Saturday, March 31, 2018
The Empty Nostalgia of Ready Player One (2018)
READY PLAYER ONE is a gawd awful mess. Yes it has moments, The Shining sequence for example, but it is so badly thought out and written that you have to wonder if Steven Spielberg really directed it.
The plot has a kid in the future trying to find the three keys hidden in an on line world called the Oasis, which will give him control of the whole thing plus the creators fortune. Unfortunately there is an evil corporation looking to seize control for themselves (for reasons that make no sense).
So much is wrong with the film that the only thing I can really talk about is the films numerous flaws. Frankly there are so many that I could be here for a couple of days pulling the film apart moment by moment because nothing works or makes any sense if you think about it.
Badly written on very level the two key roles of Halliday, the dead creator of the Oasis, and Sorrento, the villain of the piece, exist simply because Mark Rylance and Ben Mendelsohn are such good actors that they make something of their badly written characters. Full of someone's ideas of what these characters should be like instead of being real characters. They are full of cliches, goofy ticks and bad dialog to the point you wonder if writer Ernest Cline ever met an actual human being.
At the same would mention some of the other actors and actresses but they barely register in human form and only really impress thanks to their colorful avatars. They too are not really human beings but a collection of pop movie references and stereotypes.
Simply put there are no real characters anywhere on screen. The closest is Mendelsohn's villain, Sorrento. He at least is given some scenery to chew but if you really look at him, he makes no sense. He was an intern for the dead Rylance who only got coffee for him (as we see in the Halliday journals) but he bullshitted his way into controlling hit squads and a slave army to do take over a virtual world and no one has called him on it - for years - when it's obvious he is a putz from second we meet him. What board of directors would leave him in control when he had been unable to unlock any thing for years- especially when a kid suddenly discovers the first key seemingly out of the blue?
The problem with Sorrento's motivation is the first crack in a film world where nothing makes any sense on its own terms never mind real world ones. The laundry list of film world problems begins with:
-If Columbus Ohio is the worlds fastest growing cities why does it look like a shit hole?
-Does anyone work? No one seems to have a job or go to school. How is anything paid for?
-Why does IOI seem to have limitless power and yet none? How can they get away with all the bad things they do like sending out storm troopers to kidnap random people - except at the end?
-How can IOI make everyone slaves? What is their authority?
-Everyone on Wade's team is really in Columbus? Really?
-What exactly does IOI really do other than chase control of the Oasis? - And their grand schemes is take over the Oasis so they can sell the advertising rights?
-With everyone fascinated with the nostalgia of the 1970's,80's and 90's- did pop culture (and technology) cease after 1995? Why is there zero reference to anything outside of that anywhere in the whole film? It should be there.
And there is much more. You can take apart every bit of the world the film operates in and make it crumble, all you need do is just look at it to have it fall apart.
As a thriller or action film is a HUGE problem in that there is no reason to feel any suspense because nothing in the film has any weight. There is ultimately nothing lost if the Oasis was taken over. The Oasis is lost its just a virtual place- lives aren't uprooted. No one is going to die. If they die in the game they just get to log back in and start fresh. What's the worst that can happen they get hauled off by IOI? Only very late in the game do we see what that means (and what it means really doesn't make sense) so it has no weight.
Sure IOI blows up the stack where Wade's aunt lives, but we really don't care because we have no freaking clue who she is. She is barely in the film and barely mentioned except to offer her up as a sacrificial lamb. She is the film's version of a Star Trek Red Shirt who is there just to die. No one else, especially the main characters, is ever in any real danger - even when Sorrento takes a gun at the end we know nothing will happen since he is such a chicken shit character we know he'll never shoot because he uses Zandor to do his real world dirty work.
As for the much talked about nostalgia is empty. Its actually utter bullshit. It's less meaningful than posters on a characters bedroom wall.
In theory everything in the film is supposed to be around Rylance's love of things in his life- but everything stops at say 1990 or 1995 or so. While there are fleeting reference to newer things in the film almost every thing is old- 50 or 60 years. There is almost nothing past a certain point- as if Rylance, and the real world, had no interest in anything after that- except that he loved pop culture so there should have been references to things from the last 20 years, but there aren't. No one's love of stuff cuts off like that- not even the fanboys who live in their parents' basement. More importantly since the film makes clear that only a small number of people are obsessed with Halliday's Easter Egg, the actual nostalgia should be only a small portion of the Oasis since most people have moved on and connected to later things and things not related to the creators life.
Even worse the nostalgia is just wrong. A key point is the Atari 2600 - except that Rylance's character would not have played the 2600 as a kid. He might have played the games but on another system. While the point is the correct game, I doubt we would see him sitting on a floor in his bedroom with a 2600 system. I mention this because unless Rylance was born in the 60's or early 70's the video game when he was growing up would have been something else (he'd have a later Atari on his floor). Trust me I'm old enough to know he would have to be around my age, which is kind of too old. To play with the 2600 at the age we see his younger self would have made Rylance around 80 or 85 when he died and that isn't likely.
So much of the nostalgia is just stuff whizzing by- "Hey there's Spawn!" "Look there is ... and over there...." Nothing is done with any of the references. Everything is pretty much just there. In one scene we see all these iconic space ships and they are just there- why? No clue. As I said above it would make sense if the things were posters that meant something to the character but here they are just "things" that are thrown on screen to fill a background.
As Hubert Vigilla and I discussed the film we came to realize that the film is like looking into a a toy box where dozens of action figures and toys are collected. However they are just toys lying there inert because there is no child to bring them to life. Without a mover they are "just there". Its all a kind of dead nostalgia of things and but not the real nostalgia of emotions that comes from the things meaning something. If you want proof consider the Holy Hand-grenade from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Wade uses it- but he doesn't count. If the grenade truly meant something within the world or to Halliday Wade would have to count because the instructions in Grail states you must count to three so that God will smite your enemies. It means nothing without the counting.
How could Spielberg nor any of his team realize just how wrong the film gets it? I have issues with many of Spielberg's films but this is just a mess. It is a huge over hyped piece of commercial crap. Not only is there no heart or soul in the film there is no thought, love or understanding. It is an attempt to hook the fans of whatever with a false and misused nostalgia at the expense of good filmmaking.
Ultimately it is a cinematic version of of Sorrento's and IOI's plans for the Oasis where 80% of the visual field is filled with product placement-and as Sorrento warned there is so much shit before us out brains explode out of desperation