accurate prophecies.
How influential were the films THX 1138 and 2001: A Space Odyssey on subjects that deal with the tyrannical nature of man, and consequently, the continuing debate of man vs. machine?
The strongest influence, in that regard, was 2001. You have to bear in mind that during that time, the ‘70s, or the late ‘70s, everyone perceived computers as the enemy. They were still mainframe. People didn’t have PCs and they didn’t know it could be personalized. The only thing that was being personalized was their information and it existed in a computer in that sense. In terms of the other films that were out, there was an attempt made when we were working on Tron to try to get at least as far out as 2001. THX 1138 wasn’t a strong influence, but certainly Star Wars was an influence, in terms of the mythical aspects. I was trying to think of what else influenced us in terms of man vs. machine…
How about Philip K. Dick, in terms of the science fiction writers at the time that were prevalent? Was he instrumental in influencing Tron?
It really wasn’t so much about the sci-fi of the past as it was the excitement of what was happening at the moment. And again, that was experienced by us exploring who was behind the technology at the time. We first started doing research on CG and video games, and then we started to meet the people who were dedicated to personal computers or computer graphics. That was really exciting, in that there was a face to the technology. These people were cutting edge. They were pioneers and that inspired the story about those people working in that world. And those people, at the time, had an attitude that their goal was to put technology into the hands of everyone. There was very much a sense that IBM was Big Brother, but we didn’t know it at the time. Xerox Park was where all the research was being done. We visited that center. We didn’t know that Bill Gates was writing the ultimate code to implant into the IBM system, which was then going to give birth to the PC, or at least make the PC accessible. So, at the end of Tron, when all those towers light up in the final scene, that’s really what it’s about. We were so idealistic. We thought that not only could the negative aspects of the technology be overcome, but that this was going to be a brave new world, and once everyone got plugged in, it would be the level of idealism needed to accomplish it. Technology, we felt, was going to be infinite. Somewhere down the line, technology became corrupted. In fact, it was very difficult to get the film companies to be interested in computers and CG. There is that great story that after we did Tron, that year, we weren’t even nominated for an Academy Award for special effects. When we made an inquiry as to why that might be, they said, “Well we didn’t nominate you because you cheated. You used computers.” It was literally a different world back then.
When Tron had reached its peak, arcade culture had reached its peak. The games weren’t exactly socially redeeming, but there wasn’t carnage. Today the arcade is all but obsolete. Do you feel that the current proliferation of Ã¼ber home video game systems are promoting violent, anti-social behavior?
The answer to that, and I’ve seen it first hand, is that it’s endemic of the whole culture. I have a 16-year-old son. I did everything I could to take the power away from the games, but never his access to the games. I read him a lot of really horrific Greek and Roman stories and mythology, just so he would know that video games weren’t really the ones to invent all of this horror. If you can put it in a historical perspective, then it has less impact. The problem with the ‘60s was that we were being told that we were as far out as anyone had ever been, and the adults couldn’t deal with it because it was just not true. In the 1890s, the people in that generation, the missionary generation, they had gone through all this utopia and had gotten equally far out, or even more far out. If some adult was smart enough to say, “This has all been done before,” it would have taken some of the wind out of our sails, which would have been good. Instead, adults acted befuddled. The worst attitude is the “I just can’t believe it” or “These kids today, why can’t they be perfect like we were?” It’s the job of the adults to just put it in perspective, and the kids are actually really good about that.
When you initially wrote Tron, was it too graphic? Did Disney make you go back and re-work some of the script?
No. If anything, at the time, the studio was paranoid about its reputation for being overly cute or kitsch. They were more worried about things like the Bit being too cute, or what not, in comparison to things being too violent.
Remind me. What was the Bit?
It was just a bit—the increment that we could get out of computers at the time.
The computer’s equivalent to an atom?
Exactly. A zero and a one. A positive or a negative.
What were some of your favorite video games during the Tron era?
The most popular game we had on the set was Battlezone—the tank game. At the time of the live action shooting, Jeff Bridges held the record at 100,000 [points] and we were all struggling to get to that number. Then he left after the live action shooting and I kept playing through post-production for six months and my final score was somewhere around five million. So, that was interesting.
When you got together with your team of animators and made your prototype of what would actually become Tron in the film, was it almost divine?
People used to tell the Wright brothers that it was going to be impossible to fly because the human mind couldn’t deal with going faster than 30 or 40 miles an hour. Intentionally, that was the quest, to try and get the best group of people together, the most talented bunch of people in one category and have everybody push the envelope together. It was sort of like an ensemble, like a band, and then out of that came something bigger than any of us had anticipated, because when the first frames came back, we were all pretty much blown away. We were the ones who were generating it and it was a problem for us—from the standpoint that the graphics at the time were capable of being so powerful, in terms of color and complexity—that we worried about burning the audience out. We worked really hard to try to make something that had the intensity that we were capable of, but at the same time could go for 75 minutes. And I think we did a pretty good job of that, considering the audience was younger and open-minded. I think that it pretty much blew the cerebellum out of a lot of people that came in thinking that computers were the enemy. At the same time, they got this avalanche of art and a bind with technology, which they never expected. People couldn’t quite reconcile the fact that they were at a Disney movie.
As far as the backlight composites, is that something that you think you’re going to work with again in Tron 2?
Well, no, because all of that gets done digitally nowadays. The fact is, that no movie will ever be made the way that Tron was made. As technical as it was, there was an incredible amount of hand art. We were still dealing with paint and plastic and film, and those things were all trying to meld with what the look of cyber was at the time.
Do you think it’s going to be a lot easier to make Tron 2?
Yeah. I think five guys could make Tron 2 in their garage. It would look pretty much the same as the original Tron. It’s just in terms of how far you want to go in pushing the envelope again.
Without getting into any details, because I know you can’t talk about it, how far along are you guys with Tron 2?
There’s been three scripts written and I’m pretty happy with where things are at now.
Did you write the script this time?
[I wrote] the first draft and then Richard Jeffries wrote two drafts. I worked with him on those. I’m pretty pleased with the potential of what we’ve got now. One other thing that is interesting now, looking back at the original Tron, is that we didn’t mention that a big part of the storyline was the fact that the head of the company was corrupt. It had to do with corporate shenanigans, so in that sense…
In that sense, Tron was prophetic too.
Are you allowed to talk about cast members at all?
No. They don’t want me to talk about all that stuff.
Moby’s live show has a grand finale where he takes a beam of light to the head and arcs his arm in a similar fashion to the grand finale of Tron. It’s an obvious Tron lift, if you will. Especially since Moby is a part of the rave culture, how do you feel about all these ravers that look at Tron as their virtual glow sticks? Are you annoyed or flattered?
Of course I’m flattered. Who wouldn’t be? Anytime a work like this can go from one generation to the next, it means something. That’s great. A major accomplishment. So many of the films that are being made today are going to end up in that bin at Blockbuster, where hundreds of tapes are priced at $3.99. I walk in there with my son and it’s like a compost heap. And my son says, “Just think, Dad. All of these people, when they were making these movies, thought they were big shots.
What do you have to say to your new generation of fans?
You know, there is actually nostalgia attached to Tron. It was the seminal film for Generation X at the time. What it represented has just become a major part of their lives The interesting thing about the computer world and technology is that it’s gone through all those phases in record time.
In 20 years!
Yeah, in 20 years. Now it’s sort of firing on all cylinders at the same time and we’re waiting to see a new generation embrace it and figure out a way to take it to the next step. I think that’s one of things to talk about in the period we’re in right now. It just seems like we’re just piling manure on, hoping that something is going to sprout through this and we’re going to see new directions coming. So, that’s why a lot of this stuff is crashing. That’s why AOL has peaked and that’s why the Telecom industry is crashing. It’s just time for the whole thing to come back down and be re-born through the next generation.
Will Tron 2, at least story-wise, reflect on all of the things you’re talking about now, as far as corporate corruption concerned? Are you going to take it to the next level?
I can’t keep talking about Tron 2. They’re going to bust my chops. I mean, they’ll come down on me. They’ve come down on me twice on that already.