“Ready Player One” movie review

A spectacular journey that will have you on the edge of your seat. Ready Player One is a throwback to the classic Spielberg blockbuster films from the 70s, 80s, and 90s that many of us know, quote, and love. You’ll do far more than wax nostalgic in this film, because the focus is on the conflict at hand and not the pop culture references. Spielberg’s adaptation of the best-selling novel, written by Ernest Cline, takes on the challenge of crafting a visually compelling narrative that shows the benefits of virtual reality (VR) and gaming, juxtaposing it against the harshness of a reality following socio-economic and natural disasters in the near future. Although the story highlights the benefits of VR and shows the wonders of the imagination through the exquisitely designed scenes, there is one element seen throughout the story that transcends the illusion of Oasis (the virtual world); and that is humanity. Generosity of spirit and integrity are showcased brilliantly through the various central characters. I found myself, at the end of the movie, thinking about how much it reminds me of the magic of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Never once, will you find an opportunity for boredom to set in. And you’ll find yourself rooting for this open source of entertainment and information to remain available to all those who want to participate, and not regulate content based upon how much someone is willing to pay.

From filmmaker Steven Spielberg comes the science fiction action adventure “Ready Player One,” based on Ernest Cline’s bestseller of the same name, which has become a worldwide phenomenon. The film is set in 2045, with the world on the brink of chaos and collapse. But the people have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that grips the entire world. When an unlikely young hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger. (IMDb)

Pop culture, geek-dom, and nerd-dom for everyone! Whereas the book primarily contains 1980s references, the movie adaptation spans pop culture from the 80s to today. This was an important and strategically solid move in order to appeal to a wide age-range of movie-goers. Not being a gamer myself, I am unable to comment on the various references in the film and how they are placed perfectly in the narrative; however, I LOVE movies and TV, so I can definitely comment on those references, and they were spot on! Loved every one of them. And not just because these references were in the movie–anyone can just shove references and product placements into a movie without thought of the meaning or contribution to the plot–each and every movie or TV reference was selected specifically to fulfill a larger purpose and placed precisely where it needs to be. It would have been far too easy for the pop culture references to steel attention away from the plot, but the structure and pacing of the movie is such that the references enhance the experience without becoming sheer spectacle that could have been interpreted and pandering to audiences.

Of all the references, my favorite is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. That’s right. Return to the infamous Overlook Hotel during one of the quests to search for the Jade Key. The Overlook Hotel from Kubrick’s horror masterpiece (that was, interestingly enough, disliked strongly by Stephen King) was incredible. I felt that I was legitimately transported to the macabre setting in which we encounter unimaginable terror. This referenced worked particularly well because I cannot imagine another setting that could have been used in such an instrumental fashion. There are times in films that a location could be swapped out for another similar setting and achieve the same result because the plot is not predicated on it–essentially, the plot would play out just as well and effectively through another comparable location. The Overlook Hotel and specific events from The Shining (that I won’t go into because of spoiling the experience) were nearly as integral to the advancement of the plot as the characters themselves. No sooner could you replace The Shining sequence than you could the main turning points between Acts I/II and II/III. Although there are many excellent sequences to choose from in the movie, the series of scenes during the time spent at The Overlook are definitely my favorite.

It’s not often that an action-adventure or fantasy movie is deep enough to provide social commentary on real issues facing us in the real world or what it means to be human; but Ready Player One contains fantastic material for philosophical discussions regarding the current trends and challenges facing present-day society. The subtext of this movie contains material on human values, equitable access to content online, and the dangers of falling victim to only “existing” in a virtual world. Man vs technology, greed vs generosity are ways to look at the story, not to oversimplify the subtext. Because of the present crisis of the ending of net neutrality facing the United States, there is clearly a message that everyone has the right to equitable access to the universe of entertainment and information online. When a greedy capitalist attempts to disrupt that access and determine someone’s access based upon how much someone is willing to pay, we see that the system runs the risk of breaking down and not allowing for the joy that was once ran through the very framework of the virtual world. The film also provides audiences with commentary on the importance of actively participating in the real world to form tangible, physical relationships with others in order to find love and forge friendships. Furthermore, if a society becomes so fixated on avoiding the problems of the real world by transporting to a virtual world, then the problems of the real world grow worse, bigger, and more devastating than if society takes the time and effort to combat that which seeks to destroy our world.

Such an excellent movie! If you are a fan of the Black Mirror series on Netflix for its Twilight Zone approach to tackling tough subject matter involving the degree to which technology permeates our lives, then you’ll enjoy Ready Player One. I find that many elements of this movie feel like the San Junipero episode, and the successful show at large, because of the terrifying visions of the near future distorted by the abuse of technology. Thoroughly enjoyed every moment on the more than two-hour runtime. I was initially afraid that the movie would feel too much like a video game, but that is not the case. The design is such that the virtual world and real world feel just as tangible. Being that I am not a gamer, I don’t want to attend the cinema and feel that I am watching cut scenes from a video game, so this was handed extremely well. You’ll easily find characters that you can identify with and root for, and the opposition forces are well-developed too.

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Peering Through the Hole into “Bates Motel”

BatesMotelTVPremiering in 2013, the longest running scripted drama in the history of the Arts and Entertainment (A&E) channel is Universal Television’s Bates Motel starring Freddie Highmore, Vera Farmiga, Max Thieriot, Nestor Carbonell, and Olivia Cooke. Based on the iconic film Psycho (1960), directed by the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock with story by Robert Bloch, Bates Motel takes us back to Norman’s early days when he was just a teenager–who was anything but normal. If you have kept up with the series, it is at a huge turning point in the character development of Norman and it just keeps getting better and better. Often shows as dark and heavy as Bates Motel do not have staying power or begin to wane after 2-3 seasons. Not this one. Just like Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho continues to impress, terrify, and influence even today’s suspense/horror movies, Bates Motel provides audiences with a glimpse into how Norman came to be while concurrently focussing on others who are directly and indirectly connected to the development of the most infamous psychopath in all cinema history. From visual and verbal nods even in today’s horror films to inspiring theme park attractions to television shows, the drama at Bates Motel continues to beckon audiences and intrigue those who find the characters fascinating.

Hitch_HouseSadly, executive producer Carlton Cuse confirmed that the show’s next season is slated to be the last, and will adapt the events of the series’ namesake. Although I wish the show could go on, it is clear that we are approaching the events that started it all. That being said, this upcoming season is sure to be exciting as we get to witness the gap between where we are and where Marion Crane checks into the infamous motel begin to narrow and close. Whether we are going to end the series at the point Marion walks in or recreate the diegesis from Hitchcock’s film leaves to be seen. One of the reasons that a series like this one can even be produced is that it has prolific material from which to pull and interpret–the fact that the character of Norman Bates has been studied for years, much in the same way the film itself has been explored–provides writers and producers ample opportunity for inspiration.

Norman and NormanSince we are given little information about Norman in the movie–note: that does nothing to mitigate the experience or effectiveness of the plot–his childhood to adolescent years and transition into adulthood is open for interpretation. For many years, film scholars like myself and others have often hypothesized what psychological and emotional experiences plagued Norman and affected his development. It would be all too easy and even a copout to state that he simply suffers a psychological disorder that was present when he was born. What I appreciate about the show’s portrayal of Norman is taking the cognitive and emotional atypical condition he was likely born with and throwing other experiences into the mix. It’s nature v nurture on a whole new level. Through the storytelling of Bates Motel, we have witnessed how his upbringing has had a profound impact on his development into the single most famous psychopath in cinema and now television history.

Emma_DylanThe show is not limited to the development and history of Norman, but also includes influential people in his life. Of course there’s Mother (Norma), but we also have grown to love his estranged brother Dylan, close friend Emma, and frienemy Sheriff Romero. Obviously Norman is obviously interesting to watch, but the writers and producers of the show make sure that each of the principle and reoccurring characters are fascinating as well. Dylan represents the only male figure in Norman’s life who consistently tries to help him, even though Norman often cannot see the love in his brother’s actions. Much like Norman, Dylan has also encountered much negativity and abandonment issues as a kid. Unlike Norman though, he found ways to deal with it and build a life for himself. In recent times, Norman keeps pushing the one positive male role model in his life away to further isolate himself. His close friend and coworker Emma is a very interesting female figure in his life. Unlike Mother or other females we have encountered over the series, he loves Emma and has done nothing to bring about permanent harm to her–at least so far. Emma is the only person who really gets to see the Norman hidden behind all his bizarre actions and obsession with Mother. Like Norman and Dylan, Emma had her own struggles with cystic fibrosis. Each of the characters is dealing with their own respective psychological or physical problems.

Romero_AlexLastly, prior to analyzing Norma, Sheriff Romero has played a key role in the life of Norman. Like Dylan he too is a consistent male figure in his life, but Norman has grown to resent Romero for his relationship with Norma. Romero has worked through his involvement in the drug trade and has grown as a result of it. Again, we have an individual with their own personal conflicts amidst the consistent conflict of Norman. The only other character, besides Dylan, who really knows what Norman is capable of. Romero is constantly trying to protect Norma from what he dreads Norman is truly capable of.

NormaBates1“Mother, what have you done?!?” Norma Bates is probably the most fascinating character after Norman. She is the closest to him and has been directly and indirectly responsible for his atypical development from his time as a child into an adult. Although she all but denies Norman’s psycho-social and emotional problems, she truly does recognize they exist. Unfortunately, she is so incredibly attached to him, having been abused and abandoned herself in the past, that she cannot truly provide the help he needs. Fortunately, she finally got him the help he needed–and should’ve received years prior–at the Pine View facility as we have seen in this season. It’s too little help too late. For the longest time, she felt that mother knew best and that no one could help Norman the way she could. Oh the irony. The attachment she was so fond of is regrettably the very thing that would bring about her undoing. Despite her best intentions, she really was the most instrumental in creating a monster. Her fits of rage and jealousy transferred into the mind of Norman and intensified the predisposition to sociopathic behaviors already present. Had she taken him to get help as a child, it is entirely possible that he may not have turned out to be the “psycho” after all. But, mother will always be with Norman; and no woman is allowed to take the place of her in his life.

bates_motelWell, here we are! At the crossroads between seasons four and five. This upcoming season is sure to terrify and excite as we buildup to the single most famous scene in all of cinema history. The reason the shower scene is the single most famous scene can be recognized by analyzing the length, actions, and sounds included in those few seconds. You can learn more about that scene by reading my article The “Attraction” of  Horror: a “Psycho”analysis. After more than 50 years, the Bates Motel and Norman still haunt our dreams and provide direction and inspiration for today’s cinematic storytellers. An interesting thought on the direction of these immortal characters and setting is the potential for a live theatrical production. There is certainly enough dialog driven material that Psycho and Bates Motel can easily be translated into a live theatre experience. It takes rich material to be able to be so versatile. Here’s to the final season of A&E and Universal Television’s five year homage to the infamous and macabre happenings at the Bates Motel. Thank you Hitchcock for truly being the master of suspense.