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New Voyager - Spring, 1983
Stephen Lisberger is a first-time film-maker who was lucky enough to have the multimillion dollar animation company Walt Disney pick up on an independent project of his. He claims that getting the money was the least of his problems and if you believe that, then maybe you should be making pictures. He may be known to some readers for his animated Animalympics TV shows, which were released theatrically in Britain about three years ago.
We met last November, in Lisberger's suite at a prestigious London hotel. He was reluctant to start talking about the film, TRON, preferring to chat about movies in general. I mentioned that when I interviewed John Milius two weeks earlier he hadn't wanted to talk about Conan but preferred the subject of surfing. Which explains the occasional references to surfing throughout this interview . . .
ALAN McKENZIE: First, I'd like to say how much I enjoyed TRON. Were you intending any kind of personal statement on how we interact with computers?
STEPHEN LISBERGER: There's a couple of things I can say right off about the film which are important things to me. The film is an attempt to show that we are creating this ultimate world which is an electronic world.
AM: That came across...
SL: Yeah, I think in some cases it does come across, but some people don't realise that they are doing it in real life. Some people think, 'well, he's just portraying this in a film'. They don't realise this situation is very much the case with the corporations of the United States. The other thing I tried to get across in the film is the whole dilemma about whether the technology will be set up dictatorially in fashion or in a democratic fashion. Whether computers are going to be more like people, or people more like computers. I'm very optimistic about the whole thing. I was reared on computers. I'm not a computer buff, I'm a filmmaker. I examined the subject matter and I feel optimistic about how young people are taking on all this technology and managing to do something worthwhile with it. I hope the film reflects some of that optimism. I hope the visuals don't overpower the storyline too much. The visuals tend to blow you out of your chair a little bit. I found that some people had to see the film a second time to keep up with the story.
AM: Douglas Trumbull, the American special effects director, said that as long as there is a strong story there shouldn't be any way that the visuals can overwhelm it.
SL: Oh, that's not true. I mean you can do things on the screen that will get through anything. The potential impact of some of the visual tools that we have now is such that they could blow Hamlet off the screen. There's a lot of half-brained analogies going around right now about what special effects are, what story is. You hear more of it these days because people have tried to come up with easy answers to a very complicated art form. The way they get around it is by having these quotes of six words which explain what cinema is, what the problem is with film today. TRON has gone through the gauntlet of American film reviews and most people like it very much. It seems they either hate it or like it . . .
AM: l liked it a lot.
SL: And (thanks!) I must say that I don't think most people criticised it correctly, the ones that wanted to criticise it. There are things I think are wrong with it that nobody mentioned. But I'm never going to say what they are, so don't ask me! It'll be interesting to see how it does here in Britain. It's just opened in Japan (November) and it's doing very well there . . .
AM: I imagine it would do.
SL: Yeah, and it's doing well in the States too. It's in direct competition with E.T., which has been difficult for the film.
AM: I didn't think, after seeing E.T. a couple of times, it was really that great!
SL: Oh no, you're not the only one, there's plenty of people feel that way.
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