Ready Player One was a good, not great movie.
Go see it if you’ve read the book and liked it. Or sort of liked it.
Go see it if you’re a nerdy person. Especially if you liked the ’80s.
Maybe give it a skip if you’re a Spielberg fan, looking for something that really displays his mastery of cinematography.
There’s not really any great things to say about the movie. It did what it did and it did it well enough to get me out of my evaluative mindset, and into one where I’m just enjoying the movie, swept away by wondering what’s going to happen next.
That being said, this movie suffers from the same sort of problem as The Force Awakens, in that the pace is absolutely frenetic, never really slowing down to catch its breath. I think this is in large part due to the fact that the movie tries to maintain the book’s breadth at all costs while sacrificing depth where it can. Which does lead to some of the puzzles that made the book great falling flat in the movie.
But it’s a good movie, all in all.
So, of course, everybody hates it.
Rhiannan Williams wrote an article titled “Ready Player One panders to a lame, sexist nerd culture that needs to die.” io9 reports that “[t]his type of narrative tries, and fails, to excuse the objectification, because it’s for a woman who doesn’t fit what the man believes is the status quo,” while Olivia Truffaut-Wong writes that by “[w]atching Ready Player One, Gamergate fans will likely feel validated.” Victoria Turk compares part of the movie to “the same idea that drives pick-up artists.”
These people are dead wrong. Here’s why.1
Wade Watts, the protagonist, is 18-years-old. He’s also an orphan. His father died when he was three, and his mother was a prostitute who died of a drug addiction when Wade was 11. He lives in poverty with his aunt and her ever-changing, often abusive boyfriends at the outset of this novel.
If you’re expecting Wade Watts to have an enlightened stance on gender relations, well, in the words of Stephen King, “fuhgeddaboudit!”
In fact, I think if he did, it would come across as really fake or really at odds with his upbringing. I think these journalists need to take a step back and accept accurate descriptions of the world for what it is, instead of comparing those to their pie-in-the-sky hopes for what the world could be.
It is difficult to find reviews with an ounce of nuance to them, as it turns out. However, I really like this one by Chris Isaac, “Why So Much Backlash? Ready Player One is Basically Twilight for Nerds.” And, to my surprise, he builds a compelling case. His point is that basically every major criticism leveled at Ready Player One was at one time leveled at Twilight, and that both have merit even if they’re not your thing.
I love this quote in particular:
“So, if you don’t like Ready Player One and have criticisms about it, that’s totally understandable. If you feel that there were more deserving scripts for Steven Spielberg to work on, or authors more deserving of publication than Cline, that’s also fair. I’ll certainly point out the issues I have with his stories, but I’m not going to delight in mocking his work or hoping for his failure like many did with Meyer and Twilight.”
My worry is that many of these criticisms of the work turn into personal attacks against Cline. Not only is his character a degenerate, but he must be as well.
This line of thought fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between author and character. Not all opinions expressed by characters align with the author’s. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the Inquisitor’s speech from The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, which is so well-written that many people confuse the opinion expressed by the character for the author’s own. This isn’t the case.
So, it’s not fair to pin Wade’s shortcomings on Cline, who should be judged based on the things he has done.
Even with all this said, I still don’t feel comfortable with apologizing for the quality of the writing in Ready Player One, the book. Isaac does. But, funnily enough, I don’t find the quotes that he chose from the book for his article to be all that bad, writing-wise.
At least, it’s better than this:
“Dr. Arilesperas Strigan, whose home I very much hoped I was walking toward, had been, at one time, a medic in private practice on Dras Annia Station, an aggregation of at least five different stations, one built onto another, at the intersection of two dozen different routes, well outside Radch territory.”
This is a needlessly long sentence. But, it’s not even a fun sentence, of the Faulkner-variety, that causes you to marvel at the beauty and complexity of language even as it goes on for a page-and-a-half and rubs your emotional nerve endings dry. Instead, this sentence jerks and bounces like an oxcart with a square wheel. This isn’t a matter of style; it’s a matter of human decency.
The sentence is from a book, Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie, which won the 2013/4 Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Arthur C. Clarke and Locus awards, despite being so bad that I couldn’t finish the book.2
Or, what about this excerpt?
“His throat felt a little constricted. He said, ‘May I ask why you’ve arranged to see me, sir?’
‘I like your reports, boy.’
There was a veiled glimmer of joy in Harlan’s eyes, but he did not smile. ‘Thank you, sir.’
‘It has a touch of the artist. You are intuitive. You feel strongly. I think I know your proper position in Eternity and I have come to offer it to you.’
Harlan thought: I can’t believe this.
He held all of the triumph out of his voice. ‘You do me great honor, sir,’ he said.”
This is so boring. Methodical. Like it was written by a scientist without emotion. Stilted beyond belief. Written by Isaac Asimov, who was awarded 14 honorary doctorates, and won Hugos, Locuses, Nebulas, yes, multiple of each, making him one of the most awarded sci-fi writers of all time.
Here’s the deal: story is king.
A lot of times we’re willing to forgive literary letdowns if the narrative is strong enough to keep us interested. The above excerpt is from The End of Eternity, which I finished because, despite the overwhelming blandness of the writing, had a good story. I wanted to know how it would end.
Ready Player One, in both the book and movie form, hit this benchmark. They’re enjoyable not despite their writing, but because they’re good.
So, the only question that remains, is, when’s Ernest Cline getting his Hugo? It’s well overdue.
- For an informative look at GamerGate, check out this YouTube video.
- Please tell me it was judged on its merits and not on its gender politics.