Ready Player One

Ready Player One ★½

Among the synthesizer community there has been a light-hearted ongoing debate regarding analog versus digital sound sources. Past a certain threshold of sound resolution, the "purity" of a sound wave and its source is negligible as virtually all recorded sounds become digital samples somewhere along the recording path. I am by no accounts an analog purist, but I can usually sense and appreciate the "warmth" of an analog patch because the electronic components generating that sound are sometimes flawed and usually a bit noisy. That can be a problem for producers who want things to sound pristine without a lot of effort, but that dirtiness gives life and character to what one might perceive as a cold, unnatural sound. I would argue that the difficult process one has to go through to give vibrancy to something quite sterile otherwise is a reward unto itself.

A great example of this would be found in Aphex Twin who borrowed a sample from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory for his song "We are the music makers", a formative and influential piece of dance music on an album ("Selected Ambient Works 85-92") that would inspire decades of electronic artists, dancers, and dreamers. Great art is at the convergence of what came before, and it leaves in its wake something greater to latch onto. So when I heard the first few bars of a slow foreboding cover of "Pure Imagination" that accompanies the trailer to Ready Player One, I felt an odd portent of cynicism. There is the legacy of Willy Wonka... and the cavalcade of other cinematic inspirations that led up to the existence of Ready Player One. Most of these are all wonderful as they stand today. Watching Ready Player One feels like listening to someone jam on presets in Abelton. Of course, it looks and sounds pristine. Everything is in proper working order, and minimal effort was required. However, the decades of toil and imagination that were put into every minutiae of this film has led to a cold, sterile product, and Steven Spielberg has become the Skrillex of film.

I've read tons of reviews already about how "fun" it is and how it "improves on the book" and "The Shining sequence is mind-blowing", but chances are that if you are like me and harbor a lot of resentment for the precepts of the modern blockbuster you will probably dislike this film as much as I did. There's stock narration explaining the parameters of the universe, the mass majority of the dialogue is for hand-holding the audience in case they can't keep up with the simple plot, and there are about a dozen instances of characters literally recapping something that had just occurred AS IF YOU DIDN'T JUST SEE IT HAPPEN. Like most movies about video games, there is the agony of having to watch people play video games instead of just playing a game yourself, in your own house, ingesting Cheetos and Mountain Dew. Now pile on the fact that every movie referenced in this film reminds you that you would be better served watching any of those movies instead (with the lone exception being The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension - what kind of plebeian considers that their favorite movie?). As for the conclusion that "reality is the real world, so get out of the house and enjoy life", it's a rare feat to encounter a movie that is constantly suggesting you do anything besides watch it.

Then there's the crutch of the film, the gimmick: remember (insert reference)? The irony of that trailer song is that this film and, by extension, the book required absolutely no imagination. Everything on the screen is a preset. The film is the ultimate attestation to the fruitlessness and lack of inspiration to be found in crossover fiction and nostalgia fetish. Even worse is that when it has the opportunity to properly critique some awesome concepts like how unhealthy nerd culture is, the placation of the working class via media tech, or the death of art in American cinema, it just wizzes it right down the proverbial CG pant leg. Perhaps the scariest aspect of Ready Player One is that in its dystopian future the focal point of all recreation is in reverence to a cultural development that at some point stagnated and ended. I can't help but assume that "year zero" for that stagnation was the year movies like Ready Player One started coming out. By supporting a movie like this, you are beckoning the death knells of imagination and pining for a cold and sterile future.

For a long time, I've been very critical of CGI in film, but we are far past the point of no return for analog purity to be maintained. Digital film making has almost managed to crawl out of the uncanny valley, and inevitably the world of the cinema will be a virtual reality playground like "The Oasis", but for God's sake can't Hollywood hire some better script writers?

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