Ready Player One

Hey there, it’s me. I’m alive! I’m just having trouble motivating myself to write movie reviews, especially when the films are such snores. What I am doing is a) preparing to move once again (it’s been real, Chicago) and b) writing Arthurian fiction (getting Book 2 out, which lays all of my existential pondering across a framework of actual Arthurian legend, and is, frankly, a lot more interesting than Pacific Rim: Uprising (and this movie). Check It Out!). Anyway, it’s a new Spielberg film, and it’s sci-fi, and it promises to be his take on virtual reality and gaming and pop culture!

I was pretty excited about this one, until I remembered that I walked out of the last two Spielberg films (Bridge of Spies and The Post) because they were just so square and boring, and that the last Spielberg movie I thought was good was War of the Worlds, and that, whatever has happened in filmmaking in the intervening years, he comes off looking pretty square nowadays. I was wondering if he would open up within the videogame, but then I thought “No, he’s quite square,” and sure enough, we open with a title telling us the setting, then a whole exposition dump, and then we enter the game. Quite straightforward and dull.

Quickly, it’s 2045, our hero lives in a place of piled-up trailers, and everyone spends most of their time in a virtual reality world called The Oasis. The creator of it left a quest hidden within it to find three keys, which will grant the winner millions and control of the game. Oh, and there’s an evil corporation that wants to win and they do evil things. So we keep switching between being in the game and the real world, as our characters seek to win the game before the evil corporation does.

So it goes along for a while, and you’re dutifully semi-impressed by the visuals, but after an hour or so (with over an hour left) I started to lose track and what was going on where, real-world or virtual, and… just stopped caring. Then, as it continued, I started to ask: Where are the ideas? There are just no ideas here. Mentioning a lot of pop culture is not the same thing is having a perspective on it. Showing a future world is not the same as making comment on it. This material (for I sense that many of the problems originate in the book) has some topics… like that the evil corporation employs a bunch of people to review all of the pop culture that the creator of the game viewed, but… it doesn’t analyze them, it doesn’t offer a perspective on them. Yes, we have a lot of people for whom knowledge of pop culture has replaced “knowledge” as we used to know it, but… do you have anything to SAY about that? Just pointing it out is not enough.

And as it continues, you realize that the whole movie doesn’t have a single idea in its overstuffed little head. And you also start to see that in the real world, we’re slowly drifting into an extremely lame and clichéd movie with a multi-ethnic group of earnest kids who are going to bring the mean baddies down! By the time we have shots of a group of the public cheering the televised victory of the hero over the evil corporation, I realized: This movie is a full-out STINKER.

Special mention must also be made of the fact that the hero’s entire family is killed and he has forgotten it and moved on seconds later.

We used to look to Spielberg for intelligent comment… AI, Minority Report, War of the Worlds… all of them came out with sort of a “Now our foremost filmmaker will lay down some truth about…” whatever it was. And they stood up. This one is sold on that promise (and the stink of desperation wafts from every frame), but there IS NOT A SINGLE IDEA IN IT. Walking through a comic book shop is not the same as gaining some understanding of how we allowed pop culture to take over our discourse, how we have a generation of people who think pop culture is so important, and what any of it means. Instead, we get a SHOCKINGLY FACILE concluding message that is basically “balance screen time with physical activity!”

Anyway, a stinker. If this movie made you think anything, let me know in the comments.

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9 thoughts on “Ready Player One

  1. Glad you’re back! Sounds like you’re going through some big changes in the “real world” yourself. Best of luck in all your endeavors 🙂
    As for the movie, I think a genuinely important theme was introduced in the exposition that was promptly forgotten about 10 minutes into the film: as we spend more and more time online either on games, or facebook, or youtube….are we just going to let the real world go to shit around us? As long as basic needs as animals aree being met, if a better world exists online will we ultimately just give up on the real one. In Japan, there is a population of youths (called hikikomori) that has done exactly that. By some estimates there are over 1 million of them. They aren’t all necessarily spending all their time online. Nevertheless, the end result is the same. I wish Spielberg had taken on the challenge of seriously exploring this theme rather than just rebooting Goonies which is what we got.

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    • Yes, there were a lot of ideas that COULD have been explored, he just decided not to explore them. A few years ago, I had a huge obsession with Japan and the social changes going on there, sparked by the reports of kids who go to their rooms and don’t come out for years. Fascinating and cautionary…

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  2. Haven’t seen the movie and probably won’t, but what I really wanted to say is I’m so glad to see you back here!!! I was starting to worry you’d simply dissappear without a word. I’ve been reading you for years and I’m going to miss you a lot the day you stop writing your reviews or whatever you want to write about. If the movies are getting boring lately, maybe you can just write more essays about whatever topic you like? To be honest I don’t like history, even though I realize how important it is, so I can’t bring myself to try your Arthurian fiction even if I know it’s going to be well written, but I’d love to read whatever you have to say about pop cuture dominating the cultural landscape right now (personally I must say I think all culture is culture, and I do like pop culture and think it’s valuable; at least some of it).

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  3. I haven’t seen the movie, but the book is indeed problematic. It is compelling to read (especially if you have a head stuffed with 1980s pop references) but you realize very quickly that every character, trope, and story beat is 100 % recycled. (Underestimated Self-Taught Genius Geek! Cool Girl Who Wises Him Up! Evil Sneering Corporate Snake!) They still work, but there are no surprises (are surprises too commercially risky now?). Plus the battle scenes SUCK. And the last lesson (“happiness can only be found in the real world”) is laughable after hundreds of pages that demonstrate the exact opposite.

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    • See, if the writer were smarter I’d think that it was on purpose–like, doing the same thing as Stranger Things but with a layer of sneering irony, turning the knobs up to 11 to show how silly this all was–but I don’t get the impression that Cline even knows that there IS a level of intelligence that high.

      Like, the end of the movie could be another meta-reference to the way that these 80s movies always seem to end with “in the Fanta world I was both god-king and warrior-prince, but I realized that my true place was in the Real World, so I gave all that up”. But…no.

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  4. Well; this movie was not for me, and it sounds like it wasn’t for you either. But a coworker with two early-teen boys LOVES THE ABSOLUTE SHIT OUT OF IT, and so do his kids, and they saw it twice over the weekend (“both times in 3D!!”) and he plans to sneak back on his own to see it a third time later this week.

    And a friend says that he was thinking about seeing it “but heard that it drops a lot of stuff from the book”, which, like, you seriously think this was a masterpiece of literature that will only be sullied by a transference to the medium of video?

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    • Yeah, it was a bit breathtaking how void it was of ideas… even if it was a satire, it would have ideas. But it really seems someone steered Spielberg to the book so he could do “something relevant for the kids,” and have you heard him introducing it by saying “It’s a MOVIE, not a FILM?” That’s what I meant about it stinking of desperation. The scenes of crowds of people walking around outside with virtual reality goggles on were truly laughable. I can’t imagine what someone would love about it… I could barely make it through the first time.

      What I would have LOVED (or at least wanted explored) is the idea that the creator built in this easter egg hunt because he knew it would make society GO MAD, and was essentially throwing a bomb out there as a final act. Oh well… another where it’s so sad to see all that money and work put in for service of something so utterly pointless. We’ll see if this film has any legs at the box office…

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  5. Spielberg was always square; that used to be what was wonderful about him–he approached every subject openly and without preconceptions, the way a child would. When he decided to go “adult” he kept that same viewpoint, even when it was wildly inappropriate (I am still wondering what exactly we were supposed to feel about the carnage thrown at us in “Saving Private Ryan”). I really wish he would get out of his Stanley Kramer phase and stop making “statements” on film. Telling a great story is the best statement you can make.

    That said, I apparently cared for “The Post” a lot more than you did…

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