A giant pile of nerd references masquerading as a movie, Ready Player One, premiered last night. Seung Park, Tim Rogers and I all watched it, and now they’re going to talk about it.
Gita Jackson: Hey Seung, Tim. Last night we all watched the new Spielberg movie Ready Player One, based on the best selling Ernest Cline novel. I think we all have some capital O opinions on it. Let’s get this out of the way—I really did not enjoy this movie at all. What about you two?
Seung Park: I think I enjoyed it a bit more than you did, although I can definitely see why you wouldn’t. Before we delve into any deeper discussion, can I just say that I let out probably the biggest squeal in the theater when I saw the Serenity from Firefly?
Gita: Oh man, is that in this movie? Oh geeze.
Tim Rogers: I enjoyed the first half of it way more than I thought I would—I have read the first half of the book and had a somewhat unpleasant experience. The last half I didn’t like so much. Though man, it had some great graphics.
Seung: Oh yeah, the graphics were amazing. I saw it in IMAX 3D and it was definitely worth the extra money to see all of those colors really pop.
Tim: Yeah, some of the particle effects in the CG were legitimately incredible, absolute top-tier stuff. This is not at all a joke, by the way. Whenever stuff blew up or crumbled it was like, wow, I would really, really be into a game that had particle effects like that.
Gita: Honestly, the CG looked incredible. Spielberg, fundamentally, is a great director who can put together a movie. I just have a lot of problems with Cline’s work, and Spielberg did not make those problems go away. Before we get too far into this, let’s set up the plot of the movie.
Tim: I spent half the film thinking up taglines for an imaginary trailer. So here is the perfect time for me to use this one: “What if Wreck-It Ralph......had the F-Word in it......... exactly once?” There...I am done with that.
Gita: Ready Player One takes place in a dystopic near future where everyone spends all their time in a VR simulation game called Oasis. The creator of Oasis, a guy called Halliday, left a bunch of easter eggs in the game for people to find based on his life and his knowledge of specific kinds of 80s pop culture. If you find these three keys based on the easter eggs, you get his majority stake of shares in the company that runs Oasis. Wade Watts is a teenager who is trying to find the easter eggs, known in this world as a “gunter” and you know, hilarity ensues. So yeah, it’s Wreck-It Ralph, with the f-word in it exactly once.
Seung: That’s a good way to put it. Although Wreck-It Ralph has some semblance of character development.
Gita: Wow, zing!
Seung: I mean... Spielberg tried? In the movie, Wade kind of grows as a character (a very little bit), going from a teen who just wants to win for the money to slowly coming over to the character Artemis’ point of view, which is that the Oasis needs to be protected and defended from people like Bad Evil Dude In Suit. The problem is, the movie doesn’t spend nearly enough time building up that relationship, so that whole change of heart kind of comes out of nowhere.
Gita: I think this points out my fundamental issue with the movie, which is that when you boil it down, it’s about a group of teenagers trying to protect the interests of one giant corporation from another giant corporation.
Tim: Wade wants to own the company. He packages his desires romantically, because he’s a teenager, and not a child who found a Golden Ticket. Halliday is an Anti-Wonka, whose game is a massive inverse Golden Ticket.
Gita: It always veers close to making a statement about nostalgia, or corporatism, or about living your life online… and then it course corrects and is like “actually, all those things are okay.”
Tim: Yeah, that weirded me out and made me a little sad. There’s a part where Evil Suit Guy who is the CEO of the evil corporation IOI, which is trying to take over Oasis, is talking to Wade and trying to convince him to work for his evil corporation by making references to things Wade likes. But he doesn’t actually know them, he has a guy feeding him 80s references via an ear piece. I was like, “Wow, this is something the movie is on the verge of doing something genuinely great with.”
Gita: Ethan Gach, who also saw this last night, said something like, “This is what the Arby’s Twitter account is like.”
Seung: See, the book ends a little differently, and I think I might prefer that ending. I have the book in front of me so I’m just gonna quote the last line: “It occurred to me then that for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into the OASIS.”
Gita: Wow! That is so much better!
Seung: Right?? And Artemis and Wade only meet for the first time in the last four pages of the novel which I vastly, vastly prefer.
Tim: That is pretty much him saying, “Actually games suck lol.” I felt that it was pretty weird that they met so early. It felt wrong. It was timed way too soon after his aunt just died. It felt sorta sour. Then later in the movie, he’s like, “You killed my mom’s sister!”
Seung: I think that moment didn’t land, because we got all of... what, 30 seconds with his aunt? And we never really got a good look at Wade’s life pre-movie in the Stacks.
Tim: I gotta say though, seeing Ralph Ineson aka The Second-Best Voice In The World as Wade’s Mom’s Sister’s Boyfriend was kinda cool. That guy owned it so hard in The Witch.
Gita: In general, the movie felt like certain scenes were copied and pasted around a couple of times. That one scene where the Bad Corporate Boss is talking to his Evil Sexy Assistant about the Loyalty Centers is just so, so bizarre. Not only did I have no idea what they were talking about, it felt like I had been suddenly transported into a different movie.
Seung: I didn’t really have a problem with that part. I think we got enough context for the audience to go, “Oh, hm, that is happening now, ok.”
Tim: Yeah, there’s, uh, some things that irk me in films. I feel like this film didn’t earn the casual attitude applied to calling that neighborhood “The Stacks.” It felt like the actors felt uncomfortable calling it that. Also, any movie that has the word “gunter” in it more than zero times should be rated NC-17.
Gita: The whole crapsack dystopia is treated so casually when the world is actually in a very dire place and that was…. real weird.
Seung: The dystopian element of the book was really, really, really toned down in the movie.
Tim: Like, and this is a world with a dead trillionaire in it. Why wasn’t he helping anybody? Well, he wasn’t helping anybody because he was a weirdo. I like how weird the weirdo was! Mark Rylance did a good weirdo. Again, there’s almost a statement there re: this guy being a weird weirdo and that not being cool at all. I feel like there must have been a statement in the book re: the dystopia thing and this guy being weird. Uh, was there?
Gita: In the movie, we get a brief scene where Simon Pegg tries to tell the weird guy that he has a social responsibility to the world when he’s made something that the entire world will rely on, and he brushes it off, and then later buys out Simon Pegg’s shares to force him out of the company. The movie treats this as a huge mistake. That was actually neat, but again, the actual plot of the movie undercuts that commentary. What does Wade do when he wins? He gets a girl and a big apartment, and turns off the Oasis two days a week. That’s his big charitable gesture. With the resources of this company that owns what is canonically the world’s most vital economic resource, he just tells people to go outside more. He has the money to solve world hunger.
Tim: Yeah, him telling people to go outside is kinda gross because we’ve seen that outside is disgusting.
Seung: I’m trying to remember what Wade did with the with the winnings in the book. I have a major problem with the last third of the movie. Especially the way the main challenge, and the driving force of the entire plot, was just kind of... brushed aside to focus on real-world stories. Like, what even was the Crystal Key? What was the challenge? It just devolved into a big battle for REASONS (which, don’t get me wrong, was awesome and kind of my nerd fantasy come to life).
Tim: Finding the middle challenge was like a whole part of the story. And then they’re just like, “IOI has found the third challenge!” And we’re like, oh, okay. The plot went straight into hurry mode there.
Gita: Well, Spielberg needed to deliver all those sweet, sweet references.
Tim: THREE MASTER CHIEFS?!?!?!?!?!
Gita: And yeah, the CG did look fucking slick in that ice mountain battle. But what purpose did that serve? It was just Reference Time.
Tim: It served the purpose of making me stand and applaud so hard I dropped my Coke Zero on the floor. That’s a joke; my Coke Zero was empty at that point (I had to go to the bathroom so bad).
Seung: Speaking of, we need to count the number of Overwatch characters that appeared in this movie.
Gita: I need to lay down.
Tim: Tracer was in there! I know her! Ryu! Chun Li!!!!!!
Seung: Hahaha. I mean, let’s face it, we can criticize plot points and character motivations of this movie all we want, but at the end of the day, I am a guy that literally bounced in my seat for joy when the Gundam jumped off the Serenity to fight Mecha Godzilla alongside the Iron Giant, so.
Gita: Let’s talk about the Iron Giant for a second.
Gita: By let’s talk, I mean, I am going to talk about the one moment in the film where I shouted out loud, “Are you fucking kidding me?” The Iron Giant is a beautiful film with a strong, not very subtle pacifist message. It’s very emotionally affecting and is definitely beloved for a reason. I still get emotional think about the film’s final moments. In Ready Player One, the Iron Giant is reduced to a giant robot that fights other giant robots. In the movie where that character first appears, the literal entire point is that he does not want to fight, he doesn’t want to be a weapon of war. Topping this all off, when the reference has served its purpose, he melts into a moat of lava while giving a thumbs up, like in Terminator 2. He becomes a reference to another reference. I think that was the only moment when I truly hated this movie. You can’t just throw shit at the screen and be like, “Look at this shit!” That shit has meaning and context. In Ready Player One, it’s all just playgrounds and toys.
Seung: I agree and disagree with you there. I do think the way the Iron Giant was treated in the movie was definitely ham-handed (and of course I groaned at the Terminator reference), but this is a movie that’s basically the literal equivalent of grabbing all of your old action figures and chucking them at each other. Your last sentence, which I think you meant as a criticism, is actually why I think this movie kind of succeeds—it’s a playground where all of our nostalgia comes to life. I mean, let’s be real, if I had an action figure of the Iron Giant when I was 10... you bet your ass I would be pretending it was a battle robot and fighting my imaginary bad guy army of monkeys in a barrel.
Tim: I saw a tweet going around about how they probably spent more money promoting the Iron Giant’s appearance in this film than was spent promoting the actual film The Iron Giant when it came out. I guess that says it all.
Gita: I just have literally no interest in watching a movie of mashing action figures together. It sometimes felt like this:
Seung: I want to give a tip of the hat to the film for getting rid of the urge to shoehorn every 80s reference like Kline did in the book. The novel felt like, at times, Kline was just trying to prove to the world just how much he knew about 80s pop culture (especially the second key, which if my memory serves correctly, was literally the protagonist repeating, word-for-word, a scene from an 80s movie). And I actually think the second key in the movie—the one with all of the Shining references—did a pretty good job in subverting that. Like, we see the door and the room, and immediately we think the challenge has to be something Shining-related, but it’s not. It’s just an elaborate decoy to hide the true challenge.
Tim: I have read the entirety of that infamous first chapter of the book, which contains just a massive list of references. I read it aloud to my friends and we laughed. The movie definitely was not that.
Gita: I’m not gonna lie, seeing the Overlook Hotel did kind of get me. Just like Spielberg I am a big fan of Kubrick. I think it is extremely creepy to have a shrine to your friend’s dead wife hidden in your video game, but that sequence was kinda fun until it became a Shining-themed video game. I’m just glad that my appreciation of this movie didn’t have to depend on knowing a Rush reference or something.
Tim: Oh man, Gita! Do you remember when I solved the puzzle before the characters?! I have never felt so smart in a movie. The “Creator who hates his creation” thing made me think of Stephen King hating The Shining, and I turned to Gita and said “The Shining?” And I was right! I promise I didn’t know that was gonna happen.
Gita: Seung, how do you think Tim would do as a gunter?
Seung: It depends. Can we make a video out of it?
Tim: Look, my mom thinks I’m already a gunter, so we can’t prove her right.