Ready Player One Is A Breathtaking Ode to Gaming & Geek Culture

Ready Player One Poster

The latest Steven Spielberg sci-fi epic is Ready Player One, based on the novel by Ernest Cline, and this is Spielberg’s best film in years.

It takes place in Columbus, Ohio in 2045 and follows the saga of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a downtrodden teenager who escapes his drab existence by living in a hyper VR called the OASIS. This online universe is a place where you can be anyone through avatars and live any kind of existence.

iron giant ready player one

Many visitors are active gamers like Wade who goes by a customized avatar called Parzival. Others have imaginative avatars as well, some unique, some are replicas of popular fictional characters. Some of these include the Iron Giant, Freddy Krueger, Chucky, Batman, Lara Croft and others. They all sport assorted gear, drive various vehicles and mixed costumes from across popular games, films, TV shows, etc. A great example is the DeLorean vehicle from Back to the Future that Parzival drives or a Clark Kent disguise that is used at one point. Comparing Wade’s drab real world, which is literally crumbling apart, to the wondrous marvel of the OASIS, it is easy to see why most of the world’s populace chooses to spend most of their time in the OASIS.

In the film, the mysterious and super-rich creator of the OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) died a few years earlier. Before his death, Halliday set up an epic quest in the OASIS where gamers have to find three keys to gain control of the artificial realm and become insanely rich. Halliday had a deep love of pop culture, especially sci-fi, fantasy, anime, horror and comic books, and so sprinkled many Easter eggs throughout the OASIS as clues to finding the keys.

Wade lives in squalor and like most players sets out to find the keys to figuratively open the door to a better life. He also shares Halliday’s love of pop culture and thinks creatively, which gives him a distinct advantage in the quest. Joining him are a ragtag team of Gunters (Easter egg hunters), who include Samantha Cook/Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao). Standing in their way are not just billions of other online gamers and Gunters but the CEO of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). He commands a virtual army in the OASIS and desires to gain complete control of the online world. Needless to say, Sorrento will stop at nothing to win the ultimate prize, even if that means using the resources of IOI to endanger everyone, including Wade and his friends.

Ready Player One is a fresh, exciting and nostalgic ode to our ever-expanding pop culture, especially our favorite genres.  Nearly every moment in the film just stuns our eyes with all the references that are too many to list here or even see after a few viewings. There are millions of them and part of the fun watching the film is trying to spot as many of them as possible. For a lesser director it would be so easy to let them overwhelm the film, but since Spielberg is Spielberg, he keeps the focus on the story and the characters. Many of the references and eggs actually serve a purpose in Ready Player One, in fact one of them, a certain film, plays an important role during a sequence that leaves you marveling over how Spielberg and his team managed to pull it off.

As great as it is, Ready Player One may be too much for some, probably those that look down upon geek culture. Others who embrace the culture will love what this film offers. There are some drawbacks, however. A bit more time should have been spent in the real word just for comparison purposes. It is established that reality is undesirable, but it should have been shown more. We never learn why the world is decaying, is it solely because most people retreated to the OASIS? Wade’s real life was depressing but what about his friends’ lives? Aside from some screen time with Samantha, the others are ciphers. Also, a key message in the film about living your real life instead of retreating into fantasies is hit over our heads repeatedly to the point of overkill.

Thankfully, Steven Spielberg’s mastery behind the camera and some genuinely good performances by Sheridan, Cooke, Waithe and Mendelsohn elevate the film above its faults. Of this group, Cooke and Mendelsohn stand out. Cooke’s character expresses a quiet sensitivity while exhibiting great strength and ingenuity. Meanwhile, Mendelsohn does a terrific job portraying the villainous corporate head of IOI.

say Anything ready player one

Nonetheless, the film is a pure joy and captures the fun and wonderment of Steven Spielberg’s earlier works. It reminds us why he is still the master storyteller in cinema. It lets us revel in our love of nerd culture while reminding us that the simple things are the best.  Ready Player One is a heartfelt and visual spectacle that celebrates our love of geekdom. Go see it now and a few dozen times before buying the download or home release.

José Soto

 

 

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Top 10 Stephen King Live-Action Adaptations That Should Be Remade

There have been countless live-action adaptations of Stephen King’s books and stories. Some are classics while others are best left forgotten.

Then there are the lesser or flawed adaptations that need to be remade. With some changes, these remakes could faithfully capture the true horror and thrills of Stephen King’s bibliography. The best example right now is It, which is the second live-action adaptation of the book and considered superior to the first adaptation. Now what other live-action adaptations of Stephen King’s works should be remade? Here are the candidates:

10. The Lawnmower Man Stephen King fans know all too well that the film adaptation did not have anything to do with King’s short story about a mysterious landscaper and his supernatural lawnmower, which would make an interesting film.

9. Dreamcatcher  – The Stephen King novel about old friends haunted by an alien entity was made into one of the most reviled Stephen King films. Still, the story and characters are interesting enough for another crack at a live-action adaptation.

8. The Langoliers The novella of the same name did not have enough material to warrant a mini-series as seen in the 1990s mini-series. This off-the-wall yarn about plane passengers dislodged from time would be better translated as a tightly edited film with a good F/X budget.

7. The Running Man The original film is best remembered for being a standard ‘80s Schwarzenegger action flick. A remake should better reflect the novel by casting an everyman type and ditching the original film’s revolution subplot as the hero tries to survive a deadly reality TV show in the future.

6. Cat’s Eye This anthology film from the 1980s doesn’t need a remake but deserves a sequel. The original adapted Stephen King’s short stories and worked them into a story surrounding a stray cat. A followup could simply adapt some more stories within the same framing device.

5. Cell Anyone caught the awful DOA adaptation that came out recently? Don’t bother. A properly executed film should be able to capture the disturbing essence of the post-apocalyptic horror tale about humanity turned into mindless killers due to a cell phone signal.

4. The Tommyknockers The mini-series was actually an underrated gem that could’ve used some sprucing up and a tighter pace. The story’s premise of aliens invading a small town is ripe for a terrific sci-fi/horror film featuring all of the novel’s thrilling and eerie elements.

 

3. Under the Dome The horrid TV series that ran for several summers was an injustice to the Stephen King book about a town cut off from the world. The story simply did not work as an ongoing series and deserves another shot as either a film or a mini-series.

Roland and Jake

2. The Dark Tower The film based on the epic Stephen King series of novels just came out and it already needs to be remade. The Dark Tower film left out so much from the epic novels that made them great. Thanks to its poor box office, plans for sequels are doubtful at this point. The best option going forward would be to forget about films and faithfully adapt the novels into several mini-series or an ongoing TV series on premium cable.

1. The Stand The mini-series based on the seminal Stephen King epic while competent, felt lacking. The Stand was hampered by TV network censors that worried that the post-apocalyptic story of plague survivors would be too much for audiences. Also, to be honest, The Stand meandered too much, which is a complaint about the unabridged version of the novel. A planned film trilogy was abandoned but talks continue for another adaptation. Whether as a new mini-series, films, or an ongoing TV show, The Stand must be remade and thanks to the success of It, this may happen.

Waldermann Rivera

The Dark Tower Film Adaptation Aims With Its Hand

After decades, we’ve finally gotten a live-action adaptation of Stephen King’s epic novels of The Dark Tower. Unfortunately, as many of us feared The Dark Tower is a pale and hollow adaptation. Actually it is not even a faithful adaptation (never mind the casting of Idris Elba as Roland the last Gunslinger, he was superb as the Gunslinger) but a mish mosh of the seven novels in the series. As you can expect, it is impossible to do the sprawling storyline any justice with a paltry 90 minute screen time.

For those who don’t know the background, The Dark Tower novels are about a lone, Jedi-like Gunslinger from another dimension who is pursuing his arch foe, the Man in Black. This bad guy  wants to destroy the mythical construct called the Dark Tower, a nexus point of sorts that connects and separates all the universes. Destroying the Tower will unleash chaos across dimensions and obliterate reality. Part Western, part fantasy, part sci-fi and part horror, the novels were some of King’s best works and actually revealed that all of the Stephen King works are interconnected. The wild and wonky storyline was complemented by memorable characters. Not just Roland but the small band of Earthlings from different time periods who join his quest. Too bad only one of them makes it into this film, young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor).

Roland and Jake

Of course, it is unrealistic to expect this one movie to cover the entirety of the novels, but as an introduction to this rich mythos, The Dark Tower cannot adequately do it. There is a popular line in the books “I do not aim with my eye, he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye.” This film commits the sin of aiming with its hand not its eye or heart. On the whole, the entire film is a barebones adaptation that lacks the nuance and for the most part, the epic scope of the novels. It does a just an average job of enticing viewers to want to learn more about Roland and his quest. We never feel the animosity Roland has with the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), who is not well developed. The film just moves along so quickly we don’t have time to absorb any of the information given to us. And with the rushed editing and running time, there isn’t enough in the film to win over non-fans or satisfy die-hard fans of the novels. In fact, many of them will be enraged with the missed opportunities and the thin surface details.

Idris Elba as Roland

This does not mean that the film is a disaster, but a rather frustrating watch because there are nuggets of wonder that struggle to get through the film’s banal tone. For one, the actors in the film are quite good and it has several fine moments. We get glimpses of why Roland is to be revered as he wields his guns with near-supernatural precision. For Stephen King fans, there are more than a few Easter eggs of his other works and overall, the film is not dull. It’s just that so little time is spent on these highlights because the film is so intent on getting from point A to point B and in the end, we cannot enjoy the ride. The bottom line is that fans know that the source material is rich and enticing and most of that is missing in the film. This is beyond annoying for fans who have waited so long after so many false starts for a film adaptation. These novels have such sprawling stories with off-the-wall imagery that they deserved a film or a film series that would adequately adapt them. Unfortunately, this film does not accomplish this goal and instead of being a monumental film experience it is just your standard summer film.

The sad thing about The Dark Tower is that it will wind up being forgotten and unlikely to be a hit film. Meaning, that it is doubtful that future films will follow that will better explore Roland’s world and his epic quest. There are plans for a TV show that will tie-in to this film but who knows if that will ever come and the film’s reception will probably mean that it will be a long time before fans get a proper adaptation.

C.S. Link and Lewis T. Grove

The Better Adaptation: A Dune Movie or A Mini-Series

paul-atreides With the news that Legendary Entertainment has acquired the rights to make a new movie based on Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune, there has been much speculation as to how this new adaption will be done. Dune has been adapted twice before. Once as a feature film by David Lynch in 1984, and later in 2000 as a TV mini series on the Sci-Fi Channel. Both projects had positive and negative aspects that fans continue to debate. Lynch’s film had the grand and epic feel of the novel, but also added new features to the story that were not in the original(ex: the weirding modules). The Sci-Fi mini series was more faithful to the book since it had more time to adapt the story, but suffered from a limited TV budget, and the look and feel of the set pieces and costumes were not at the same level as the movie.
dune-mini-seriesThis brings to mind the question of what new adaption should be done by Legendary Entertainment. In terms of adapting just the first Dune novel, a big budget, multi-part movie series similar to The Lord Of The Rings is something I think would be great. The story itself is very complex and needs many hours to tell. Trying to squeeze it into a single tow-or three-hour movie will inevitably lead to significant reductions in the many layers Herbert’s story has to offer. This is exactly what plagued Lynch’s version. He got the basics right, but was still unable to touch on many plot points and had to condense everything. The book itself is divided into 3three parts which would fit nicely into a trilogy of films that can do the whole thing justice. All of the plots and schemes of the various feuding houses and galactic intrigue can be explored, as well as the hero Paul Atriedes’ journey from merely a ducal heir to a full blown messiah. Having all of this with a big budget would seem to merge the positive aspects of the previous movie and the miniseries, plenty of time to tell the story and the resources to create Frank Herbert’s rich and diverse universe.

god-emperor-of-dune-coverHaving said that, if Legendary was feeling bold, they could attempt to adapt the entire original Dune Chronicles, which includes six books. If this was the case, then the only way to do this would be a Game of Thrones-style show hopefully on a cable network like HBO or Showtime. Books two and three (Dune Messiah and Children of Dune) were adapted by the Sci-Fi Channel in 2003 and was well done. Unfortunately, the other books were not adapted and the story came to an abrupt end just as it was getting good. The fourth novel God Emperor of Dune takes place 3,500 years after the original book and features Paul Atriedes’ son Leto II still alive due to his body merging with the desert planet’s massive worms. Subsequent novels take place thousands of years after this book and feature warring factions of matriarchal institutions and more galactic politics and intrigue. All of this would be very difficult to adapt in any meaningful way in theatrical films. Only the long commitment of an ongoing TV series could hope to truly bring all of these fantastic tales to life.

sandworm

Legendary Entertainment has a rich portfolio of films under its belt (Godzilla, Pacific Rim) and the fact that they are now in charge of the Dune franchise is definitely a positive development. The fact that talented director Denis Villeneuve wants to take on the task of making a Dune film is also a very good sign. He directed the well received sci-fi film Arrival and was entrusted with directing this year’s Blade Runner 2049. This shows me he has the skill to develop high-quality genre films. Hopefully, whatever they decide to do, it will be something that will do justice to Frank Herbert’s epic tale.
C.S. Link

Star Trek Reference Books & Manuals

encyclopedia enterprise workshop manual

What stands out among Star Trek merchandising are the informative and fascinating reference books that the long-running franchise has spawned. Full of nifty, intricate and intimate details about the Star Trek universe, these Star Trek reference books and manuals are true literary treasures.

While it’s true that many sci-fi TV shows and ds9 tech manual 2films have inspired fiction and making-of books and comics about them, these Star Trek reference books  and manuals were among the earliest tie-ins of their kind to come out, and were unique at the time. Now the book market is flooded with all sorts of tie-in reference books like Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary and so forth. These books were possible due to the imagination sparked by Star Trek that led many to ponder and speculate on the minutiae of the Star Trek universe. How fast did the Enterprise travel? Where was Captain Picard born? What is Romulan ale? The answers to these questions helped fill in the gaps for fans hungering for more knowledge about the fictional Star Trek universe.

scotts guide samplePerhaps the best early examples of such books were Star Trek: Star Fleet Technical Manual and Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise. Much of the information would be decanonized and wound up contradicting what appeared on screen. For example, in The Worlds of the Federation the Klingon home planet was called Kling instead of Qo’noS as later established onscreen. That didn’t matter to hardcore fans who reveled in explaining away contradictions as the books helped give the impression that the wondrous Star Trek technology and universe actually existed.

More recent forays into these fictional reference books have branched off into atlases, dictionaries, travel guides and even a Klingon version of Hamlet. The best of these books include encyclopedia pagesStar Trek: Star Charts: The Complete Atlas of Star Trek, Star Trek  Chronology: The History of the Future and The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future. These three books warrant repeat reading and are bursting with the tiniest details and information about Star Trek, not to mention beautiful artwork and charts. For instance in Star Charts, it traces the course of the U.S.S. Voyager on its journey back to the Alpha Quadrant. In the Star Trek Chronology we can trace the timeline of James T. Kirk from his birth (in Iowa, not some starship!) to the moment of his death. While The Star Trek Encyclopedia lists all the ships in their classes, detailed descriptions of three-dimensional chess, episode listings and provides detailed bios on many Star Trek characters.

romulan map

Of course, these books came out some time ago and much of it is outdated. However, they have enough material to keep anyone busy and seriously, Pocket Books should look into producing revised hardcopy chronologyversions of these books. This was actually done for both the Chronology and the Encyclopedia back in the late ’90s, so the precedent exists.

Thankfully being that this year is the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek more books are coming our way. One of the most interesting of the lot is Hidden Universe Travel Guides: Star Trek: Vulcan by Dayton Ward. As long as Star Trek continues to inspire the imaginations of both writers and fans, there will always be more captivating reference books that can be poured over for hours at a time.

The following are the ten best Star Trek reference books and manuals released to date:

10. Star Trek: The Starfleet Survival Guide by David Mack

9. The Worlds of the Federation by Shane Johnson

8. Star Trek: Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph

7.  Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise by Shane Johnson

6. TIE: Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual by Rick Sternbach/Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual by Herman Zimmerman

5. U.S.S. Enterprise Owner’s Workshop Manual by Ben Robinson and Marcus Riley

4. Star Trek: The Visual Dictionary by Paul Ruditis

3. Star Trek: Star Charts: The Complete Atlas of Star Trek by Geoffrey Mandel

2. The Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda

1. The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda

Lewis T. Grove