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Ready Player One is amazing

I went to see Ready Player One on Wednesday when the early bird release came out. I went to see it again last night with my wife because I loved it so much.

It’s been years of waiting and anticipation. I’ve been following the movie ever since I read the book back in 2015. I thought the book was a hilarious, rousing, sometimes poignant cyberpunk masterpiece at the time and I still listen to the audiobook version every six months or so.

And yes I realize that the book has some problems. There are a lot of information dumps and from a pure writing point of view there’s a lot of telling rather than showing, but I don’t care. I’m also not as willing to lay the sins of GamerGate at Ernest Cline’s feet the way a lot of publications seem to have done in recent years.

The book is a fun fast-paced piece of entertainment that invites you to turn off your brain for a little while, but at the same time there are some deeper social commentaries buried in there for anyone who cares to look. I think if a lot of the critics who write the book and the movie off as nothing more than supercharged nostalgia actually took the time to look at that subtext they’d see a piece of pop culture that is subtly thumbing its nose at the very critics who hate it, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’re talking about the movie. And how awesome it is. Seriously. If you were a fan of the book go see this movie. Don’t go in with expectations either. Don’t go in hoping to see your favorite scenes from the book rendered in loving CGI glory, because that’s not what you’re getting with Ready Player One the movie.

They’ve said from the beginning that the movie is inspired by the book, and I think that’s a good thing. I’ve seen a lot of diehard fans moaning and groaning that they’re not getting the point by point adaptation of the geeky deep cuts they’ve always been hoping for, but that was never going to make a great movie. The general public and the average moviegoer has probably never heard of Zork or The Tomb of Horrors or any of the other stuff that forms the backbone of the book’s plot.

What the movie does give us is a fun ride that resembles the hunt presented in the book. Sure there are still pop culture references, but they’re the sort of thing that a wider audience is going to pick up on. It’s the sort of fun that allows that wider audience to be in on the fun rather than walking out of the theater confused and wondering why the hell they just paid $30 per ticket to see a geek standing at an arcade cabinet playing an ancient video game with a creepy skeleton.

The great thing is those deep cuts are still there, but they’re hanging out in the background where people familiar with the novel can pick up on them. Rush 2112 shows up in the background a few times. There are games and ancient computer systems that appear faster than you can see. I spotted a “Re-Elect Wil Wheaton” poster next to a “Re-Elect Mayor Goldie Wilson” poster from Back to the Future which is a fleeting nod to one of the funnier throwaway lines in the book.

All that stuff is still there for anyone who wants to go looking for it.

The point is Ready Player One is a movie. it’s been adapted for the screen. Go in with that expectation and you’re going to love it.

Because the movie is amazing. It’s a visual treat. There are so many references that fly by so fast that even watching the movie twice I was still picking up on things I didn’t see the first time around. This movie is going to be a joy for the kind of people who love picking apart pop culture.

If that’s all the movie was then yeah, it would be the very thing that a lot of critics accuse it of being. A pop culture greatest hits list flashing by at a reference a second overloading people on a nostalgiagasm to the point that they don’t realize what they’r watching is empty fluff.

That’s not the case though. There’s plenty going on to elevate it above the mere fluff that so many people seem deadset on making it out to be. The Spielberg touch makes the relationships between the characters feel far more substantial than they did in the book. I actually prefer the way they come together in the movie to the way they did in the novelization, and there are a lot of rough edges that are sanded away in this version.

The plight of the average Internet user pitted against the evil corporation that wants to use a wonderful resource that’s freed humanity to turn around and sell stuff has also never been more relevant than now when we’re increasingly facing a world where corporate interests are using the levers of government to push an anticompetitive agenda as they monetize away everything that made the Internet great.

Ready Player One is a story that still has a lot to say, and the movie delivers it in a tight fun visually stunning package that feels like it goes by way too fast despite clocking in at nearly two and a half hours. Seriously, if ever there was a movie that might’ve benefitted from the otherwise egregious Hollywood practice of splitting books into multiple movies it’s this one. The one complaint I had about the movie was that the plot felt a little rushed and hurried along at times when they could’ve done more to show the passage of time.

Some of my favorite spoilery moments, you’ve been warned, below:

  • Mark Rylance’s portrayal of James Halliday stole the show. Seriously. It was a revelation that tugged at the heartstrings. I was nearly in tears at the end when he said “Thanks for playing my game.”
  • “It’s fucking Chucky!” has to be the best use of a PG-13 f-bomb since Wolverine’s cameo in X-Men: First Class.
  • I really enjoyed the changes they made to Samantha/Art3mis. She took a more active role, was warmer and less standoffish, and having them meet halfway through the movie rather than at the end made their whole relationship arc seem more plausible. She always took an active role even in the book, she was never the hero’s prize that some critics who obviously never read the book claim, but having her work with Wade earlier felt better and made the romance more believable than the standoffish romance they had in the novel.
  • It was nice that they didn’t off Daito. The Daisho character development was about as thin as in the novel, but there were plenty of ways of proving how evil IOI was within the context of the film without offing one of the High Five.
  • It seemed like the movie world was a little less dystopian than the book world. That might be that there wasn’t enough room to show it considering everything they had to pack into the runtime, but everything felt a little less bleak.
  • Mechagodzilla. Holy. Fucking. Shit. I was worried that Toho might not play ball considering how protective they are of their biggest international star (the 1998 movie notwithstanding), and it was a pleasure to see Mechagodzilla. And what an appearance! The design was beautiful, and the fight was one of the greatest kaiju battles ever put to film.

Go see this movie if you’re a fan of the book. Go see it even if you’ve never read the book. It’s seriously awesome, and well worth the ticket price.

The Orville: Old Wounds

THE ORVILLE: L-R: Penny Johnson Jerald, Mark Jackson, Seth MacFarlane, Peter Macon, Scott Grimes, Adrianne Palicki, J. Lee and Halston Sage in THE ORVILLE premiering this fall on FOX. ©2017 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Noah Schutz/FOX

I’ve been looking forward to The Orville since I first saw that Seth MacFarlane was doing an homage/spoof of Star Trek. The show is right in my wheelhouse. I’ve been a huge trekkie my entire life and I’ve been a fan of MacFarlane since the first time I saw Family Guy when it first premiered. Combine the two? Well you have something that I’m very much looking forward to!

The previews for The Orville really wanted to build it up as a comedy that had more in common with MacFarlane’s other works than it did with Star Trek. The Internet really seemed to want The Orville to be a rehash of Galaxy Quest, though I thought those comparisons were flawed considering Galaxy Quest’s unique comedy stew had a healthy dose of fandom culture and winking nods at the ridiculousness of the show’s premise in its ingredients rather than being an in-universe straight up parody.

Which is to say that going into this I figured there were going to be a lot of people who were disappointed with The Orville based on their expectations. It looks like the critical reaction has been pretty negative, but then again the critical reaction to anything MacFarlane does tends to be pretty negative. I’ll admit his stuff is something you either like or you hate, but if you fall on the “like” side of that dichotomy then the humor in The Orville is more hit than miss.

The best part, though, is that you don’t even have to be a fan of MacFarlane’s comedy to enjoy The Orville, because at its core the show isn’t a comedy. It isn’t a spoof of Star Trek. No, more than anything it’s a return to the roots that made Star Trek the wonderful thing that it was. It’s an optimistic take on humanity’s future with a more realistic and smartass approach to how the characters interact, and I really enjoyed it.

The first episode, Old Wounds, hits a lot of beats that will be familiar to anyone who has seen a pilot from a science fiction show that debuted after Star Trek: The Next Generation dominated the airwaves and helped to usher in a new golden era of scifi on television. Characters are introduced. Interpersonal relationships are defined. A bit of old conflict is introduced. A new bad guy shows up and there’s a macguffin of the week that moves the plot along.

I don’t think the specifics of Old Wounds are all that necessary to cover though. It would be a perfectly serviceable episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the humor infused in the show really adds something to it. Say what you will about TNG and how groundbreaking it was for its time, but it could be a lot more stuffy and buttoned up than its predecessor. In many ways the interactions between the crew on The Orville feel more natural. There’s a workplace banter that I think better reflects how life would proceed on a ship like that, even in the far future, and in many ways it hearkens back to some of the lighter moments of the original Star Trek.

The Orville isn’t the rapid fire comedy that Fox desperately wanted people to think it was based on the advertising. It isn’t a straight up parody of Star Trek that the Internet seemed to so desperately need. What it is, though, is a loving homage to everything that made the best of Star Trek so great. Some might call it a straight up copy, but I really enjoyed seeing a show that got away from the dark and gritty tone that has taken over science fiction in the past decade and even tainted Star Trek to some degree.

The Orville is a return to a bygone era of televised scifi. It’s a show that depicts a bright future where humanity is doing well, and it does it with humor that shows a world that feels a lot more realistic than most of the dour scifi that’s been on the airwaves in the past twenty years.

I can’t wait to see where they go. Old Wounds was promising, and I think this show has the potential to develop into something amazing. Watching it felt like sitting down to watch an episode of TNG when I was a kid, and I welcome a return to a more optimistic take on the genre.

Nods to Trek:

The Orville isn’t a straight up Star Trek spoof, but there were plenty of nods in the episode that I enjoyed.

The door swishes and beeps were all very familiar.

The friendly deadly orc was a nice twist on the holodeck.

The shuttle flight that revealed the Orville was straight out of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, including music cues that were spot on while being just different enough to avoid copyright infringement.

MacFarlane’s speech to his crew was another scene straight out of The Motion Picture.

The musical stingers featuring the ship floating through space when they came back from commercials was a spot on moment from TOS and TNG.

The standoff with the enemy captain at the end bore more than a striking resemblance to the prefix code showdown with Khan in Wrath of Khan.

The shuttle ramming into the shuttle bay at full speed was a fun nod to Sulu doing the same in Final Frontier.

Notable moments:

The Orville leaving the dock to a rousing orchestral score was perfect. It brought to mind similar scenes from various Trek shows and movies while also being its own thing, which is really the whole episode in a nutshell.

Asking the weirdly framed alien to move just a little was funny. It brought to mind all those episodes of TNG where Tomalak stood just a little too close to the viewscreen for comfort.

The moment where they start airing their marriage grievances to a confused alien commander who actually engages them on the subject? Hilarious.

The discussion of the parting one-liner at the end was pretty funny too.

Summing Up:

If I had to give Old Wounds a letter grade it would probably be a solid B to B+. Not all the jokes hit and it’s clear the show is still finding itself, but the promise of a show that depicts an optimistic future with a dash of realism and humor is enough to have me really excited to see where they go with this! And MacFarlane is the golden boy at Fox, so if anyone has the power to keep an ambitious show like this going long enough to find its feet, something that even TNG didn’t do until towards the end of season 2 or the beginning of season 3 mind you, he’s the guy.

Lion King in theaters for a limited time!

I just found this out yesterday because I’m terrible at keeping up with media and what’s in theaters. I hardly ever go to see anything in the theaters these days considering we pay an exorbitant amount of money to have all the movie channels.

But I heard the Lion King is back in theaters for a very limited run at AMC. Like it’s going to be gone by Thursday in most regions. I guess the big splash was last weekend.

I’ve got my tickets! I’m taking the older kid to see it in the theater and I’m stoked! I haven’t seen it on the big screen since back in the mid ’90s when it had its first run. I came close when I was youth supervisor at a library and used my power of movie selection to show it on the projector there, but it wasn’t the same.

So if you have kids or if you just love the movie you have a couple of days to go see it if there’s an AMC theater near you!