the flog

Ready Player One

Expectations, adaptations and the reality of it all


Nostalgia is a fickle and addictive emotion. It's like going back in time with your DeLorean/Tardis, snatching those rose-tinted glasses off of your own six-year-old face and slipping them on like Horatio Caine as you rocket off towards the Andromeda Galaxy with a copy of the Hitchhikers Guide in the passenger seat and the obligatory David Bowie cassette blaring Star Man and Space Oddity out of your sonic-laser speakers.

It's like mainlining a pure shot of dopamine. It comes in hard and fast, but then reality comes back with a vengeance. It smacks you in the back of the head and stomps on your rosy glasses as they hit the ground.

Nostalgia has been playing, and will probably always play, a role in the world of filmmaking. What easier way can you can grab the attention of those both young and old? Just look at some of the most popular films and television shows of the past eight years. You have the 80s reincarnated with Stranger Things (2016) on Netflix, Star-Lord cranking Elvin Bishop and Cat Stevens in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Scott Pilgrim fighting his girlfriend's evil exes Street Fighter-style in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) and second rebirth of the Star Wars franchise--third if you count the animated Clone Wars series.

All of these examples use nostalgia to some degree. Whether it be homage, pastiche or parody, they dig down into the recesses of our brains where our adolescence resides-presumably where it's been hanging out with Seth Rogen, smoking weed, eating pizza and playing video games this whole time-and dangles these gems of low-hanging dopamine fruit in front of the cave, trying to get a bite.

Now, with Steven Spielberg at the helm-arguably the inventor of the blockbuster and the target of much of our nostalgic tendencies-Ready Player One (2018) comes crashing into theaters. In terms of today's film goer, it's like giving Scooby and Shaggy the key to the Scooby Snack factory.

Set in the year 2045, the world is on the brink of collapse as natural resources and power dwindle. To take a break from reality people turn to the Oasis, an ever-expansive virtual reality world where anyone can be whoever they want to be, and do whatever they want to do, the ultimate form of escapism. When James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the oddly eccentric and pop culture obsessed creator of the Oasis dies, he leaves in the place of a will a virtual Easter egg contest. The first one to find the egg will be named the winner and gain ownership of Halliday's half-a-trillion dollar share of his company and complete control over the Oasis. It's now been years since Halliday's death, yet egg hunters like Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), Artemis (Olivia Cooke) and evil corporations like IOI, led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), still carry on. Wade, looking to leave the impoverished world of the lower-class, and Sorrento trying to control the future of humanity as they know it.

Ready Player One was adapted to the screen from the 2011 Ernest Cline book of the same name. Cline himself, along with Zak Penn, wrote the screenplay and Spielberg, well, did his usual thing where he turns every scene into a beautiful piece of eye candy. Also, let's just take a minute to appreciate how good that man is at making action sequences--arguably the best parts of the film. There's no unnecessary shaking camera, just a feast for the eyes filled with conflict and eye-popping sights. Is it Spielberg's best? No, that dude could spend the rest of his life trying to one-up himself. But it's still a solid effort from a living legend of film industry.

This leads to the visuals, which are some of the most expansive and awe inspiring of the year so far. The sparkling and almost effervescent virtual world of the Oasis plays in stark contrast to the dingy and failing Utopia of the real world. The old is set in contrast with new and even begins to meld at certain stages of transformation to the futuristic.

The performances are solid across the board, with Cooke and Mendelsohn--who puts in yet another good performance as the titular baddy--seeming to stand out. Yet, for the book purists among those that have seen the film, it may be hard to separate the two as each being their own unique thing. Even with a runtime clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes, there are those who will inevitably feel that a lot was left on the cutting room floor.

For Cline, this process was probably a combo of two different scenarios: one, a kind of kill your darlings/trimming the fat scenario, and two, pulling a George Lucas and fixing what he felt needed fixing. If anything does take away from the experience, it seems as though the story has been dumbed down a bit. Some of Cline's wit and world building is lost in translation, leaving the narrative feeling unfinished in some places. Even still, with what carries over from the book, Spielberg and company treat the premise with the kind of love that many felt when reading the book.

As far as actually enjoying the nostalgia packed blockbuster, two camps have emerged. On one hand, people love the nostalgia. It's accessible to many, especially if you grew up playing video games or experienced the 80s in any way, shape or form. On the other hand, it's nothing  more than a cash grab, taking advantage of the audience's emotional attachment to  their memories.

This has always seemed to be the central point arguing against nostalgia. Is it true in some cases? Yes, just look at the Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchises. If done cheaply and easily, nostalgia has the tendency to come off as disingenuous. But, if treated with the same amount of care and respect that people's childhoods deserve, it can be a fun, heartwarming lightspeed jump down memory lane, which Ready Player One most definitely is. It's not often that you hear a grown man squeal with excitement--who may or not have been myself--as some awesome callback to their childhood is pulled from their memories and realized on screen. 

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