When I saw that Ready Player One was opening early for Wednesday previews I was tempted to give it a shot. I haven’t been out on my cave since the most embarrassing loss in the history of men's sports occurred to my small college town a couple weeks ago. Plus I’m blocked from spamming Facebook groups with Film Goblin content until Saturday.
And Spielberg is not going to make a stinker, right? Why not go?
Then I realized I have $62 in my bank account to last me until April 4th when the crazy check comes. So I put out the call on Film Goblin for sponsorship and Harvey delivered.
Of course, I’ve got to get tight before ANY movie but especially one with some much visual flair and action. This is how I pre-game.
The $20 from Harvey? No, that wasn’t for the movie. I don’t pay for movies (Goblin privilege); the $20 was for some rot gut vodka and a large Coke to pour in it. And you know me: like the Freak Brothers say “Drugs will get you through times with no money better than money will get you through times with no drugs.”
OK, now that my mind is right…
… let’s go watch this movie.
The theater was basically empty; which could be expected for a Wednesday night preview for what, in this age of cinematic universes and diversity marketing, amounts to an unheralded motion picture event.
I’m completely disconnected from the coaxial and normie media in general, so I have no idea what the advertising push for Ready Player One looks like, but it just feels slight to me for some reason.
Especially considering that Spielberg is one of our all-time most important filmmakers and at the top of the list of greatest living directors.
Think about this: Jaws, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Raiders of The Lost Ark, ET, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan. Those are seven of the best and most influential movies ever made.
Granted those films were decades ago, but he hasn’t fallen into the pattern of a lot of his contemporaries and started turning out unrehabilitated trash like Oliver Stone and Ridley Scott.
However, even though his more recent movies like Lincoln and Bridge Of Spies can’t be considered failures or embarrassments, there is a marked drop-off from the awe-inspiring, captivating filmmaking that was the hallmark of his first 20 years behind the camera.
And Ready Player One, with its reality-bending visuals and scrappy-kids-against-the-world scenario, seems tailor-made to bring Spectacle Spielberg back for a whole new generation.
Is The Beard ready to produce again at a high-level? People have their doubts, including me. The guy seems more like studio lead counsel than a filmmaker these days:
— Amblin Entertainment (@AmblinEnt) March 27, 2018
I guess that leaves little hope for Schindler’s Brisk Iced Tea. [ Credit: MayorBorg ]
Is This The Right Project?
I’ve never read the Ernest Cline 2011 novel this movie is based on. I don’t read much. Or rather I have trouble getting my mind into fiction lately. Especially fiction I consider to be hipster, nostalgia porn. To me, this is one level above the hand-holding and personal validation of an Eat, Pray, Love.
Will Spielberg be able to break free of the limitations of this hopefully flash-in-the-pan genre and dazzle us again?
No, Really The Movie This Time
Ready Player One shows us the year 2045 as a no-sharp-edges dystopian future similar to Idiocracy, except instead of everyone being low-IQ, trans-fat mutants everyone is plugged into a virtual reality environment called “The Oasis”.
The Oasis is the brainchild of James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a socially challenged, programming genius who is considered by the denizens of The Oasis to be a god. And by “denizens of The Oasis” I mean the entire planet; as one of the characters notes early on, “everyone is in there.” It’s the only game in town run by the biggest company on Earth.
Meanwhile in the real world, our hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in a mobile home park outside of Columbus, Ohio called “The Stacks”, which is thousands of rows of stacked trailers, RVs and campers supported by i-beams and traversed by fire escapes, ladders and zip lines.
In what is the movie’s only decent live-action shot, the camera tracks Wade as he descends from his 5th “floor” trailer through this jungle-gym maze. It’s inventive, it’s visually interesting, it sucks you into the movie. It’s the last time any of that occurs.
Wade’s voiceover tells us that Columbus is the fastest growing city in the world because — don’t you know — Columbus is where Halliday’s company, Gregarious Games, was headquartered when The Oasis first rolled-out to the real world.
I use the term “real world” loosely. A throw-away line drops allusions to a Corn Syrup Drought and Bandwidth Riots but the entire set up is all very goofy in a comic book way.
It’s never explained how everyone makes money to support their Oasis addiction. Are all these people in The Stacks on welfare? Is this where all the talk of universal basic income is leading us? Where does the power to run Wade’s clandestine gaming set-up come from?
How are these people paying for the Pizza Hut drone deliveries?
Some lip-service is given to Wade’s aunt and legal guardian saving up for a house but beyond that, it seems that all these people do, all anyone does or wants to do, is goof off in The Oasis.
And why not? In the real world Wade is just trailer-dwelling, jobless Wade, but in The Oasis he’s Parzival, rocking feathered, anime-hair and rolling the Delorean from Back To The Future.
To be fair, The Oasis looks like a fantastic place to waste your life. Once you drop on those goggles, pull on those gloves and — for those who can afford it — slip into your sensory-suit, it becomes a completely immersive experience.
Imagine a virtual reality World Of Warcraft that wasn’t locked into a fantasy theme but instead gave you an entire VR galaxy where you can visit a gambling planet (so there is a way to make/lose money inside The Oasis), a racing planet or Planet Doom, where the avatars of players fight it out in Lord Of The Rings–level mass combat.
Here is where Spielberg’s digital effects team gets to show off. The movie does a great job at realizing the spectacular, kinetic sequences inside what is essentially the greatest Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) ever.
Like any MMORPG, The Oasis has endless quests to complete, items to discover, Coin to collect (for killing other players), skills to be learned and powers to gain.
There is one distinct difference: you see, Halliday passed away a few years back and left the Ultimate Quest. Figuring out some clues that Halliday left behind will help players to complete some impossibly dangerous sub-quests, get some Keys which unlock some… it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that whichever player completes this quest is gifted The Oasis itself and all of Halliday’s shares in Gregarious Games.
To aid the players in discovering these clues, Halliday has conveniently recorded every moment of his life and stored them in The Archives, a futuristic library inside The Oasis.
Apparently, Halliday was so obsessed with pop culture that the world is convinced the clues to unlock Ultimate Quest are buried somewhere in the cryptic esoteria of The Breakfast Club, Pacman, Star Wars and anything else you can think of from the 1980s.
Personally, I think this is a lazy literary device Kline used to serve the reader, and now the viewer, with endless heaping of “These Are Things I Know!” to trigger nostalgia feels.
Without this pop culture cornucopia, there is no book, there is no movie.
Of course, with $500 billion dollars on the line dozens of companies crop-up whose whole mission is to win Ultimate Quest and gain control of The Oasis. Enter Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind) as Nolan Sorrento, the craven CEO of the biggest Oasis quest company in the world, IOI. Mendelson is a fine actor and he is wasted here in what amounts to a caricature of a Bond villain, complete with Ultimate Gaming Chair and both exotic real-world and Oasis muscle.
So, you have Ultimate Quest in the Ultimate Game being played by Everyone In The World for All The Money In The World.
And that’s the real problem with Ready Player One.
Players Only Club
I’m a huge World Of Warcraft (WOW) honk from way back.
I first jacked into Azeroth, the game’s fantasy setting, in 2004 when it was still what has become known as “vanilla” WOW. Going from You-And-Your-Friend console gaming or some Starcraft versus three other players around the world to interacting with thousands of players as they interact in real-time with a huge game environment was astounding.
I’ve logged a couple of months of actual game time. There are 730 hours in a month. You can build a house in 500 hours.
So to me, The Oasis, and particularly this Ultimate Quest, resonated a little. I was mildly nostalgic over the all the different weapons, vehicles, upgrades and abilities that the players got. The designs of some of the avatars, with their flair and accouterments, were interesting and reminiscent in a lot of ways of how players would trick out their WOW characters.
But for a casual? A normie? I just don’t see how any non-gamers can find this film the slightest bit interesting or come away from this film impressed at all.
Sure the visuals are great but the story is straight off any late 1980s Nintendo questing game like Legend of Zelda or Link To The Past. And that brings us to the second problem:
Like Frank T.J. Mackey reminds us “Coming to terms with the past is a good way of not making progress.”
So is living in the past. I understand that modern, first-world, middle-class people are so jaded from entertainment and content overload that they need new experiences to also trigger emotional memories of a simpler and more “pure” time. I get it. I really do.
But shut the fuck up already.
The level of pop culture name-dropping in this movie (I’m assuming pulled directly from the book) is nauseating and comes off as a cheap replacement for originality as ersatz as The Oasis itself.
Four or five references to Things From The 80s peppered throughout the movie would be fine. After all, Halliday’s love of 80s pop culture might hold clues to The Keys but the continual strip-mining of our collective past comes off as a manipulation to get you to care.
Except I Really Don’t Care
The reason why The Matrix works so well is that the stakes are real. Humanity is enslaved, Neo has to save us, and if he dies inside The Matrix he dies in the real world.
In Ready Player One, if you die in The Oasis, you just lose all your Coins and items. If the bad guys win they are going to put up ads inside the players’ heads-up-displays. That’s it.
Additionally, the in-game personas of the players only bear a slight resemblance to the players themselves. I’m no neurological anthropologist but this must create some kind of disconnect in the minds of viewers. Like RLM brilliantly observed: “You might not notice, but your brain did.”
When you combine the lack of stakes with the constant switching back and forth between the players and their inhuman avatars, it’s really a recipe for not giving a damn about what happens to any of the characters in the movie.
And since it’s Spectacle Spielberg we all know how it’s all going to end. Unfortunately, getting to that happy ending was one of the more tedious movie experience in the past year. If I wasn’t obligated to finish the movie in order to write a thorough review, would I have walked out?
Look, if Harvey didn’t buy my vodka I would have never gone in the first place.
Between Film Goblin and my money gig, I spend the vast, vast majority of my life in front of a screen. I don’t have much time for movies, TV or video games. Maybe this is why I find this nostalgia marketing so trite and condescending; things are still fresh and original because I’m not consuming 20 hours of scripted entertainment to go with 20 hours of FPS a week.
I don’t need the hugbox of my childhood to enjoy stuff. If you do, you’re an emotionally-stunted pussy.
And I’m not interested in virtual reality.
As I see it, social media is the only virtual reality we need. Are you scaling Mount Everest with Batman when you log on to Facebook or post your lunch on Instagram? No but you are presenting a carefully curated image of yourself so that you can have sex with women that are way out of your league. Or get people to think highly of you. Or whatever you use the platforms for.
So who really has time for a movie about a fake world built on recycled pop cultural iconography when we are already spending so much time staring at screens creating our own personal unreality?
I don’t. Do you?
Ultimately, no one needs another CGI – it’s so dense – zerg-rush like many of the sequences in The Oasis are. Yes, it’s amazing to look at but it means absolutely nothing because you know how it was made. Inside a box very similar to the one which you are currently reading this article.
I want more reality out of my entertainment.
Was someone named Rick also involved with Ready Player One?
Anyway, let’s get into some Personal Reality. See if I can find my Easter Egg.
When I left the theater, I was hungry, starving in fact because I always drink on an empty stomach, and Arby’s was right down the street. Time to get The Meats!
Oh well, I was also sobering up, so I had to take care of that. Once you start the ball you might as well keeping it rolling until you blackout, right? Time to start hitting some bars!
At Bar #3 I ran into a girl who looked like a character straight out off of Planet Doom: Slutty The Witch. I failed my Intuition check and she quickly put a spell on me.
One beer I couldn’t afford soon became three beers I couldn’t afford and then I started rambling about The Last Jedi box office collapse to anyone who would listen:
“No, man, YOU don’t understand! They have to rent the theaters – they don’t get all of the box office receipts, the theaters get a lot of that, you see what I’m saying? FUCK YOU, MAN! IT IS IMPORTANT! THIS IS OUR CULTURE WE’RE TALKING ABOUT HERE! THOSE ARE OUR MYTHS AND THESE FUCKING MAN-HATING CAT-WOMEN DESTROYED OUR MALE MYTHS BECAUSE MEN DON’T LIKE THEIR OBESE, CAT-SHIT-CRAZY ASSES! IT’S REVENGE PLAIN AND SIMPLE! REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
Where Am I?
I woke up alone in a brass bed in what looked like a basement. A nice basement so it wasn’t a Buffalo Bill-type situation. There was a finished bath and a towel. Is this The Oasis? Might as well be a nice guest and make this bed.
And then a visitor appears.
And that is exactly what I needed after a lame movie about lame people living inside a lame fake world.
Fuck virtual reality. I am reality.
“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”