I think that Spielberg really wanted to make the child endangerment movies of my youth again. But he didn't want to lean hard into it. Knowing that much of his potential audience was composed of nostalgia nerds who loved stuff like The Goonies and Wargames, I'm sure he wasn't afraid to make his movie PG-13. But he also toed that line a little bit. He does some really kiddie things in the movie, making the intended audience of this movie. There's some swearing and violence in the movie, but nothing too insane except for their allowed one f-bomb. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
So many thoughts on this movie. It's such a weird concept. The thing is that I both loved and hated the book. I guess I can say the same thing about the movie, but lower the opinions on both ends. I liked and disliked the movie and I'm really beating around the bush. The biggest problem with the book is the thing that actually makes it kind of a fun read. I love me some nostalgia. My basement (I refuse to call it a "man cave", but if the shoe fits...) is a decade old rear projection television connected to a LaserDisc player, a VCR, my NES, an SNES, a Sega Genesis with a 32X, a Sega Dreamcast, and an N64. My XBox 360 is down there, but not for nostalgia's sake. The room is littered with pop culture posters. Honestly, everything that spawned out of my arrested development is hoarded in the basement. Let's call a spade a spade and say that it was relegated to the basement, but regardless, my obsession with pop culture is strong. I loved reading a book where the author clearly liked the same things I did. But in the very namedropping of all those things, the book kind of has an amateurish tone to it. It relies on founding a story on a very flimsy foundation of pop culture awareness. The very thing that makes it work is its biggest weakness.
Now, Ready Player One as a book kind of felt like this underground thing for a while. It was partially nostalgia porn, but it kind of seemed cool. I don't know why. There was this punk attitude about the whole thing. Honestly, I'm surprised that the audiobook wasn't released exclusively on cassette. But it was this thing that nerds told each other about and that's how it gained popularity. While it lacked the absolute quality of Firefly or Mystery Science Theater 3000, it was something that only a few people knew about and then it was passed around. That might make it a bit hipster, but it also gave it this cultish feeling. Eventually, like Firefly, it became part of official nerd canon and it kind of lost that mythic quality to it. Many people said the book was garbage and they wouldn't be remiss in saying so. It isn't an amazing book, but it is a fundamentally fun book. But then when Steven Spielberg said he was adapting it, that kind of changed the whole thing. I love Steven Spielberg. I'm not a fan or anything. But the man has made quality movies time and again. Some of his recent outings have lacked the specialness of his earlier films. But they are often well shot and well acted (sometimes). Even the worst movie he has is watchable. But he is also the establishment now. The irony of the whole story of Ready Player One is that it is about being part of the underground. The establishment and corporate stuff is the stuff of scum. It was the struggling creator who made the cool thing. Once he sold out, he became the enemy. We're not feeding Ready Player One to the guy who made Jaws (pun intended). We're giving Ready Player One to the guy who made War Horse and The Post. He's not the same guy anymore. He has the skills he had before, but he doesn't have the same eye. Ready Player One, unfortunately, feels as corporate as it comes. The movie is too pretty at times. There isn't that struggling filmmaker behind the screen. Rather, he's the guy who is pretending to be cool because he used to be cool...JUST LIKE THE VILLAIN OF THE MOVIE. Okay, Steven Spielberg is not a villain. I think he desperately wants to be the guy out of his garage. The movie is just so clean. The marketing kind of reflects that. I really wanted this to be filmed on tape. The Cinemark / Rave we went to had their own marketing campaign for Ready Player One and it was so much better. It was this retro pink font. Here's the movie I would have made. I would have had all of the real world sections look like a bad VHS transfer and every time that they went into the OASIS, I would have made that Hi-Def. Steven Spielberg, you can steal that for your demake of the DVD.
But at the end of the day, Ready Player One is closer to one of his older movies than it is to his new stuff. By that I mean, it's actually pretty fun for a lot of it. The movie actually suffers from the opposite I think of other movies. The beginning and the end are trying too hard, but the middle is actually riveting. Considering that the middle is the bulk of the movie is the fun part of the movie, I don't mind at all. The movie is a callback to the summer blockbuster, despite the fact that it is getting dumped in March. And this is where I think the movie has its biggest problems. The movie shines when Spielberg is a fan of his subject matter. If it came before 1995, Spielberg really nerds out of over it. Such detail and love are obvious in those moments. There's a big section involving the second key that is a love letter to Kubrick. Okay, some people will say it is ultimately blasphemy. They are probably right. Kubrick would have hated that entire section. But it him totally being a big film dork. It is also completely fun if you allow it to be. Like, this moment is what Ready Player One should be. It is a loving tribute to the things we love and how much we want to play in these worlds. Similarly, the car chase sequence at the beginning is so much fun. The references left and right do almost nothing for me, but I feel like Spielberg really loves those moments. But the dark side of making nerdy references is that Spielberg clearly isn't a fan of anything after 1995. He doesn't treat them with scorn, but it often feels like he's pandering to the kids. This comes across in the language and delivery. Perhaps I have to blame Zak Penn for these moments because there are so many moments in the movie where he's trying to talk like a kid that makes my eyes roll into the back of my head. It feels like my grandpa telling me about getting on MyFace or whatever such nonsense. It doesn't feel authentic like the stuff that he actually likes. There's this cool Back to the Future moment (that is made way better with Alan Silvestri actually scoring the movie) that is so small, but it is done with love. But then, there's also Overwatch characters just thrown in there. (I also got the vibe that the Holy Hand Grenade should have been done better.) Spielberg has this weird relationship with Kubrick, which made the Kubrick stuff great. When he nerds out, he nerds out with the best of them.
Spielberg is obsessed with Mark Rylance. I don't really get it. He does a fine job in the stuff he's in, but he's not the most amazing actor in the world. I really don't see him as Halliday. I do appreciate that he brought something different to the character than other people would, but I never really got him as this passionate guy. Also, while I love Simon Pegg and am glad that he's in the movie as a fairly substantial role, it's not the part I would have liked to see him in. Again, it's fine. It is almost thankless though, especially that he's such a figure in nerd culture. I weirdly didn't mind his American accent. I liked it even better knowing that there was a good reason for it. The kids performances drove me nuts. I don't actually blame the actors. It was an attempt at stylized acting that happens in movies. This harkens back to the thought that Spielberg really wanted to make a child endangerment film. I just wish that he completely committed to the bit. I don't know if he was worried about alienating audiences, but I think that had to be a risk. That might be the lesson learned from this film. A lot of money was thrown at this movie. The rights to characters had to cost so much money and it is a special effects laden movie. I'm sure that they thought that they couldn't take too many risks in making this movie because it needed to make its money back. But in not taking any risks and making it accessible to all audiences, the movie only has B- quality. I think this movie would have gotten insane support if it was only A+ for some audiences. Maybe not. But I'd rather have a Blade Runner 2049 than the Ready Player One we got. Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun in this movie. But it is nothing all that special. I'll watch it and I'll enjoy it, but I should want to get this on VHS the day it comes out. (I'm still playing in a world that has the best marketing campaign ever.) That, unfortunately, is not this movie. Oh, and Ben Mendelsohn is fine, I guess. He's a bit goofy.
I really did have a good time at this movie, I swear. It just has these moments that are kind of cringy. I also wanted it to crush and it just ended up being a better movie than I expected. I really thought the movie would drop the ball overall and it didn't. But it is a very strategic March release. It's going to be the best movie in theaters until mid April and that's the best way to think about it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.