I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

Ready Player One

Steven Spielberg’s shiny, digitally new movie READY PLAYER ONE is about a virtual reality treasure hunt for people who are obsessed with ’80s and ’90s pop culture references even though it’s the year 2045. Which is not as far-fetched as it sounds at first. The hero of the story drives the car from BACK TO THE FUTURE, the #1 hit movie of sixty years prior, so it’s just the same as the teens you see now who model their lives on SOUTH PACIFIC.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, THE TREE OF LIFE, MUD, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE) is a nice young man and first person narrator living in a futuristic trailer park, and I guess poverty ain’t that bad because everyone spends their days playing around in this virtual reality video game called OASIS.

Wade is part of a subculture called “gunters” who know about old Atari 2600 games and Robert Zemeckis and everything because they study the journals of the late Oasis inventor Halliday (Mark Rylance, BLITZ), and he was obsessed with that shit. The gunters need to understand all that to win the puzzle contest he left behind as a sort of a last-willy-wonka-and-testament to award his majority share of the company to some random nerd he never met who can solve some riddles. Also they gotta be good at video games, because the first challenge involves a giant car race. Wade drives the DeLorean, his friend Aech (pronounced ‘H’) (spoiler – it’s not a boy, it’s Lena Waithe from Master of None) drives Bigfoot, a famous girl he has a crush on and just met named Artemis (Olivia Cooke, OUIJA) drives the red motorcycle from AKIRA (weirdly the only reference the characters feel they have to explain to the audience).

At first Wade is just trying to win the contest. But Artemis is more like a rebel leader, and she convinces him to make it a cause. An asshole company called IOI, run by CEO Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn, ANIMAL KINGDOM), have a massive research department and virtual army trying to win the contest as basically a corporate takeover. In a flashback (available for viewing in a public library) he’s an assistant to Halliday who tries to convince him to add tiered membership levels like Silver, Gold and Platinum. So their mission is to make sure their virtual playground doesn’t get turned into some bullshit like that.

The way Wade tells it, he has studied the shit out of everything from our era and is one of the top gunters. Kinda reminds me of DEMOLITION MAN, where in the year 2032 Sandra Bullock’s character is useful for her obsession with ’90s culture. And actually that seems like a movie they should’ve referenced in this. I know they say it’s ’80s, but I noticed just as many ’90s things – they have Spawn, Goro from Mortal Kombat, Halo I think, Home Improvement (okay, not really Home Improvement) and a theater marquee from the world of LAST ACTION HERO (the closest thing to a cool reference that I noticed).

It’s very easy to nitpick the nerdery, because Halliday seems to be from the generation of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, yet he populates his personal nostalgia fetish world with lots of things from when those guys were in their 40s, and even the recent mo-cap version of the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. There’s a good gag about a Star Trek themed funeral, but a guy who would do that, in my opinion, would not also be into ten thousand other things. Considering that he is, his nerdtopia is suspiciously lacking in STAR WARS (there’s one verbal reference) and since Spielberg didn’t want to blow smoke up his own ass they’re worshipping all these ’80s movies without seeming to know about E.T. or RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. I think the only self-reference is a JURASSIC PARK t-rex. Could’ve at least thrown in a plane from 1941 or EMPIRE OF THE SUN or ALWAYS, or the horse from WAR HORSE, or the terminal from THE TERMINAL.

And we all gave Stranger Things shit for having too cool of posters on the walls – what fucking kid had theatrical posters of THE THING or THE EVIL DEAD? – but this one kinda goes the other way because the motherfucker has a LADYHAWKE poster. How are we supposed to relate to a guy that has a LADYHAWKE poster?

But all that’s okay. They’re just references. There better be more to a movie than references, and yeah, there’s a little bit. Because it’s Spielberg, who in my opinion is to directing movies what Steven Spielberg is to directing movies, it’s all pretty seductive. The quest kept me interested, and the animated action is fun to watch. There’s alot of long shots floating into and through the world (particularly in the big car race) that made me regret not seeing it in 3D. (On the other hand, is there something wrong with my eyes, or does it flicker for everybody to watch a sideways pan in digital projection? This has been killing me for years because I loved those type of shots when I could see them, and what’s the point of showing a crowd of comic book characters and Mortal Kombat dudes if our eyes can’t process the imagery?)

The part that impressed me the most was the level of the game that takes place inside (SPOILER) the movie THE SHINING. It’s weird that they chose the Mick Garris version, but I guess Stephen Weber is easier to get ahold of than no just kidding it takes place inside Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING. Not footage from it, but a detailed simulation, complete with Wendy Carlos music. I don’t know how they did it but as far as my eyes could tell they exactly re-created the sets of the movie and shot and lit it just right. You feel like you’re walking through that big lobby, down the halls, into the freezer, the maze, and of course Room 237. It’s nothing more than a gimmick, but it’s cool to think of Spielberg giving such detailed attention to a creation of his friend Stanley, and there are a few laughs and what not.

On the topic of horror classics: I only noticed this on the credits, but the neighbor lady who Wade says hi to at the beginning is Clare Higgins, a.k.a. Julia from HELLRAISER and HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, my choice for most underrated horror monster of the ’80s.

(And yeah, two more celebrated icons of that world make brief appearances. Nothing big but it is strange to realize that we now live in a world where Spielberg has directed SPOILER Chucky in a scene.)

If I had to rank all the Spielberg movies (which is something Wade might do if Spielberg existed in his world) READY PLAYER ONE would definitely be near the bottom, but probly above THE TERMINAL and HOOK and his chapter of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. I didn’t hate it at all. But some of the ideas behind it really bother me.

This movie could be the final chapter in the Nerdening of America, the last shot fired by the original generation of internet self-proclaimed geeks. I’m talking about the people and attitudes given voice (like me) by the since-disgraced Headgeek Harry Knowles, who encouraged and empowered our nostalgia and masturbatory enthusiasm for the totems and trivia of sci-fi and comic books and shit. From his laptop he told the world about Austin film and “geek” happenings like SIX STRING SAMURAI, the Alamo Drafthouse, Mondo posters, Fantastic Fest, and yes, Cline, some guy who did “slam poetry” about being a nerd, and wrote a script about STAR WARS fans trying to break into Skywalker Ranch so their friend with cancer could see EPISODE I early. Harry was a character in the script, and according to Wired  it was his review on Ain’t It Cool that put it on the radar in Hollywood. Harry also read Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One early, and Cline said that “The character of Aech is partially based on my friend Harry Knowles (but not entirely).” Random House bought the book (there was a bidding war!) and Warner Brothers bought the movie rights the next day. Cline wrote the first drafts (later rewritten by Zak Penn [story credits on LAST ACTION HERO, X-MEN 2 and THE AVENGERS]).

In fairness I must say that I haven’t seen FANBOYS – I think I only got about ten minutes in before I had to call it. More importantly I haven’t read Ready Player One, and I know you can’t judge a book by wanting to jump off a bridge when you hear the premise, or by having someone chase you around reading excerpts out loud to torment you because there’s a part where he literally spends a page listing off all his favorite bands, TV shows, movies and directors like some unfortunate cross between a MySpace page and the journal of John Doe from SE7EN. (Tip: You didn’t have to tell us you liked They Might Be Giants and “Youtube videos of cute geeky girls playing ’80s cover tunes on ukuleles.” We pretty much figured that.)

It’s clear that the book was written to pander to a very specific audience, and I might be of the same generation, but I don’t really care about video games or see BACK TO THE FUTURE and GHOSTBUSTERS as the pinnacles of the era. Sure, I like ’em, but they’re not movies that strike the kind of chord in me where I get excited about combining the cars from them into one vehicle (as Wade does in the book and Cline does in real life). So I’m not the target audience.

Or maybe I am now. When Harry rose to power, his favorite things were thought of as kind of niche and looked down on, a secret handshake between misfits happy to find that rare person who understood what they were talking about. That era is reflected in READY PLAYER ONE by the sad detail that the hero knows he’s in love because a girl correctly identifies his fucking Buckaroo Banzai cosplay. But the movie was born into the world that Harry predicted and precipitated, the one with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and perpetual STAR WARS, where you’re more of a weirdo if you don’t know who Gollum is than if you do, where a book like this could be made into a $175 million summer blockbuster directed by Steven fucking Spielberg. The garage band went platinum. So now when you see all this stuff on screen it doesn’t feel like “Holy shit, they have a bunch of my favorite stuff!” It’s more of a “Yep, there’s all the stuff.”

Maybe this will kill off empty ’80s nostalgia once and for all. The people I’ve heard talking about the movie with excitement were born after the ’80s. I think it appeals most to those who don’t see these references as the comforting echoes of childhood, but as exotic symbols of a time they didn’t witness.

But I don’t like that the premise elevates only the superficial elements – the symbols without their meanings. I can’t deny the brief amusement of seeing the Iron Giant fighting Mechagodzilla (especially when Alan Silvestri [JUDGMENT NIGHT]’s score slid into Akira Ifukube’s original Godzilla theme), but a feeling of emptiness quickly sets in. Some have pointed out that the whole premise of THE IRON GIANT is “I am not a gun” – an intergalactic war machine with a bump on his head decides not to be a weapon anymore – yet here they have him fighting and shooting lasers out of his eyes. And others have responded that yeah but this isn’t supposed to be the actual Iron Giant, it’s a video game and they’re just using him as an avatar. And now I’m responding that sure, it makes sense in the story, but the reason people love the Iron Giant is because of the character and what he represents, more than because it’s a cool robot. READY PLAYER ONE doesn’t care about going deeper than cool robot. It’s for people who like posters and lunchboxes more than stories and characters. It’s all sugar-coated topping.

I don’t love CLERKS, but back then nerd references were about digging deeper into a thing, pointing out something someone else might not have thought of, like the probability that many working class construction people were killed on the Death Star. Here if there was a Death Star it would just be a picture of the Death Star blowing up Cybertron. Wade could identify them but couldn’t offer any further insights.

Consider this: Sorrento tries to recruit Wade by talking nerd shit with him. Wade tests him, asks him trivia, and it turns out he’s being fed the answers through an earpiece. Sorrento represents the corporate asshole who just sees “geek culture” or whatever as a moneymaking opportunity. He’s the poser, the fake nerd, the one who doesn’t really belong here. But what the fuck is Wade? He’s a guy who reads about all of Halliday’s favorite TV shows and shit to try to win a contest. He’s not “real” or coming from the right place either. But we’re definitely not supposed to think about him that way. He’s supposed to be us.

I’m not sure how much he’s supposed to be Spielberg, though in the live action world he looks like him. At the end they have some nice morals about friendship and even unplugging on occasion to make out with your hot girlfriend. (Apparently nobody told him that cybersex is better because you can combine into one and morph into a butterfly.)

But I can’t stop thinking about Cline and many of the reviewers comparing his book to THE MATRIX. Again, he’s taking the concept of the matrix and not its meaning. In MATRIX terms this is a happy ending where Neo abandons Zion because he has to save The Matrix. I guess that’s where the machines fucked up: they made the Matrix just like regular life where you have to have a job instead of letting everybody be cyborgs who hang out with Batman and fight Freddy and collect coins. Halliday didn’t have to trick anybody and they still save up all their money so they can be in The Matrix.

In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK the fight is over the vessel of communication between man and God, and when they get it they all fucking melt. In READY PLAYER ONE it’s over “the first easter egg,” when a programmer hid his name in a video game, and if you get it you win the world’s largest media company and all your dreams come true. Huh.

I guess that’s what I get for trying to look beneath the cool robot.

Other notes:

  1. The main characters are the rare players who don’t wear skins of existing pop culture characters (unless they’re ones we don’t recognize from entertainment that doesn’t exist yet). It seems like there should be some acknowledgment of how they create their looks, so we can see that they have some type of creativity.
  2. Am I right that Wade’s mom’s asshole boyfriend has a mullet because of trailer trash stereotyping, not because of ’80s nostalgia? It’s hard to know.
  3. Cline has had as bad of luck as me when it comes to being associated with people who later get accused of sexual misconduct. This has T.J. Miller in it, FANBOYS has an actor playing Harry and is produced by Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein.
  4. Do you think Iron Giant never speaks because Spielberg didn’t like working with Vin Diesel on SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, or because he’s chosen The Rock’s side in the Fast and Furious Family Feud?
  5. I wonder if they’ve considered having special screenings where a know-it-all nerd stands in front of the screen and lists off all the references in a nasally voice. “That’s a Joust poster. That’s from TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. That’s a Ninja Turtle” etc. Or for an extra $5 you can get a more cynical nerd who complains about the references that he’s not seeing. “What about Street Sharks. What about Silverhawks. What about M.U.S.C.L.E. Things. What about ALF.”

Amazing ideas I would’ve suggested if I was a script doctor:

  1. This goes without saying, but the Atari 2600 game played for the final challenge should be the infamous E.T. game. They just keep falling into a hole and wondering what the fuck is this game supposed to be.
  2. One character’s avatar should be Mojo Nixon as Toad in SUPER MARIO BROS.: THE MOVIE.
  3. They should also have to learn everything about ’50s and ’60s pop culture because Halliday grew up watching Happy Days, STAND BY ME and The Wonder Years.
  4. One of Wade’s friends should play as Roger Rabbit, but when he meets her in real life she’s actually a very old Baby Herman, so we learn not only that people are different IRL but that this movie takes place in the universe of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT where cartoon characters are living creatures known as “toons.”
  5. What about Golden Girls?

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 12th, 2018 at 5:36 pm and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

46 Responses to “Ready Player One”

  1. All of your script doctoring ideas are gold.

  2. Well, now I’ve finally had some entertainment from this wretched book/film, or at least tangential to it.

    Thanks!

    Ps I actually bought the book based of a description on Amazon back in 2011. I thought it would be like Alex Garland’s The Beach where he uses the fact that the protagonist is obsessed with 70s culture to comment on stuff, like how the protagonist is an a-hole. Not sure if they carried that aspect over to the movie…

  3. This is pretty much right where I am. I didn’t hate it. It had stuff that worked. But on the totem of Spielberg movies… it’s almost hard to believe it is one. Definitely one of his lesser works.

  4. I didn’t like the movie and I liked the book but only read it once. I just think people are being assholes about the 80s and those that like it and I’m not happy about it.

  5. Dear Vern

    Did you know Spielberg had approached Gene Wilder to play Halliday? That would have been nice.

    Also, I didn’t know that Cline wrote that piece of shit Fanboys, thank you for being the only reviewer to point that out!

  6. Yeah I also didn’t exactly see a big difference between Sorrento and Wade, other than Sorrento is supposed to be some loser because he doesn’t know obscure pop culture references from 60 years earlier, but Wade is awesome because he says his favorite movie is “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,” although he never explains why he loves it so much apart from it being a litmus test for whether a girl is worthy of his love.

    This also may be the first futuristic sci-fi movie with this kind of premise where the bad guy is the one whose plan would free the populace from the virtual reality drug that has in many ways enslaved them (one moment that’s played for laughs shows a mother so immersed in the Oasis that she neglects her young child’s warnings that their kitchen is on fire), while the hero is the one who wants to maintain the status quo. The message of any other movie would be that instead of trying to escape the real world, people should make their reality a better place, whereas the message of “Ready Player One” is that it’s cool to continue living a fantasy as long as you are forced into interacting with loved ones and getting some fresh air every Tuesday and Thursday.

    And maybe this was some sly commentary about how much more Wade cared about a bunch of virtual avatars, but at one point a couple of people very close to him are killed in the real world, and it has such little impact on him or the story going forward that when he brought it up later in the movie I had already forgotten that it happened.

  7. Tough Guy – to be fair, Luke Skywalker completely forgets about Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru after they’re killed off, and never mentions them again. So there’s a precedent.

  8. I liked this one alright. It’s definitely not great. I’ve been on a Spielberg kick recently, rewatching AI, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, MINORITY REPORT, JAWS, and some others, so maybe that helped it for me–as there are a number of Spielberg tropes to go along with the expert craftmanship of the camerawork.

    The apparent messaging was especially infuriating. All of a sudden the movie wraps up with a “it’s about friendship!” and about game-life balance and let’s give people two days? I would’ve been happier if they’d picked a side more about how to consider this MATRIX–e.g. fuck it the real world sucks, let’s escape; or come back to reality and let’s deal with all the problems we have. Plus, the police suddenly show up and all is good? What happened to all the suggestions of how this game was an escape, but perpetuator, of a completely dystopian looking world, which also shaped how people interacted out in the world? There are all these potentially dark aspects to the story that just get whitewashed…I’m sure Spielberg knew he was doing that, probably to please an audience, it’s been my biggest issue with some of his later movies–e.g. Minority Report, War of the Worlds. I know Hitchcock did some of that stuff too, but Hitchcock also went really fucking dark in his later career when he had more creative power. I haven’t seen that from Spielberg and it’s the one thing I wish we did get more of, especially since he insists a lot of the darker elements to some of his movies, e.g. AI, Close Encounters, personally come from him–when instead he’s tended post 1993 to go more towards making the kinds of movies that he got blamed for destroying with blockbusters.

    I might as well throw out the obvious criticism that Artemis and the love story was laughable. She got less and less interesting the more she got closer to Harry. And it was decidedly not a brave choice to have her think she was an ugly duckling just because she’s got a birthmark on her face, but still looks like a movie star.

  9. “I guess that’s where the machines fucked up: they made the Matrix just like regular life where you have to have a job instead of letting everybody be cyborgs who hang out with Batman and fight Freddy and collect coins.”

    My recollection is that the machines in the personage of the Architect said they tried this with earlier versions of the Matrix and people weren’t buying the illusion and dying off, hence the version in the movie where everyone was stuck in what generally was the repetitive drudgery of a 8 hours a day/5 days a week job.

  10. Yes, that’s essentially what the Architect said in his verbose speech in THE MATRIX RELOADED. The people needed #pain.

  11. I usually never want a movie to fail, especially when I haven’t seen it or it’s from Spielberg, but man, was I hoping for a box office bomb of Disney Live Action Movie That Is Not A Remake Of A Cartoon Or About Jack Sparrow proportions, just to see the trend of hollow Nostalgiaturbation die. I’m as nostalgic as the next guy and could spend hours talking about the shit from my childhood, but I noticed around the time when SOUTH PARK did their IMAGINATIONLAND episode, that “Look, it’s __________” does nothing for me.

    But I kinda made me peace with the movie. Still haven’t seen it and most likely won’t until it hits pay TV, but it’s commercial success doesn’t bother me at all. In fact I like that people seem to enjoy it, although of course that it doesn’t seem to be the must-see popculture phenomenon that everybody involved hoped it was gonna be, might have to do with it.

    The question is of course what Spielberg saw in it. Might have been the technological aspect, since he talked about how this was his most complicated shoot. But maybe it was just his “In this day and age even I need a box office hit to make the movies that I want” paycheck movie.

  12. Well, at the very least, people in the Matrix needed an illusion they could credibly accept. It’s definitely true that non-stop excitement, adventure and wish-fulfillment would eventually cease to be exciting or an adventure if it isn’t punctuated by a lot of downtime.

    Frederik Pohl wrote a good short story about exactly this called Enjoy, Enjoy and even something like Red Dwarf had the computer point out that to keep our main character sane, the ship’s computer wasn’t going to create a holographic recreation of the woman he always liked (who he wanted) but the co-worker he could barely stand (but who the computer knew he needed as he was the best chance of keeping him sane).

  13. Just yesterday I had the opportunity to go to the movies for the first time since I saw The Last Jedi after Christmas. I wanted to watch something escapist, so I briefly considered Ready Player One, but goddamnit, I just can’t get past that stupid premise, even if it is directed by Stephen Spielberg.

    Instead I watched Pacific Rim 2, and I don’t regret my choice one bit, even though I’m sure the filmatism on Ready Player One was undoubtedly stronger. (Also, Pacific Rim 2 is kind of bonkers and more fun than I thought it would be judging by the previews and various reviews).

  14. I’m pretty sure everybody already knows how I feel about this bullshit so I ain’t gonna waste your time stating the obvious. But I do have a serious question: Does Chucky talk, and if so, is he played by Brad Dourif? Because if he is, fuck you, Spielberg, for finding the one chink in my anti-nostalgiabait armor: my rabid Chucky completism.

  15. You know, we get so few movies like this from Speilberg that I think we should appreciate them, at least parts of them, when we get them. In the last 15 years he’s made, what, two “popcorn” action movies. Crystal Skull and Tin Tin (I guess that counts). Do War of the Worlds and Minority Report fall into the same category? BFG? This really seemed like a million movies that Spielberg has executive produced.

    When I saw the previews, I thought I would have a big problem with the animated portions of the movie, but they were pretty enjoyable and actually made sense considering they were in a computer simulation. Much better for me than Avatar, when I watched that all I could think about is there are a bunch of cartoon characters running around in real environments.

    The challenges are really dumbed down from the book, but I think they had to be. I am not sure I would have liked watching the characters figure out one of the keys is hidden inside a castle from a D&D module, or whatever the fuck it was.

    The movie seemed very UNspielberglike at times. Steve aint Scorcese, and is it just me or was there more profanity in this movie than any other Spielberg movie ever (except maybe Private Ryan)? And god, he really couldn’t figure out how to stick the landing towards the end, there were about five spots where I thought “OK, this is it” and it went on and on.

    I think from a reference standpoint they were kind of hand tied because of licensing. Since it was a Warner movie, we have lots of DC characters, lots more Alien than you would expect (chest burster, pulse rifle, Sulaco), Back to the Future, and the whole Shining sequence.

    I have to say, though, I smiled a lot while watching it and was entertained for the most part. Certainly a movie I will never see again.

  16. CUPHEAD is an example of something current drawing exhaustively on the influences of 60+ years prior which has been quite popular with “the kids”. And in the world of YouTube and everyone (to a degree) being able to select their own Entertainment preference, it does seem the 30s/40s cartoons that inspired CUPHEAD have a bit of a following among teens, but as a 31 year old with a disproportionate interest in those cartoons, that might just be my perspective. But certainly 30s/40s pop culture did still have a certain hold on kids when I was growing up in the 90s. So I can just about buy the 80s being all the range in the 2040s. I think there are good reasons why 90s and 00s nostalgia haven’t quite yet unseated 80s nostalgia, and for all we know that could forth another few decades.

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I have read the book. It is not a good book (I read it when the Backlash started last year so my expectations were fairly modest), it starts of as a guilty pleasure but palls greatly with a truly atrocious ending (which I understand, and kind of assume, is improved on in the movie). The “people into a million things” aspect is an issue, particularly with the protagonist, who surely could not have watched as much as he claims in under 20 years of life. But the book does address the dubious choice of LADYHAWKE as an emblem of taste.

  17. EDIT: Will also accept Chucky being the avatar of elderly Redman, living in his mama’s shopping container in Brick City and playing Oasis with his homeboy who was sleeping on the couch in that CRIBS episode.

  18. I’m pretty sure any serious Buckaroo Banzai fan would cosplay as Perfect Tommy anyway.

    I disliked Cline’s book as much as anything I’ve read in recent years, at least read to completion. And even if Spielberg has fixed a lot of the problems, Cline’s not getting any more of my money.

    The WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT mention is apposite, as anything this drenched in nostalgia ought to understand mortality and loss at least as well as that did. Here you get another life, and you forget about your folks who died back in the real world.

    I understand the movie has fixed the overdose of Rush against the absence of Prince, which really had me asking where Cline was living in the 80s, but still no.

    Bigelow and Cameron did virtual reality best 20 years ago:

    Ironic that I have to look back that far to find something prepared to look forward.

  19. Majestyk: I actually don’t know the answer to that. I think he only laughs, and if it’s not Dourif they sure fooled me, but his name is not on the credits and wasn’t on IMDb when I checked. I’m sure he’s gotta be digital, not a puppet, so you could classify it as an animated voice cameo like when Clint Eastwood was in CASPER, and maybe not have to count it in the Chuckography.

    JeffG: The illusion of AVATAR part way got you, because the environments are all animated too.

    Borg9: There are obviously ’80s songs on the soundtrack, but music doesn’t feel very important to this world. I think he might’ve mentioned Thriller? I feel like logically there should be more Thriller. And there should definitely be a Purple Rain motorcycle (though maybe the estate wouldn’t have that shit). I didn’t notice any Prince or Madonna music or references.

  20. Thanks Vern. I Wanna Be Your Lover is listed on the soundtrack on IMDB.

  21. Vern and Majestyk: Unless they got some unknown voice actor to imitate Dourif (either uncredited, or lumped under a big “additional voices” block in the credits) it seems most likely that they simply used a clip of Dourif’s voice from one of the Chucky films.

    Also, I would count BACK TO THE FUTURE as a Spielberg reference since Spielberg was executive producer on that film.

    It’s interesting that so far pretty much everyone here is coming down skeptical-to-negative on this particular project – not just the movie, but the whole concept and ethos behind it.

    I know we criticize nerd negativity here, but I’m sensing some anti-nerd negativity from y’all this time. We like a lot of this stuff too but we don’t like the *way* that fans are liking it – we carry a snobby/whiny-voiced nerd caricature in our heads that haunts us and has infected our enjoyment of the material itself.

    I think all Vern’s observations/criticisms are valid. But I also think there’s nothing wrong with a movie that is a fun celebration of stuff we/they love.

    A heavier movie that is more critical of the relationship between fans and pop culture would have been good too, but I am also fine with the movie they actually made.

    I mean, it’s not like Spielberg has been cranking out lightweight escapist pap for the last 10 or 15 years – he’s largely been doing serious dramas, or the occasional sci-fi film with a darker edge to it. And it’s not like reference-heavy pop-culture mashup movies are driving everything else out – there’s really just this and THE LEGO MOVIE (and maybe SCOTT PILGRIM, which came out quite a while ago and wasn’t that big a hit as I recall).

    So I am content to enjoy this as an unlikely one-off, and to simply revel in the nerd stuff instead of having to argue with those guys about it.

    (And unlike JeffG I will probably see it again in the theater, because I want to see what the SHINING sequence looked like in 3D.)

    I do agree that the final moral about spending more time in the real world seems half-hearted. But here’s one thing about the movie that is maybe a little deep:

    I’ve heard it suggested that Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD was more prophetic than George Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, because in Huxley’s future people are willingly enslaved by pleasure and distraction, rather than simply brutalized as they are in Orwell’s future. When Vern said the machines should have made the Matrix more like the Oasis he may have been being sarcastic but he is nonetheless onto something.

    Because we actually do live in the Oasis already, because the Oasis is the Internet, it’s Facebook / Twitter / Outlawvern.com / etc. It’s the virtual world that for better or worse we live in now, not always knowing who people really are and what is or isn’t real. While we may be disquieted by many aspects of it, it is unlikely that most of us will willingly unplug from it completely. We’re not going to overthrow it the way Neo tried to fight the Matrix. That’s a reality that I think READY PLAYER ONE, consciously or not, acknowledges.

  22. Enjoyable, but pure empty calories. Someone mentioned going to see the new Pacific Rim instead, and honestly, that was the right decision. I mean, it obviously doesn’t come even close to this in terms of craftsmanship, but it doesn’t come off nearly as hollow either.
    Here we get the Shining section, which is indeed great until it turns into the Eddie Murphy Haunted Mansion flick. And to me that just goes to show that the Oasis creator didn’t really get or care for his supposed 11th favorite horror movie ever, he just scrawled his lame relationship problems on it like an idiot defacing the mona lisa with his myspace page. Instead of finding a way to make his test, you know, be faithful to it somehow. So it goes for everything else in the movie. All the pop culture stuff is just references, with no real connection to the source material.
    All in all, I don’t regret going to see it – it was fun enough, and really well made (Spielberg at his most demagogic is still worth a watch!) – but the main takeaway for me was to stay the hell away from the book, which I think I would hate with a white-hot burning passion.

    Also, what the hell was up with Mendelsohn in the end? He just looks like he’s having an orgasm instead of trying to, I don’t know, try to take the McGuffin at gunpoint or something.

  23. And to reinforce my point – right here at Outlawvern we have so far over the years had a Mr. Majestyk, a MacReady, and a certain PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE character, among others. At some point I remember at least one person here calling himself/herself Magnus Greel (I don’t know how many of you got that one).

    If we’d spent all this time calling ourselves Buckaroo Banzai, Marty McFly, etc. then it would not be so easy to distance ourselves from this movie.

  24. I need to stew on this movie a bit more but I did like it, a lot. I’m a Spielberg fan, yeah no shit, but I think he’s been on a hot streak and has had a great decade.

    I think there’s an emotional core to this flick that is getting missed a bit, which is that it feels like Rylance’s Halliday is a portrait of George Lucas – his vocal delivery really takes me back to watching behind-the-scenes star wars docs as a teenager. It isn’t an entirely flattering portrait either, is the thing.

    There’s a really tragedy and pathos to his story – this guy who created an universe-cum-business empire, that defined how a whole generation (and then the next, and the next) interacted with culture… but which came at the cost of his personal relationships, and ultimately he ended up alienated from his creation anyway.

    I think the movie plays really differently if you see it as Halliday’s story as much as Wade’s. That scene in his bedroom at the end is a passing of the torch yeah, but also a broken man reflecting on a wasted life. I think that dude’s dissatisfaction gives this movie a real something, and it’ll come out more as time passes.

    I dunno, the way it differs from the book (going off a wikipedia summary anyway) seem pretty instructive. The first challenge is literally solved by showing us a bunch of empty signifiers and cinematic crash-bang-wallop and then selling us to – and i mean literally – look under the surface. And then the second clue is about creators who resent or ‘hate’ their own creations. I think Steven is literally one of the only filmmakers who could’ve come out with an interesting take on that source material.

    A lot of Spielberg’s movies have come out and been dismissed empty spectacle only to seem weirder and darker in retrospect. This is one of those.

    PS – if anyone out there is on the fence, go see this in 3D. The 3D is used well, and the sheen it gives to everything naturalises the virtual world a little bit, makes it feel more real.

  25. Yeah… Man.

    I look at Spielberg as a spiritual filmmaker. His movies have a history of being dismissed as manipulative/sentimental or whatever the pseudo intellectual critical buzzword of the week is. But that’s missing the absolute conviction he pours into often pulp subjects as explorations of our shared humanity. He believes this shit.

    Say what you want about HOOK and THE TERMINAL, but they’re real Spielberg movies. They’re devout.

    I don’t think READY PLAYER ONE is terrible, but right now I’m placing it only above his TWILIGHT ZONE segment. What bothers me most about it is that it gives into the consumerist nerd narrative that pop culture is meaningless, a commodity. It has no sense of what these properties mean, and why they’re important to the people who love them. And I was with it until about after the disco scene, when I was like, “Something isn’t working here.”

    The trailer park high-rise sequence that opens the movie is beautifully shot, and it’s a great concept. What about THAT? What about the movie about people who have let their lives fester away because they’re all addicted to the same stupid video game. It’s a fascinating concept, but the film only pays lip service to that idea of forsaking “real world” experience. It’s missing the cultural criticism of Spielberg’s early 2000s run when it desperately needs it.

    Another thing that bugged me is when the girl says, “What do you mean you love me, you haven’t seen what I really look like.” And then he sees her, and she has a birthmark on her face but is still conventionally beautiful, so he’s like, “I accept you despite your horrible disfigurement.” If you’re gonna set this up, she should look like the Elephant Man!

    I wanted to love this.

  26. Again, I’ve only read the book, but I did that because I do indeed love this stuff and I thought it sounded cool. Right about now I’m wondering why I didn’t take John Yaya as a handle, and I’m thinking Magnus Greel was one of the great villains of 70s Saturday teatime, but I haven’t seen him here.

    So if nerds are loving READY PLAYER ONE, good luck to them. Hell, if all this interest in Buckaroo Banzai gives us a shot at seeing him against the World Crime League, I’ll be the first to write Speilberg a thank you. At least it shows that when Spielberg calls all those rights issues can actually get resolved.

    What I’m objecting to is that READY PLAYER ONE is lazy and exploitative – both of its pop culture references and its nerd audience. Cline’s book is full of music:

    But what kind of 80s had no ska, rap, Michael Jackson or Prince? Sure, those are authorial choices, but they feel calculated rather than natural, or indeed real.

    And as to the Elephant Man, the message I took from the book was that it’s OK to be black or gay, as long as nobody sees it.

  27. And the triumph of Brave New World over 1984 argument comes from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, which does seem remarkably up-to-the-minute for a book actually written in the mid-80s.

  28. I was going to mention Neil Postman, but Borg9 beat me to it.

    I can only speak for myself, but I think that one of the reasons why I react so strongly against the idea of this film is because it hits close to home. At one point in my life, I probably would have felt like a film like this spoke directly to me. The idea that you could fall in love with someone because she got a Buckaroo Banzai allusion instead of because of who that person actually is wouldn’t have sounded crazy to me as a teenager. But then I grew up.

    I still love plenty of stuff that I also loved as a kid. I keep on following and revisiting the Star Warses and Treks, but I hope that I’ve also expanded my mind a little and watch films that are challenging or just plain bizarre. As much as I have my geek obsessions, I also know you can love this stuff to the point where you’re just chasing that feeling you got when you watched these movies as a kid. And these are the people who are online, decrying The Last Jedi for not being like the other Star Wars movies.

    And maybe this film isn’t meant for me. But at the same time, when geek culture has so completely taken over films like it has, I have a harder time stomaching a movie about a plucky little nerd taking on a corporation. I mean, judging from the internet, this nerd would be asking this corporation to please take over these IPs and keep them away from any meddling directors wanting to do anything new or different with them.

  29. You guys are a bunch of grumps. This movie was a lot of fun. I could go on as why…but whatever.

    The BATTLETOADS and The MADBALLS were my favorite references. I already knew about CHUCKY going in…but that was still gold.

    I have complained about Nerds overdoing the nostalgia and not looking for anything new for some time now, but got hand it where its due…this was a decent movie. Deep? Not really…but not dumb fluff either.

    I would say this is the most fun I’ve had in an action oriented fantasy movie in awhile, but then I saw RAMPAGE a couple days later, which was like an adrenilin shot of the 8 year old me straight to the brain! I sincerely hope you guys like that one as much as I did…its a hoot!

  30. RAMPAGE was enjoyable but I think it dropped the ball on a lot of its big moments. Like, the monkey and the wolf teaming up was handled in surveillance footage. The actual rampage of the title begins with no fanfare in an establishing shot. That’s not a big deal but it is indicative of the way the movie seemed to glide over its money shots. I got distracted for two seconds and suddenly one of the monsters is dead. Also, they kept introducing characters I wanted Rock to beat up and then didn’t let him beat them up. Nothing quite paid off. It was lazy dumb fun, not, like, transcendental dumb fun.

  31. Stacy Livitsanis

    April 14th, 2018 at 8:26 am

    Ready Player One – now with obsessive nostalgia for the movies of the 1910’s and 20’s:
    Look, it’s a klansman from Birth of a Nation, the rowboat from Sunrise, the robot Maria from Metropolis, the train from The General, the Little Tramp, The Keystone Kops, Lillian Gish on an ice floe, Dr Mabuse, the flying carpet from Thief of Bagdad, a demon from Adventures of Prince Achmed, Jakie Rabinowitz in blackface from The Jazz Singer, Count Orlok from Nosferatu, the clock from Safety Last, the shoe Chaplin ate in The Gold Rush, the Odessa Steps from Battleship Potemkin, the Phantom’s organ from Phantom of the Opera…

    What about a version with references to 80’s arthouse hits:
    Cool! Look, it’s the iron lung from In a Glass Cage. There’s the barn full of Russian peasants about to burned alive by the Nazis from Come and See. Awesome! There’s the subway tunnel from Possession where Isabelle Adjani oozes pinkish pus from her vagina. There’s one of the courses from Babette’s Feast, the farm from Pelle the Conqueror, the prison cell from Kiss of the Spider Woman, there’s some colour-coded soldiers from Ran, that’s the pirate radio van from Born in Flames. Listing things with no appreciation of their original context or meaning makes me so awesomely cool!

    Ready Player One represents the absolute failure of imagination. It felt like a horror film, a warning of what could happen to our culture if this state of permanent nostalgia continues. An obnoxious ouroboros. Or maybe a Human Centipede is a better analogy.

  32. “I’ve heard it suggested that Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD was more prophetic than George Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, because in Huxley’s future people are willingly enslaved by pleasure and distraction, rather than simply brutalized as they are in Orwell’s future.”

    I always took 1984 as more of a warning than a prediction and in terms of North Korea at least, real-life descriptions I read about it including crediting the leader for major technological advancements and impossible physical feats were uncannily like that of the novel.

    Brave New World seems to be becoming more accurate by the day in terms of conquest through distraction and another good book in this area is This Perfect Day by Ira Levin of Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, and The Boys from Brazil fame.

  33. Speaking of nothing related, the fact that I’m pretty sure none of you saw Hurricane Heist makes me sad.

  34. I did my part and saw it!

  35. grimgrinningchris

    April 14th, 2018 at 6:46 pm

    Vern- Whatshisnuts tries out a Purple Rain outfit when trying to decide what to wear for his “date”.

  36. Stacy, I would argue that SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (which I loved) was for the 1930s what READY PLAYER ONE was for the 1980s.

    Also, I would watch the hell out of both of the hypothetical movies you described. They both sound like something Jean-Luc Godard would have made circa ALPHAVILLE or PIERROUT LE FOU.

    Borg9, it might not have been Magnus Greel I saw here, it might have been Lawrence Scarman. It was an old Doctor Who villain, in any case.

    Tigger, I knew you would appreciate the Mad Ball cameo. I cheered pretty hard myself at that part.

  37. The 1991 Icelandic seniors-on-the-run drama CHILDREN OF NATURE has a bizarre “Hey, it’s the angel from WINGS OF DESIRE!” moment that ruined the movie for me but didn’t stop it getting an Oscar nomination. If only it had been the vanguard of the European Arthouse Extended Universe!

    But all this talk of time travellers in phoneboxes has me asking why I found the pop culture referencing in the BILL AND TED movies so satisfying, while I am so down on READY PLAYER ONE. I don’t want to be a grump. Really.

    So, the reason we are not all sitting around waiting for the Sky Captain reboot, following on from the hit sequels, is that the audience for 1930s nostalgia was already dead by the early 2000s. Yes, that’s a simplification, but the choice of the 1980s for the focus of the nostalgia here does sit well with getting a sizeable audience. And that’s fine and represents a reality we all recognise, but READY PLAYER ONE’s shotgun approach to its references – plus the omissions I’ve already grumped on about – makes that choice, and those reference choices, look too cynical.

  38. Not seeing it unless The Brothers Grunt are in there somewhere

  39. I hated the book. It is terribly-written. The challenges in it sum up to the main character stumbling around until he happens upon something, and then the actual payoff is “he won the game and got a key”. Seriously, the Joust game as described in the book was some of the most painful writing I have read in a really, really long time. There is a long section where the main character buys a really expensive VR setup and locks himself into a rented room and only eats delivery food for like 6 months, and it’s about as dull as it sounds.

    Supposedly the book started off as a screenplay which was rejected too many times, so maybe the “author” filled in some exposition where [They play the video game] would have gone in the screenplay just to turn it into a half-ass YA novel, and the result is what you expect. I don’t know how you can write an engaging book about people playing video games so this guy it seems didn’t even try. Perhaps a good decision. The video game parts of “Ender’s Game” and “Three Body Problem” were not fun to read but I guess I give those authors a couple points for trying.

    Atari 2600 games were terrible. That’s all we had back then, but 90% of them were not fun and basically unplayable, whether they were awful clones of stand-up arcade games that were horribly limited by the hardware/software of the platform, or original games with awful graphics and a bad concept. There’s a reason nobody plays those games for nostalgia or for fun any more, whereas the MAME emulation of arcade games has been a cottage industry for 15-20 years. Arcade games lived and died on fun and replayability and only made money if people were willing to pay 25 cents for the privilege of playing after waiting their turn. Atari / ColecoVision / TRS-80 / C64 games were a cheap and often cynical imitation that depended on two things: nothing better being available for the home market, and the fact that the company already had your $30-$40 before you realized the game sucked.

    Also, Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” is the first fucking 80s reference in the book (at least the first from Halliday himself) and it is described as having a horn intro. WTF. The horn intro version was from the lousy greatest hits album that came significantly later than the original version from 1985 or 1986 or whatever. Only the original version has real cultural relevance (it was in BACK TO SCHOOL, I think) and that one starts off with a guitar solo. Fucking tool.

  40. psychic_hits-HA! Thanks for that.

  41. This is a definitive evaluation of the Nerd Era, and prime Outlaw material.

  42. I liked the movie ok, it’s a fun little adventure movie.

    I liked the book ok as well and in fact appreciate how it’s a more legit deeper dive into nerd culture than the movie is.

    But I can agree the whole thing is pretty shallow, something is missing and that’s any real heart or deeper examination of it’s world, the book gets closer to this by making it clearer how shitty the real world is in this future where the movie pretty much stops at the trailer park city.

    What people need to do is to capture the “spirit” of 80s entertainment rather than bluntly reference it, while I haven’t seen it that Netflix series STRANGER THINGS seems like it accomplishes making something that “feels” 80s while still doing it’s own thing.

    And it also applies to Star Wars, what Lucas did was take the “spirit” of the old serials he grew up with but recontextualized them for the present day.

  43. Griff, my complaint was that there felt like no stakes at all to whether the bad guys win or not. Seems like people could stop playing the game because there seems to be no actual real world implications to this at all.

  44. A friend of mine was last night at some kind of “Geeky Burlesque Show”. She liked it, but judging by the vids and pics she sent me, it was a kinda half-assed “Hey, we put on some Stormtrooper helmets or Adventure Time costumes, dance a little, show our tits and then the audiences will like it, because nerds and boobs” affair. It’s a bit sad how calculated the whole popculture/geekdom thing became, but who am I to judge?

  45. Griff: Personally I think the most “capturing the 80s feeling while doing its own thing” movie of the last years was MONSTER TRUCKS, but I’m not sure if this is what they were trying to do.

  46. Huh. It seems that I’m one of the few people who really really loved it. And that’s despite the fact that the trailers didn’t really speak to me (I only watched this in the movie theatre since I make a point to watch all Spielberg films in the cinema). But I was really surprised to see that it was more than just shallow references, but actually had heart, soul, and a message or two. The movie’s rather obvious with the first one: Don’t spend your entire life behind a computer screen (or inside some virtual reality)! I know, it’s not the newest message, and it’s handled rather ham-handed and on the nose, but damn, with almost everyone going through life looking at their smartphones all the time I also think that’s is as important and timely as ever. The second message that I found in there is a heavy dose of criticism against the ownership of intellectual properties by corporations. IOI is essentially Disney (good catch with Halliday essentially being Lucas, Vern!) – who refused to give permission to use any Star Wars-stuff in RP1, by the way – and the movie makes a strong point that creative works should be either in the hands of those who created them, or those who love/were inspired by them. Or maybe even, that they (should) belong to us all. Add to that the awesome Shining-sequence that came as a total surprise to me (isn’t it great that even in this day and age of spoilerific trailers, social media etc., occasionally a movie can still surprise you?), the cool references (albeit I agree that those alone wouldn’t have been enough to sustain it), Spielberg’s unabated knack for action set pieces, and its high entertainment value (I wasn’t bored for even a second), and IMHO it’s another winner for one of the absolute best directors of all time.

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