This sci-fi dalliance started out as a straight adaptation of Alfred Bester's novel The Demolished Man, which pitted the resources of a vast interplanetary empire against a corps of mind-readers. By the time Tim Thurber had got his opposable thumbs on it, the script (which at one point was rewritten by a beardless James Cameron) was folded in on itself, like a classroom demonstration of a theory of time-travel.
A 95 year-old Douglas Fairbanks stars as reclusive rebel leader H.E.R.O. (Hope Enabling Religious Omen) who, with the help of Rich of Yolenge (John Travolta) gives battle in vigour to, as he announces from a mountain at a critical point, 'prove that men can very easily, with justice on their side, have useful, and free, purposes'. Both men share the belief that they must rise violently against oppression, and form the secret group A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.-Ace Corps of Rebellious Ousider New Young Men- to do this.
After the cruel government led by B.O.S.S. (Big Overlord of pSychic Subjects, herein represented by a holographic image with the voice of Sir Laurence Olivier) labels all disloyal citizens as L.O.S.E.R.S (Lethargic or Subversive Energy Redundant Subjects), a cult group of peaceful protesters (led by Dennis Hopper as R.E.B.E.L. (Reaching Everyone By Exposing Lies) name themselves L.O.V.E. (Let Our Violence End) and spray their symbols and slogans across the futuristic Maglev trains, but a counter-revolutionary band also calling themselves L.O.V.E. (League of Villainous Entities) steal the original groups signage and calling cards, and in an echo of the Nazis use of the swastika (an analogy heavily alluded to with some weighty pans and grating synth-strings), pervert L.O.V.E. to nefarious ends, forcing the authorities to ban all public displays of L.O.V.E.A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Directed by Tim Thurber Produced by Kip Warner Written by Tim Thurber, James Cameron, based on the novel 'The Demolished Man' by Albert Bester Starring John Travolta, Douglas Fairbanks, Sir Laurence Olivier, Dennis Hopper Music by Tangerine Dream 20th Century Fox Pictures Release date US: April 1979 UK: August 1979 Tagline: 'C.A.P.I.T.A.L.I.Z.E.!.'
The ban is quickly extended by B.O.S.S. to include all Acronym-using groups. This puts a price on the heads of A.C.R.O.N.Y.M., and they go underground, taking the alternative name of S.Y.N.O.N.Y.M. (Secret Young New Outsiders of Newer Younger Men) to buy themselves some T.I.M.E. (Tested Increments of Measured Essence). After L.O.V.E. members are murdered on live T.V. as an example to the L.O.S.E.R.S. and dissenters, H.E.R.O. and Yolenge's small band become Robin Hood figures to the oppressed populace. In hiding, they witness their original good name soiled by B.O.S.S., who stages fake A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. assaults on the poor, before cleaning the mess up with what he suggests is a 'heroic brand of Robotic Police; a life-saver in this darkened attic. This new band of Super Cops are playfully named A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. (Arch Cryptic Reminder Of the Nomenclature of Young Men) in an attempt to replace the populace's memory of the rebels with new safer ones. He speaks of a new kind of citizen, M.A.N. (Mechanized Aryan uNit) who will efficiently take the city into the future. Again, the Nazi references are somewhat overbearing.
S.Y.N.O.N.Y.M. stage an exciting climactic assault on the City of Glass Towers, the H.Q. (Headquarters) of B.O.S.S. H.E.R.O. inevitably dies in the skirmish, but not before he buys Yolenge enough T.I.M.E. to pixelate himself and slip unnoticed through the villains' cyber complex in bit-form, subsequently slaying B.O.S.S. in a P.O.N.G-like (Paddle Oriented Never-ending Game) death-match inside the computer. Travolta utters the now famous line, 'Game over buddy, press start!' and these celebratory words are recorded, played back, and strung out over the city tannoy, before breaking apart into single letters and floating down on the city like misty rain, causing alphabet trees to grow and liberate the citizens from the concrete of beurocratic word-hostaging. In the final optimistic scenes, we see the subjects farming the alphabet trees to grow new letters, which they arrange in beautiful lines. They now speak in iambic pentameter and frolic freely in green orchards. We hear the voice of a now much older Yolenge as the synthesized soundtrack (provided by Tangerine Dream in imperious sci-fi form) swells:
'... with time and manure, the citizens grew a new letter to add to the twenty-five we had. We called it 'Z'. 'Z' allowed us to make more words, but more importantly, it finally allowed us to sleep... and to dream... and to sleeeeep... and to d r e a m... y a w n . . . t o s l e e p . . . t o d r e a m . . . . t o . . . z z z z zzz....'
The film has been scavenged by the pop-culture savvy: The Ace Corps of Rebellious Outsider New Young Men were the inspiration for both the New York-based no-wave band Ace Corps and the British New Wave of New Wave band New Outsider Young Men (winners of the NME best live band in 1993). There are many examples of songs entitled 'Game Over, Press Start', including creations by the Talking Heads, Weezer, Wheatus and Ween. Greggs, the British chain of bakers, took their name from the pasty-like food units consumed in the movie: G.R.E.G.G.'s are Generous Reheated Energy Giving Globes, and at one point a member of S.Y.N.O.N.Y.M. says 'I'm so hungry, I could eat a thousand G.R.E.G.G's!'. This later became the centrepiece of a long T.V. advertising campaign for the company.