Game Ova

The easter-egg/treasure hunt plot of READY PLAYER ONE is very INDIANA JONES, while the quasi-dystopian world is pure MINORITY REPORT, but the movie references numerous other Spielberg productions as it attempts to visualise the postmodern concept of the pop-cultural universe as a virtual place where every fictional character and artifact exists alongside each other.

Maybe WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? was the first movie to attempt this kind of mash-up, but it contented itself with folding Disney & Warners cartoons together, with a few strays like Betty Boop, deliberately excluding later cartoons that would have diluted what stylistic consistency it had. Then THE LEGO MOVIE threw everything into the mix but achieved a surprising consistency by making it all Lego.

Complaints about Spielberg’s new movie warping the character of Brad Bird’s warping of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man (a delightful warping, but definitely a warping) and some of the other icons recycled in his big messy new flick seem quite misguided — according to the movie, these are merely avatars, not the real things. As someone who, as a kid, would make Action Man fight Cindy and Stretch Armstrong and a fluffy rabbit and Cassius Clay, I could appreciate the way the filmmakers are having fun cramming together things that just don’t belong together. It’s a bit like if, one second after the camera flashed on the Sergeant Pepper’s album cover, a massive fight broke out.

And it really doesn’t matter if you don’t get all the references, or any of them. The treasure hunt plot is one of the dullest conceptions available to the storyteller (follow the clues, win the reward), though slightly less obnoxious than Rescue The Princess, but writers Zak Penn & Ernest Cline throw in some neat complications to make things less boringly single-track. It’s diverting, sugary popcorn.

If the cultural (mis)appropriation doesn’t matter and the question of “Will the kids know who Buckaroo Banzai is?” doesn’t matter, and they really, really don’t and aren’t you ashamed of yourselves for caring, movie pundits?, then what does matter? Well, the hero is very bland and made more so by being flanked by a couple of cool, contrasting girls. And then Mark Rylance makes a caricature aspie genius figure become dimensional and wholly believable and that sort of lessens everyone else, especially poor Simon Pegg who can’t compete. Pegg can do many things but he’s not in Rylance’s league. He’s not even in his sport.

And of course there’s the whole issue of MEANING. Our hero joins an underground resistance movement but ends up as an all-powerful CEO, not only levelling up but lawyering up, and the film isn’t interesting in exploring or questioning or making fun of the contradictions. Those parts of the film’s world-building concerned with what makes the bad guys bad are so sketchily rendered as to wholly lack weight, and the Evil Corporation meme, which has always been a somewhat translucent veil when used by Hollywood movies produced by huge corporations, has never seemed so wispy and full of holes. This movie can’t even BEGIN to invest in the idea of authentic capitalist evil, so it all comes down to one nasty suit, well played by Ben Mendelsohn… but has he been cast just because he looks a bit like Miguel Ferrer in ROBOCOP?

A few people have suggested that this kind of fantasy, requiring a little satirical edge, might better suit a creator like Joe Dante, and I would recommend to you the flawed (by executive interference) LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION and the majestic GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH for films which really earn one’s respect by straining to bursting point to fulfill the contradictory requirements of selling toys and mocking the whole business of movie/merchandise synergy.

Still, RP1 is fun. If you surrender to it, the action is exciting, the extended Kubrick homage is a blast, Rylance is magnificent (say, can PTA discover him, please? Now that D-Day Lewis has apparently had his day?) and though it has a worryingly protracted wrap-up like in the bad old days immediately following SCHINDLER’S  LIST (or like Penn’s script for X-MEN II), it doesn’t completely outstay its welcome.

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13 Responses to “Game Ova”

  1. (In stunned, wondering tones) You… paid… to… see… this?

  2. In all seriousness, this review made it seem less irredeemable than I had suspected.

  3. I’m gonna go ahead and blame Fiona for that decision. We do see about half Spielberg’s films, and having missed The Post (we tried, but it was sold out at Filmhouse that day), it seemed fair to try this one.

    There’s always something positive to be gotten from the experience. Except for Hook.

  4. There are any number of Spielberg “exceptions,” lending a Jeckyl / Hyde quality to his mise en scene. Other duds include “Munich”,” “War Horse,” “The Adventures of Tin Tin,” “Always,” and the unspeakably awful “The Color Purple” (which has about 8 endings one after another to it, Spielberg being hooked on cinematic “uplift” like Whitney Houston on crack. )

    “The Post” is one of his very best efforts. That he should follow it with a piece of dreck is sadly . . .typical.

  5. Here’s Joe at his most sublime.

  6. I skipped War Horse and The Terminal and don’t regret it, but keep meaning to catch up with Munich. It seemed like it couldn’t be bad in wholly uninteresting ways.

    I even got some pleasure out of Tintin even though I disliked the whole look of it.

    Another one I strongly disliked was his episode of Twilight Zone. Oh, and much of Temple of Doom. And I’ve completely forgotten Always. But I’m cool with most of the rest. We definitely can’t count him out yet.

    Will try to catch up with The Post.

  7. I adore the opening of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” which along with “1941” (his maudit masterpiece) shows he’s got a real flair for musicals. Hey Stevie — how about “Merrily We Roll Along”?

  8. How about the disaster that is Indy4? Though I put a lot of the blame on Lucas for the lousy story, it seemed like Spielberg was trying to compete with the young action directors and made a movie with all the attention defecit disorder issues of modern action flics. The result was a movie that seemed like the product of a hack director aping the classic Spielberg style.

  9. Spielberg had a lot of interest in doing a musical, but Temple of Doom seems to have cured him of it. It’s not easy to do that stuff!

    Indy4 has moments, but for me, the real killer was the reliance on CGI, which was very obvious and gave it a very different quality from the previous three films. I can’t see any reason for a 5th film, unless they have some real good way to use Indie in… the 1960s? Or 70s? That just seems wrong. Maybe if they wait long enough they can have Indie acting as advisor on the first film based on his adventures…

  10. Oh, I remember coming across ALWAYS midway-through on the TV at one point and thinking, “this is like watered-down Spielberg”. Then the credits came and… oof.

  11. Poor Richard Dreyfuss — his comeback seemed to entail a lot of really watery material.

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