Ready Player One (2018)

ready player one

“Welcome to the rebellion, Wade.”

The Scoop: 2018, PG Directed by Steven Spielberg, Written by Ernest Cline & Zak Penn, Starring Baby Cyclops, Birthmark-face and That Guy who gets choked by Darth Vader in Rogue One.

Tagline: An adventure too big for the real world.

Summary Capsule: Legendary filmmaker and lifelong geek adapts a fellow lifelong geek’s bestselling love-letter to geek pop culture; geeks everywhere act like they’re too good for it.

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Mike’s rating: Four out of five Galaxy Rangers teaming up with the Centurions to fight the Inhumanoids on Eternia to the tune of “You’ve got the Touch” by Stan Bush

Mike’s review:  There has been a backlash against geek culture in the past couple of years due to the actions of a few reprehensible garbage humans ruining everything for the rest of us who actually *like* to enjoy things. From the cringe-inducing #Gamergate trolls frothing about ethics in gaming journalism (which somehow translated to doxxing female indie creators) to relentless twitter harassment of anyone with the temerity to be in a Star Wars movie while also not being a white male, to the recent ousting of Jessica Price & Peter Fries by entitled Guild Wars jerks, it really does seem for all intents and purposes that geeks are the reason we can’t have any nice things. This in turn has led to a growing number of well-intentioned folks furthering the belief that geek culture needs to die a quick death, as that would solve the problem of people being mean on the internet forever and ever.

Do I even have to assert that I think this is overly simplistic, erroneous and counter-productive?

All this backlash is predicated on the presupposition that Geek culture has become “troublesome” for the more diplomatic, and “toxic” to those less interested in tact. The only problem with this line of thinking is that it takes a remarkably diverse, intelligent and yes, inclusive subculture and categorizes all of them with the same broad strokes–based on the actions of an infinitesimal minority of entitled professional victims drunk on the power of assumed anonymity. The end result of which is that sites like io9, who couldn’t stop praising Ernest Cline’s scifi novel Ready Player One at the time of its release are now pontificating on how “problematic” it is and decrying the practice of referencing past properties and franchises as somehow a portent of the death of originality in storytelling. This is all well and good, but means that Ready Player One is almost certain to get trashed more than it deserves due to people mindlessly jumping on the “Fanboys are toxic” bandwagon. This is a shame because Ready Player One is a terrific film featuring some amazing effects, great performances, an engaging story, Steven Spielberg operating at peak E.T. level, and a genuinely astonishing sequence involving one of the most iconic horror movies of all time.

It’s 2045 and the world has degraded almost to the point of needing a Thanos-style infinity snap. Pollution, energy shortages and over-population have driven society to the brink. Most people get away from it all by retreating into the virtual universe known as the Oasis, where a contest set by the game’s deceased creator in his last will and testament offers his mega-fortune and control of his gaming company to whoever can find an Easter egg hidden somewhere in the game’s massive universe of code. Wade Watts, known by his gamer tag “Parzival”, is one of the many egg hunters (truncated to “gunters”) obsessively searching for the egg. He could use the money as he lives in a vertically-piled trailer park slum known as the “the Stacks” with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend.  When he figures out how to clear the first challenge Parzival becomes a celebrity, and a target for IOI, an unscrupulous multinational telecommunications corporation (I know, I know: oxymoron) determined to win the contest and monetize the Oasis to the detriment of its users. To win, Wade will have to stay one step ahead of IOI and their CEO Nolan Sorrento, utilize his knowledge of Halliday’s life and interests, clan up with some of his online peeps and face the real world he’s been so desperate to escape all his life.

About 60% of the movie is CGI and motion-capture, taking place in the virtual Reality of the Oasis, while the remaining 40% is relegated to the real world. The scenes in the Oasis are photo-realistic enough to get into the action while still being fantastical enough to give the viewer the feeling of being immersed in a video game. At one point our heroes are transported into a perfect recreation of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining and the result is one of the most astonishing, technically masterful set-pieces in modern cinema. The whole cast do a great job walking the tight rope between live-action and motion capture performances. Ben Mendelsohn dials the smarm to unheard-of levels as Sorrento and his ongoing association/rivalry with Hannah John Kamen’s ruthless fixer F’nale is always fun to watch. The real MVP award though goes to Mark Rylance. As the eccentric “Bill Gates by way of Willy Wonka” game creator James Halliday, Rylance exhibits masterful scene thievery whenever he’s on screen. And of course Simon Pegg is always a sure thing.

There are some gripes. The bleak state of the real world is mostly left to the imagination, and at times I felt like a few scenes depicting the wasteland referred to in the novel would have brought the story up a notch. It feels like a wasted opportunity to not show the contrast between the movie’s attractive illusion and harsh reality.  Also, some of the novel’s storylines tend to strain credulity once they’ve been streamlined to fit within the movie’s two-hour runtime. The character’s Daito and Sho (Shoto in the novel) get shelved pretty hard. And yes, some of the dialog does approach cringe-worthy.

Critics of this movie have been more than vocal about what they view as a convoluted moral and the utilization of pop-culture references in lieu of storytelling, which is kind of missing the forest for the trees. Suggesting that the movie flip-flops between depicting the Oasis as a wonderful communications tool at some points and a dangerous distraction from the real world crumbling around you at others (an obvious stand-in for the internet itself) suggests that in reality it has to be one way or another. This is overly simplistic and beneath a filmmaker like Spielberg, who instead wisely posits the amazing possibilities of VR while still issuing a warning that it can be taken too far. Fantasy and storytelling is a way of connecting, and helping us understand ourselves as human beings, but you can’t live in it. Meanwhile, while the pop culture sci-fi, fantasy, comic book, music and movie references come fast and steady, they never threaten to overwhelm the overall plot. They’re more like seasoning, adding to the overall flavor without overpowering it. At its heart, Ready Player One is ultimately a wish-fulfillment fantasy, but when you’ve got Spielberg at the helm, pushing the boundaries of movie technology, is that really such a bad thing?

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Between this and X-men: Apocalypse I’m starting to think Tye Sheridan just has a thing for funky eyewear.

Intermission!

  • Steven Spielberg  has said this was the third most difficult movie he has made in his career, behind Jaws and Saving Private Ryan.
  • The spell cast to use the Orb of Osuvox is from the movie Excalibur. In modern Irish, it’s “Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis is beatha, do chéal déanaimh,” which means,”Serpent’s breath, charm of death and life, thy omen of making.”
  • Besides the obvious Bigfoot, Delorean, and Akira vehicles, other notables in the race were the Mach 5, Batmobile, A Team van, V8 Interceptor, Christine and the Trans-Am from Smokey and the Bandit
  • When Wade first goes into the container to put on the headset to enter the Oasis, there is a campaign poster on the wall for Goldie Wilson. In the scene where they are discussing Art3mis’s possible real life persona, The same poster can be seen with a picture of Wil Wheaton. In the book, Wil is vice-president of the Oasis user council. He also read the audio book for this and Ernest Cline’s second novel, Armada.
  • The semi-truck blocking the road in the middle of the opening race is the Porkchop Express–driven by Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China.
  • Oasis is actually an acronym: Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation.
  • In the scene where Halliday and Morrow are discussing the date with Kira, Halliday’s monitor show he is working on the build of Room 237 of The Overlook Hotel.
  • During the race sequence the marquee of a theater can be seen. It reads “Jack Slater III”. This is a nod to  Last Action Hero, also written by Zak Penn.
  • Ernest Cline has  said the primary influence for certain characters are based on:
    • Nolan Sorrento (Nolan Bushnell, Atari founder)
    • James Halliday (Howard Hughes and Richard Garriott a.k.a Lord British / Ultima developer)
    • Ogden Morrow (Harry Knowles, Ain’t It Cool News founder)
  • Cline has also stated that he based the relationship of James Halliday and Ogden Morrow on Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
  • This is only the fourth time a Steven Spielberg film isn’t composed by John Williams.
Groovy Quotes:

Wade Watts: I was born in 2027, after the corn syrup droughts, after the bandwidth riots, after people stopped trying to fix problems and just tried to outlive them.

Halliday: She wanted to go dancing…so we watched a movie.

Parzival: His favorite quote was from Superman; “Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story”…
Art3mis: …”others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.”

Sho: What? Do I have to wear a sign saying, “I am 11 years old, shoot me first”? No thanks.

Sixer #1: It’s [frak]ing *Chucky*!

I-R0k: Well, well. Buckaroo Blows it. Shocking.

Art3mis: I’ll wave to you from the finish line…McFly.

Sho: Ninjas don’t hug!

Aech: She could be a dude too, dude.
Parzival: Nah, come on.
Aech: I’m serious. She could actually be a 300 pound dude who lives in his momma’s basement in suburban Detroit….and her name is Chuck.

Aech: I’ve never seen The Shining. Is it really scary?
Sho: Uh… I had to watch it through my fingers.

Halliday: I was afraid for all my life, right up until the day I knew my life was ending. And that was when I realized that… as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place that you can get a decent meal.

Parzival: First to the Key!
Aech: First to the Egg!

Parzival:  I only came here to escape the (crappy) hand that life dealt me. But I stayed, like many of you, because I found something much bigger than just myself. I found a cause. I found my friends. And, yes, I know it’s kind of a groaner, but…I found love.

Halliday: Goodbye, Parzival. Thanks. Thanks for playing my game.

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