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Wednesday, 4 April 2018

READY PLAYER ONE – NOSTALGIA IS HERE TO STAY


Ready Player One was a glorious book. In fact, it was so wonderful that I was truly upset when I got to the end of it. I was commuting at the time and as the last page ended I felt a void open up. I wanted more. I wanted to be in the Oasis with Parzival, Art3mis, Aech and the rest. I wanted to be in there, helping to kick IOI's ass on an epic level. I wanted to be piloting Voltron or a Megazord or SpectreMan or the Enterprise D, joining in with the gigantic sea of pop culture references that came together to storm Halliday's castle.

When the movie was announced, I couldn't help but wonder how the hell it could be brought to the big screen. Here was a story about a videogame universe packed with so much in the way of licensed pop culture gold that it had to be impossible to make it work out for everything to show up in the film. Actually, more than that I was probably concerned that the version of Ready Player One I had in my head wouldn't be the one that I'd see at the cinema.

The name of a certain Steven Spielberg was attached, which vanquished a lot of my worries. I mean, the man was responsible for bringing so much of the pop culture that we know and love into being that him directing Ready Player One was something of a no-brainer. The trailers came and I was cautiously optimistic, then this week I saw the movie and despite it leaving out a lot of stuff (including one major plot element that was teased in the trailers), it wound up being a ton of fun.

It took a little while for me to warm to the film, maybe 25 minutes into its running time, but it won me over and raised a huge pop-culture-nerd grin. The visuals will have me picking references out for years to come, and there was the right level of Spielberg sentimentality and adventure to give the CGI universe a human edge, even when all we see of the characters are their game avatars.


The big thing that the Ready Player One movie has working in its favour is the pull of nostalgia. Not just nostalgia for those who lived through the times that spawned the pop culture giants that are referenced. But also an odd modern nostalgia for simpler, more fun times perhaps. The enormous love for the eighties and nineties at present seems to be the same sort of thing those of us who lived the eighties and nineties experienced from our own predecessors and how they felt about the sixties and seventies.

Life is incredibly complicated and nuanced now, and while I fully acknowledge that life was strange and uncertain back then (I was born in the very late seventies, remember much of the eighties and came of age in the nineties), the pull of other eras is incredibly attractive. Retro games and media remain fun now because they were fun then, too.

The pervasiveness of the internet and how it has shaped us culturally and socially seems to have resulted in some kind of cultural impasse where everything is happening all at once, all content is current, everything has its audience and its place. Pop culture is fragmented to an incredible level now, but when a project like Ready Player One – in both incarnations of it – brings a ton of familiar and fun things together, the best thing to do is just bask in its glow.

The Ready Player One movie isn't a perfect translation of the book (that wasn't possible after all), but it does give us what we wanted in terms of visuals and pop culture nostalgia along with a fun adventure story worthy of the classics it pays homage to.


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