What Writers And Storytellers Can Take Away From Tron: Legacy

If you’ve come here looking for my review of TRON: LEGACY, it’s this:

I liked it but did not love it. I’d also add that it’d be great if Hollywood spent as much money on plot and story as they do on effects and worldbuilding.

That last little bit is the takeaway for writers and storytellers.

See, TRON works as a visually-engaging generic action-adventure plugged into a revamp of the TRON world from the 1980s film. It’s not a bad film. It’s certainly entertaining. It works in 3D and 2D. The characters are… well, I wouldn’t say they’re particularly complex, but they have motivations and their wants and fears are clear enough.

The issue is how the plot tells the story.

The plot — by which I mean a sequence of events — is barely strung together with any kind of logic. It has so many plotholes, I fear they might rise up and eat the rest of this blog post.

So, here are three lessons to take from this film.

(Some very light, almost non-existent spoilers lurk therein.)

One: Worldbuilding Is A Kind Of Masturbation

I love genre stories. I love the power of  transmedia. I love high concept shit.

But where all these things seem to fall down too often is in worldbuilding. Look, I understand: worldbuilding is awesome. It’s fun! It’s creating something out of nothing. You are the Word of God, manifesting light out of darkness, order out of chaos. The problem is, this takes a lot of effort and energy. And it seems like when you’re done, you’ve spent all your creative seed.

Worldbuilding is just a means to an end. It is not the end.

If all you have is a robust world but no robust story to go in it (or, rather, to take the audience through it), then all you’re offering them is the equivalent of an amusement park ride. It remains a shallow experience.

Work on the story first. Let the plot reveal the story or those aspects of the story you want to tell. Let worldbuilding come second. This is, I suspect, why so much of transmedia feels like marketing or feels hollow — because the creators got lost in the masturbatory exercise of world-building.

We want storytelling, not worldbuilding.

Two: Passive Characters Make Story Jesus Turn Compassion Into Napalm

In LEGACY, the main character appears to be an active character who “does shit.” In the 1st act he proves himself something of a corporate agitator. Which is great. A nice angle, and it shows he’s a busy boy.

But then he gets vacuumed into Tron-Land and now he’s just a pinball ricocheting between neon setpieces.

Beware characters who are dragged along from place to place. Beware characters who do not exert their will upon the world whether for good or ill. Even the very ending of LEGACY shows our character without any grasp of his own destiny. What happens is not his own doing; he is passed around the story like a hooker at a bachelor party, used and abused for the needs of the narrative.

Active characters, not passive automatons.

Three: Shit’s Gotta Make Sense, Son

If we are to assume that the plot represents the skeleton (on which hangs the flesh of the story), then it should make as much metaphorical sense to suggest the bones in a skeleton are connected. We all know that, right? Christ, there’s a song about it: hand-bone’s connected to the arm-bone, arm-bone’s connected to the shoulder-bone, blah blah blah. Bones fit together. They move together. It’s how a skeleton works.

It’s also how a plot works, and yet nobody in their right mind can seem to figure that the fuck out. See that thing that happens on Page 37 of your script? It has to make sense with what happens on pages 36, and 38, and even 48, and even 87, and even 122. It all has to hang together.

It all has to make sense.

TRON makes not nearly enough sense. So much is handwaved to ensure that things move along, confirming that the plot here is not a skeleton but rather a pile of unconnected femurs and jawbones. It’s something you’d be likely to find in a serial killer’s basement, not a science lab.

This creates plotholes. It demands raised eyebrows. It urinates on the head of logic.

Ask yourself, “Is this happening because I want it to happen, or is it happening because it should happen?” Are you cramming a circle peg in a square hole? Stop that. Stop that right now.

Just because something is cool doesn’t mean it makes sense. Justify your plot points.

Build a goddamn skeleton.