Anika Goes to the Movies: Ready Player One- a compare and contrast essay

Warning: Creative expletives ahead. Keep out of reach of intelligent children if you don’t want to hear them repeated.

Quick Review: ALL THE STARS! Oh my french-fried pandas, go see Ready Player One (RPO). Now. I mean there’s gotta be a showing near you within the half hour; so on this Good Friday go get some good popcorn and watch. this. film. (yeah, film, I went there).

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Much longer review packed in an essay on the difference between adapting art and copy/pasting to make a buck:

Book to film adaptations are a sticky business. One form of the art relies entirely on words to entice the participant to create within their own mind a world and experience as close to the author’s own as such limited media will allow. A movie, being an entirely different art form combines the limited semiotics of language with reciprocal emotional responses programmed into us as we learn to interact with each other, plus the visual representation of all that tedious world building in a stimulating optical experience, while draping it all in music which interacts differently with the brain than all the other forms of audio input.

Big pros and cons for each medium.

Taking a book, not just the characters or the story, but the whole book: the language, the voice, the characterization, the formatting and style(which takes many hours to consume), and turning it into something that can be consumed in a layered audio-visual experience lasting only 1-2.5 hours is no mean feat.

We’ve all experienced it done well, really well (HPATSS, LOTR–not the Hobbit, don’t get me started, The Help) . An we’ve all wept (ok, maybe just I weep) over watching it done poorly *coughEragoncough*. But what’s the difference? How does this happen? I contend, sweet patient reader, that the answers are to be found in comparing and contrasting the two most recent attempts: A Wrinkle in Time and RPO.

First, we must establish which is which. A Wrinkle in Time was awful. So bad. SO so so so painfully bad. All of it, you ask? Well, no. The visuals were stunning, but they lacked real context and story significance. The actors, most of them, inhabited their characters with abandon and emotion. I kinda want Reese Witherspoon to keep me company as Mrs. Whatzit for a day. She was brilliant and adorable. But she was working with rigid, stilted dialogue. They all were. There is a drag-and-drop feel to the script that refuses to ADAPT. Much of AWIT’s charm lies in it’s language, true. But when all you do is stick that language on Disney effects that is not adapting the original material for the modern audience or the new medium. The plot, too, took no time to develop character or context or even world build that well. Meg is sad about her dad disappearing. I mean, he’s Chris Pine so who wouldn’t be, but we never have a real reason to cheer for her besides getting dad back. We don’t love her. We are so bored with her. And it’s not like there aren’t reasons to do so, but the movie never explains any of those. They cut the freaking scene of her explaining a space wrinkle that was in the goat-loving trailer!

RPO, on the other hand, stands on it’s own as a creative work without relying solely on the appeal of the book. It takes the time to acquaint you not only with what’s happening to the characters, but who they are, what their motivations are all about. We feel for Wade from the beginning because he’s not just some punk kid who amuses us, but because he continues to express optimism and hope despite living a pretty crappy life. Yes, he like most of the world has checked out, but he, unlike most, isn’t just running to the Oasis to get numb. He’s seeking a way to better his life. RPO takes the time to develop the story, the history, the why. AWIT never does.

Dropping folks into the midst of a beautiful adventure is fine sometimes, but only if that adventure resonates with something true. RPO is hamster-forking timely. How many of us, though not steeped in constant VR, feel appendage-less without our phones? How many of us kill hours that are usable for better things in Candy Crush and social media feeds? How often do we pull ourselves back into the slow pace of the real and see it not as our life but as an interruption to our digital existence? How many of us are willing to put up with being sold things, constantly, so we can stay submerged in altered that experience? And do we use the tech we have access to for just tuning out or for creating, doing, being what we have the potential for? When the minutes stack up were we actively seeking something– connection, expression, information, education– or were we just trying to forget ourselves?

The one thing RPO has that AWIT didn’t, in all fairness, is a built in platform of pop cultural resonance. If you have never had a dance off to “Staying Alive” or felt your guts go liquid when the Jurassic Park T-rex roars then maybe the movie won’t have the same affect on you. But for those of us born in/growing up in the 80’s it’s a buffet of tasty nostalgia. But even that could have been over done, it could have been one stupid pop culture nod after the next, with nothing to say beyond the cool CGI (which was AMAZING) and the nifty soundtrack.

So the long and short of it is, Ready Player One is a romping good time, with heart, and wicked awesome visuals. It is hilarious and heart-racing by turns. It will make you ask so many questions about yourself and where you are headed in this tech saturated world. I hope Spielberg is super proud to have his name on this.

Parents: take the teenagers, not the younger kids. The Shining challenge was a bit much for me, but it was bearable. There’s some suggestive stuff, nothing overtly stupid, and an f-bomb, just one. So not a PG-13 that the 12 yo should see IMO. Maybe even 13-14yo should give it six months until it comes out on Blu-ray. But date night with the spouse for sure!!

Until next time enjoy the show!

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