Ready Player One (2018): When the Film is Better Than the Book

It has been some time since I’ve watched a Steven Spielberg film. After seeing this film, I really should change that. He really is one of the best living directors today, as this is a film that could have been a cringe-worthy mess. First, I was a fan of the book, even though this film gets away from the book in some ways it still keeps the core spirit of the book. This is a film that celebrates video games and nostalgia while doing it well, even though the main characters are flat. My non-spoiler thoughts are: if you liked the book, you will probably enjoy this film too.

The film was directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline (the author of the book).

The story takes place in the dystopian future of 2045. The world has fallen apart and everyone lives in the Oasis, a virtual reality world created by Halliday where you can be anyone and do anything. Wade Watts is the main protagonist who is trying to find the 3 Easter Eggs that Halliday put in the game as a way of passing on ownership after his death. From here Watts and his friends must find the keys and beat the game before the evil corporation, Innovative Online Industries (IOI), lead by Nolan Sorrento.

The Pros:

The Dystopian Reality – The dystopian reality of the world outside of the Oasis is a tragic place. You have debt slaves to IOI, cars and houses stacked on each other in the Stacks, a militarized police force and drones everywhere. I wanted to learn more about this world and spend more time there as the human connections we see are made primarily in the Oasis. For me, one of my favorite parts was seeing the characters outside of the game working together, having to depend on their brains rather than how awesome they were in the game. I wanted more of this and to hear more of their stories.

The Oasis – The Oasis is really cool. This is a VR world where you can make yourself into any avatar you want. You can also build robots, tanks, cars, etc. It is a huge modding community where you can do PVP (Player versus Player) and PVE (Player versus Enemies [AI]) combat. It is the endless possibilities of imagination and gaming combined. I really hope we can make something like it, someday.

i-R0K the Mercenary – i-R0K is the mercenary Sorrento, and his evil corporation IOI, uses to hunt our heroes. He is a funny guy, as he is only in it for the loot. He’s a huge threat, and also, very human as he talks about how bad his back is and needing physical therapy. He has more character than our heroes, and I would watch a movie just about him.

The Tone – The tone is one of wonder and imagination intermixed with sorrow and desperation. Spielberg owns the tone, and it pervades the film giving weight to everything that happens and the actions our characters take.

Okay:

Flat Heroes – Wade is an orphan who lives in the stacks who comes off as a bit one-dimensional, as he only lives for the game and has no real defining character traits. Samantha is the love interest who thinks she’s ugly because she has a birthmark on her face, and her dad is enslaved by IOI. The Japanese Brothers are an older and younger brother duo. The younger brother is an 11 year old who doesn’t like people thinking he’s young, as he fears they’d mock him in the Oasis. Helen is an African-American woman who plays a troll-like, tough character, called Aech. These characters aren’t bad… it’s just that there isn’t more to them beyond the descriptions I gave. They are all heroes who do the right thing, always, and have no inner conflict or aims. This was a missed opportunity. They are this way in the book, but we do get into Wade’s head which makes him more compelling. These characters work within the story, but they really deserved much better development.

Idealization versus Reality – Oasis is a giant gaming community, so where are or what happened to all the toxic trolls? The racists? The sexists? As far as we know there isn’t a moderator who kicks players out, so how did this reality become perfect? This is where the stories fantasy element really came out. The film could have critiqued itself, or shown us how to get to the ideal reality the Oasis community seems to be.

The Cons:

The Villain and Predictability – Sorrento is a cliched. corrupt businessman. one-dimensional villain. He’s just greedy and selfish, having no greater depth. He was that way in the book too, which is a shame as he knows Halliday and it could have been Halliday who brought out his worst self. He’s entertaining, but there is nothing there. He is flatter than our heroes, and their presentations aren’t great.

Overdependence on Nostalgia – The Oasis is full of references, and it is fine up to a degree, but in a game you’d expect more original content. Why is everyone so focused on creating things that already exist rather than things that don’t exist. Some moments of nostalgia are cool, like the T.Rex  and King Kong in the race at the beginning, but the old arcade game at the end felt unneeded and could have been adapted into a better trial.

This was a film that missed opportunities to critique the culture of gaming, and nostalgia found in the modern world (they could have shown how we got past toxic troll culture, etc.). The flatness of the heroes and  the villain didn’t help the film… but the world, the world carried it for me. This is a good film that could have been great if it had dared to observe and critique itself. Once more, if you loved the book or love Spielberg, you will enjoy this film.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10

 

Sword Art Online – An Uneven Series That Destroys a Good Story in Part 2

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     “Sword Art Online” had a good first half that was nearly completely ruined in the second half when it proceeded to ruin one of the strongest and best characters in the series. This is only part of the bad anime tropes that raise their head in the second half, which is a shame as the first half actually has some really great moments. You can find my individual episode reviews here on the blog but I’ve been waiting a while before doing the overall summary because of how loud the clash was between Parts 1 and 2. It’s almost like watching two different series even though they are still the same show and have most of the same characters.

     The series was produced by Aniplex and animated by A-1 Pictures and based off the light novel series by Reki Kawahara.

       The story involves characters who are strapped in an virtual mmo called “Sword Art Online” and the mystery that unfolds as they seek to beat the game in order to get out. Part 2 deals with the fallout from this and brings us to ALfheim Online where the character arcs are completed.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of being stuck in a videogame is really cool, as it gives the chance of how one perceives oneself (through our Avatars and character choices) and gives a chance to explore some really cool sci. fi. or fantasy ideas depending on the game. As well as the nature of A.I. and sentience too. The first half of the series does a great job exploring this as well. Sadly the second part has to ruin it all.

The Animation – A-1 Productions created a beautifully animated world here and the animation is easily one of the strongest parts of the show.

The Characters – The main characters are pretty strong, though the character assassination that Yui and Ausna go through in Part 2 is pretty bad, and the villain in Part 2 is a wasted character.

Agil – Agil is the wise and older character in the game who ends up teaming up at the end when our heroes are trying to advance further and the big bad of part 1 reveals himself. After we see Agil owns a bar (and in game he gives discounts on his weapons and helps new characters). He is an awesome character who we honestly don’t see enough of.

Klein – Klein is another forgotten character as he is a bit socially awkward and a womanizer but is never creepy. He is a stand up guy who has Kirito’s back and he helps Kirito in both parts and is the first real friend Kirito the outcast has in the game.

Kirigaya – Kirigaya plays the character Leafa in ALfheim online and is Kirito’s adopted sister and cousin. She has a strange arc where she has to deal with her attraction to him, but she gets good exploration in her motivations and we see a protector who protected Kirito from his parents and became the best at everything. She was one of the few good things about Part 2.

Kayaba – Kayaba created “Sword Art Online” and is the big bad. He first appears as a God before entering the game as a player to help the players advance so that they could eventually challenge him at the end. Kirito figures out who he is early and beats him in a duel. In the end we meet a man who was lost in the game as he talks to Kirito about the fact he’d forgotten his motivation beyond power as he’d become so pulled in. He was a fascinating bad guy and I wish he could have been explored more. He gives Kirito the seed to create more mmos.

Kirito – Kirito is our hero character who fights and plays solo. He goes from a character who stays mostly alone to having a bunch of friends at the end who have his back. His arc is building that community and finding reason to be outside of himself.

Waking Up – The ending of Part 1 ends with Kirito waking up and we see a long haired, weak boy trying to walk saying Asuna’s name (who as far as we know died in the game). It’s tragic and powerful and should have ended here.

A.I. and Sentience  – At one point Yui, a program in the game develops sentience and adopts Kirito and Asuna as parents. It’s cool how this is explored as we see the game going active made other A.I. make choices outside their programming too. More could have been done with this.

Okay: Yui – Yui develops sentience and protects Kirito from a big bad boss at one point in the game. Sadly she is neutralized and we never see her reach the power she had before ever again. In the end she becomes a concept and child for Asuna and Kirito and nothing more sadly.

Asuna – Asuna is my favorite character in part 1, that is all ruined in part 2 where she exists to be sexually exploited by King Oberon and some giant slugs and no actions she take mean anything. She goes from Katniss to Princess Peach and from a character who wants to be the best to a person who only lives for her boyfriend. What a fracking waste of a character.

The Cons: The ALfheim Arc – ALfheim arc has a cool idea of different species that are all fighting for control of the world (that never goes anywhere) and is just Kirito and Leafa trying to rescue Asuna. The arc doesn’t go anywhere as we have a villain who is just a creep and nothing more and “save the princess” as the arc. It’s a waste of television.

Suguo/King Oberon – This guy rapes Asuna at one point and before that has her trapped in a cage and is molesting her all the time. He works for Asuna’s father and created the game from “Sword Art Online” and made himself King. Guy is one of the worst villains as he has no motivation or reason for being except to get revenge against.

The Sexploitation of Asuna – The is the entire ALfheim arc and where the anime forgot what made this character a character in the first place. She goes from a fighter to an object and the object is victimized continuously. She never gets to get back at Suguo for anything that happened to her either.

Twisted Fanservice – There are a lot of but and boob shots in Part 2 and none directed at guys. Equal fanservice I’d be okay with, but this was just part of the problem as it was shown at the height in any scene involving Asuna.

Missed Potential of ALfheim – Different factions of faeries are fighting for control of a world…go somewhere with that! Have factions unite and take on Oberon together….but nope, got to make Asuna a damsel and make this story all about Kirito. What a waste.

   This was a series that could have been solidly good, but blew it all in the second part. As you can see from the analysis, the first part actually had a really cool ending with Kirito waking up and facing the full consequence of having been asleep in a hospital for so long and faced with the real word versus the other reality he was once a part of. All of that is lost when Asuna gets damsled up and becomes a tool used for sexplotation. Nothing she does in Part 2 means anything or goes anywhere and over the course of the arc she goes from a great to okay character as her character is lost and she becomes the trophey at the end that Kirito has to avenge. It’s disgusting and ruins the great story of part 1. If you want to see this series, just watch the first part, everything you need about the fascinating idea of being stuck in a videogame is explored well there. After that it is some of the worst writing to come out of any anime.

Final Score: 4 / 10. Reason it isn’t rated lower is due to the strength in the first part of the show.