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The UnPopular Opinion: Ready Player One

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

A few weeks back, I wrote a Top Ten list of filmmakers I considered to be overrated. One prominent name on that ranking was Steven Spielberg. Growing up as a child on the films of the 1980s, Spielberg was always the epitome of what heartfelt blockbuster filmmaking should be like. Any time I imagined myself as a director, I imagined making movies like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, JURASSIC PARK, and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. As I grew older, I appreciated his grander works like SCHINDLER'S LIST and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN for their guttural depth and emotional resonance. As I have grown even older, I still hold out hope that one day, Spielberg will create a film that deserves a spot in the annals of movie history like so many of his productions. Instead, it feels like we are getting films that no longer have that spark that made movies like MINORITY REPORT, A.I., and MUNICH such wonderful experiences. READY PLAYER ONE is the prime example of just how hollow big budget filmmaking has become and ranks as one of the worst movies Spielberg has ever made, even though it represents an amalgamation of what has made his movies so iconic.

READY PLAYER ONE, based on the Ernest Cline novel of the same name, is steeped in pop culture references and not much else. Any and all of the depth to the characters from the novel is stripped away for a bare bones and formulaic chase story that does not warrant any sort of investments in the characters themselves. As someone who enjoyed the novel, I felt that many of the cliche and derivative moments from the written page could have been excised from the big screen adaptation, but instead Cline and co-writer Zak Penn (X2: X-MEN UNITED) opt to completely change things that didn't need to be changed. The entire WARGAMES sequence is instead replaced with a recreation of THE SHINING that was clearly just an opportunity for Spielberg to play around with a favorite film of his. Like that sequence, the entirety of READY PLAYER ONE feels cold and lifeless and doesn't have any of the childlike wonder that we have come to expect from Steven Spielberg movies.

The UnPopular Opinion, Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg, Mark Rylance, Olivia Cooke, Science Fiction, Ernest Cline

There is a shallow feel to all of the references in READY PLAYER ONE that reek of a creative team that don't quite understand what geek culture is all about. If you have ever watched The Big Bang Theory and shaken your head at the superficial callbacks to scifi and fantasy movies and more, READY PLAYER ONE is that on a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars. For all the narrative clumsiness of the novel, the big screen READY PLAYER ONE doesn't seem to grasp that throwing DeLoreans and Iron Giants on screen is a far cry from organically building them into the story. That is why THE SHINING sequence fails. In the novel, the characters having to relive WARGAMES and know every single facet of the movie which exemplifeis their dedication to their fandom of James Halliday and the OASIS itself. Instead, we get a nice tribute to Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece, but one full of jumpscares composed of CGI, something I am sure Kubrick would have been horrified to see.

For all of the precision and care that Steven Spielberg has taken when it comes to special effects in his films, the last decade has seen him slide to a point where he accepts even the most mediocre computer generated imagery. Yes, an argument could be made that the virtual reality of the OASIS begs for a visual tone that feels more like a video game, but that needs to be backed up by a tremendous amount of emotion. Every time the film moves from reality to the OASIS, it is a candy-colored achievement that dazzles the eye but quickly fades once the characters are shown to obey no physical laws. Once the initial wonder wears off, the OASIS is like a far less interesting version of THE MATRIX. What should be an ode to a beloved decade of pop culture instead ends up an explosion of easter egg diarrhea. What makes easter eggs work so well in comic book movies and similar big screen franchises is how they are buried or integrated into a scene. Letting the viewer hunt for them increases the value of finding them. For a story about easter eggs, READY PLAYER ONE throws them all on the screen and dares you to count them. But counting easter eggs isn't the point and that leads to the biggest problem with the film.

READY PLAYER ONE is meant to be a love letter to geek culture. The novel succeeded far more than the film because it explained how and why James Halliday was so enamored with the toys, games, movies and music of the decade. Here, James Rylance is barely given the chance to make his character more than a plot device for the action to follow. There is no reason for us to follow Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) on his quest and even less reason to root for him. The development of the relationship between Wade and Art3mis/Sam (Olivia Cooke) is portrayed as love at first sight which undermines just how strongly the two feel for each other in the book. Anything resembling a character arc for anyone aside from Wade is thrown out here resulting in a neutered and glossy feel to the film. The sad thing is that there are many modern video games that have fully realized screenplays and depth to their stories that make READY PLAYER ONE look like a fan film rather than a studio tentpole.

Everything is wasted here, from the score to the talented cast. READY PLAYER ONE cried out for a symphonic score like what we have seen from Spielberg collaborations in the past, but Alan Silvestri's musical cues just feel generic. Even legendary cinematographer Janusz Kamiński's work feels underwhelming due to the CGI set-pieces. Countless filmmakers have made movies heavily reliant on green screen and computers and have delivered a more impactful film that READY PLAYER ONE. You would have also expected veteran villain actor Ben Mendelsohn to be able to do something special with playing the dastardly Nolan Sorrento, but he ends up playing the same role he did in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY. Most of the heavy lifting is left for Hannah John-Kamen as an orignal character not in the novel, an unnecessary addition to a film already failing to develop previously developed characters that existed in the novel.

The UnPopular Opinion, Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg, Mark Rylance, Olivia Cooke, Science Fiction, Ernest Cline

READY PLAYER ONE was a massive failure in every sense. Maybe the special effects and visual magic would have been better received had anything else worked. Fans of the novel would have felt shafted by the widespread changes to the source material while those going in fresh would probably have scratched their heads wondering just what the big deal was all about. READY PLAYER ONE carries the special privilege of being a Steven Spielberh film but never feels more than a supercut of his filmography. One day, a movie about geek culture will be the film that READY PLAYER ONE wanted so badly to be and maybe they will even remake this story in a decade or two. For now, it is a forgettable film that has absolutely no right to be anything less than a fun adventure. Movies don't always have to be masterpieces, but if you are going to take the chance to adopt dozens of iconic characters and scenes from movie history, your film better be up to the task of supporting those legacies. READY PLAYER ONE is not.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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