CADDYSHACK

By Marc S. Sanders

Do you think in 10 years or even 50 years from now, people will remember that Harold Ramis was one of the funniest writers in film history? Animal House, Stripes, Scrooged, Groundhog Day (I hate it, but I won’t deny its legacy every February 2nd), and Ghostbusters. One film that cemented the stage for his success in the 1980s is arguably Caddyshack, which focuses on the snobs vs slobs at a high-end golf country club known as…ahem…Bushwood. It’s okay to laugh. Your mother is not in the room.

Caddyshack is more or less a vehicle for the comedic talents of Saturday Night Live players to put out their best material seemingly made up on the fly. Bill Murray is the demented grounds keeper tasked with getting rid of a damaging gopher. Chevy Chase seems to be the charmer with a delivery of wit in every word he says. He’s more or less good looking here but just as deliberately stupid as everyone else. Rodney Dangerfield goes beyond his stand-up routines, or maybe he doesn’t. He’s just shoved into the film and let loose to anger and harass the head snob, Ted Knight. Knight is unquestionably the best of the bunch here. He’s got such great timing with his outbursts and delivery. I even love how he pronounces the car maker Audi. It’s more like “ottie.”

Ramis has a thin storyline about one caddy (Michael O’Keefe) trying to win a college scholarship. Meh. So what! Caddyshack works best when it’s just playing for skits and raw laughs. There’s gross out comedy like doodie in the swimming pool, compliments of a Baby Ruth candy bar, and vomiting in cars. Dangerfield’s one liners are fast and loose. The judge’s daughter is a sly minx for the dweeby male cast to ogle, and the gopher footage with Murray is straight out of Looney Toons. I do love the irony of the Catholic priest going out to play 9 holes in the middle of an electrical storm; a prophet who will spit in the face of God. “OH RAT FARTS!!!!”

Caddyshack is not my favorite of Ramis’ films, but it’s become a touchstone in comedy quotes and repeat viewings. It’s stupid and coarse and silly and belongs nowhere in the Parthenon of great filmmaking efforts but it’s a favorite of almost anyone’s for how brash it truly is. It’s an R rated interpretation of The Three Stooges. If not for nothing, I’m sure that somewhere there is an esteemed judge of the cloth who was proud to sentence young men to the gas chamber as a means of “owing it to them.”

Harold Ramis with co-writer Brian Doyle Murray (Bill’s brother) conceived of Caddyshack as a push back against that system of order. Well done, men. Tee up!

TRON

By Marc S. Sanders

I was not raised on video games.  My father refused to allow us to have them in the house. While I was envious of every kid that owned an Atari 2600, dad didn’t want us to get addicted to them.  I wouldn’t know until later on how thankful I was for that rule he stood by.  I like arcade games for a once and a while escape, but once I reach the banana board (which isn’t often) on Ms. Pac Man, I’ve had my fill.

I recall seeing at least a few scenes of Walt Disney Studios’ Tron back when it was released on VHS.  Way back then, just like now, I just was never so impressed by it.  I can forgive the thin characterizations of really the only 5-7 actors with speaking roles.  Yet, the visuals and sound really do nothing for me.  What am I looking at?  Grids!  Just grids or endless squares.  A blank chess board looks more exciting to me.  The players in the film are dressed in what are presumed to be digitized armor that have carved out glowing blue and red lights.  Their human faces are grainy grays.  It all seems so flat to me, like that awful Pac Man adaptation Atari developed for their game consoles. 

Jeff Bridges plays Flynn, a game software developer done dirty by a corporate conglomerate led by a man named Dillinger (David Warner, the bad guy with the British accent).  Dillinger, along with a super computer intelligence known as the Master Control Program, have stolen Flynn’s intellectual property for dynamic new video games.  Since that time, Flynn has been making efforts to hack into the computer system and steal back what was originally his to begin with.  Master Control Program always fends him off, though.

A side story involves Bruce Boxleitner as Flynn’s colleague, Alan, working for the corporation. Alan has just developed a new security system known as TRON.  Dillinger puts a stop on the TRON program however.  Flynn, Alan and a third colleague named Lora (Cindy Morgan) break into the corporate computer lab one night, and before you know it, while attempting to hack in, Flynn is zapped right into the computer system, where he finds himself ensconced in a series of gladiator like games that were part of his original program write ups.

Master Control Program has the capability to erase Flynn from existence but insists on having him compete in the games that involve frisbees that deflect lasers and drive colorful racing cycles.  All of these games occur on this boring grid.

The actors mentioned above are utilized in the film much like The Wizard Of Oz.  They are introduced in the real world for the brief exposition portion of the film, and then later used to represent the TRON program (Boxleitner), as well as other elements that serve or perform under the eye of Master Control Program in the digital computer world.  The only real entity is known as a “user,” and that is Flynn.

I got sleepy watching Tron.  I think it is because like many video games it does not challenge me to figure things out or solve the dilemma. How can I envision Flynn escaping this world before he’s zapped out of existence?  I have no idea, because I’ve not been shown anything that demonstrates how this computer world functions.  Basic video games, at least from the early 1980s, were primarily about timing your button pushes and jerking the joystick accurately and timely.  Like the film Tron, they were never about application of the mind. 

No.  Movies are not meant for me to solve their riddles all the time.  Often, if I’m not trying to figure out how to resolve a story’s conflict, then I’m at least absorbed in the writing and performances of the cast.  The music might heighten the adventure or suspense.  The set designs will dazzle me.  Don’t get me wrong.  This Star Wars fanatic loves visual effects, but without any kind of story or suspense for the players and their outcome, what’s left to watch?  Tron is as dimensional as a blank index card for me. All these grids and lines are no more exciting than office stationery.

Tron from 1982 may seem very outdated, forty years later, but as a ten-year-old, I recall not being impressed either.  The sound design is annoying as when the digital players walk with clunk, clunk footsteps.  The objects on film are just sketched out, geometric glowing, colored lines on a black background. There is no depth, at all, to Flynn, Lora, Alan, Dillinger, or their computer counterparts.  In 1982, this might have been groundbreaking. For the Atari lovers this may have been the answer to many of their prayers.  I dunno.  Maybe I couldn’t relate or understand back then because my tyrant for a father denied me of an Atari game console.  I certainly don’t understand the fascination now. 

I have a 100-sheet pad of graph paper, here in my desk.  I’ll stand my Darth Vader action figure on a page and just stare at it for five minutes.  There!  Now, I can say I’ve watched Tron for a third time.