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Ready Player One's Movie Teaser Reflects A Book That's About Nothing

Ready Player One's teaser is an accurate reflection of the book.

Opinion by Mike Williams, .

Over the weekend at San Diego Comic-Con, Warner Bros released the first teaser trailer for Ready Player One, the Steven Spielberg film directed film based on the Ernest Cline book of the same name. For fans of the books, the trailer reads like a solid, faithful adaptation, with some of the referenced characters and icons being replaced with properties Warner Bros owns. For everyone else, Ready Player One plays out more like a live-action version of The Lego Movie.

To be clear, outside of the opening narration, the trailer is largely impenetrable. Actor Tye Sheridan, playing lead character Wade Watts, helpfully explains that everyone in the future spends their days in virtual reality, where they can be whoever and whatever they choose. The Oasis is a digital final frontier for everyone.

What comes after that is a trailer for References: The Movie. Action scenes with visual style, but no clear indication as to their purpose. It's all about seeing the easter eggs. There's Deathstroke and Freddy Krueger! Wow, it's the Iron Giant! That's the motorcycle from Akira and the DeLorean from Back to the Future! Even the bombastic soundtrack that comes after the monologue is a reference to "Pure Imagination" from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Like the trailers for Luc Besson's recent scifi action film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the teaser is here to make you go, "Wow, that's cool!" (Probably not the best place to go, as Valerian passed through its debut weekend with only $23.5 million at the box office.) Ready Player One's teaser is shiny, a travelogue to a place that the filmmakers hope you want to go. It's visually enjoyable and enticing. It also lacks deeper context and meaning.

In that way, it's perfect as a representation for Ready Player One, the novel.

Cline's book is heavy on the references to geek pop culture from the 80s and 90s. Wade Owen Watts is a young man who spends his days diving into the loves of his idol, Oasis creator James Halliday. Halliday was born in the early 70s, a child of that era, heavily based around gaming. He developed Oasis along with co-creator Ogden Morrow, the Wozniak to his Steve Jobs, and in the process he became rich.

The Willy Wonka musical reference? That's actually a reference to the book's plot. Halliday died, but he left the Easter Egg - yes, the book full of Easter Eggs and references has a MacGuffin called the Easter Egg - hidden deep within virtual world. Find it and you get Halliday's fortune. And the clues to finding it? All geek culture. Cline peppers the entire book with his personal loves in games, comics, movies, and more.

Ready Player One is a light, enjoyable novel. I liked it, though I digress it wasn't well-written, with lengthy divergences to reference things outside of the book itself. At the very least, many of the references were tied to the plot via Halliday's hobbies, something I could not say about Cline's second novel, Armada. (I reviewed Armada for USgamer back in the day.) The connection is made by being in on and enjoying the same references as the author, Wade, and Halliday.

Here's some excerpts, to give you an idea.

Descending the network of metal girders had always reminded me of old platform videogames like Donkey Kong or BurgerTime. I'd seized upon this idea a few years earlier when I coded my first Atari 2600 game (a gunter rite of passage, like a Jedi building h is first lightsaber). It was a Pitfall rip-off called The Stacks where you had to navigate through a vertical maze of trailers, collecting junk computers, snagging food-voucher power-ups, and avoiding meth addicts and pedophiles on your way to school. My game was a lot more fun than the real thing.


I sat in my stronghold, staring at the Jade Key and reciting the words etched into its spine, over and over, like a maddening mantra.

Continue your quest by taking the test.

Yes, but what test? What test was I supposed to take? The Kobayashi Maru? The Pepsi Challenge? Could the clue have been any more vague?


Inside were long rows of blue teleportation booths. Their shape and color always reminded me of Doctor Who's TARDIS.


"Ah," I said. "Good one. Let's see...The prize for the Earthworld contest was a Talisman of Penultimate Truth. It was solid gold and encrusted with diamonds. The kid who won it melted it down to pay for college, as I recall."

"Yeah, yeah," Aech prodded. "Quit stalling. What about the other two?"

"I'm not stalling. The Fireworld prize was the Chalice of Light, and the Waterworld prize was supposed to be the Crown of Life, but it was never awarded, due to the cancellation of the contest. Same goes for the Airworld prize, which was supposed to be a Philosopher's Stone."

Aech grinned and gave me a double high five, then added, "And if the contest hadn't been cancelled, the winners of the first four rounds would have competed for the grand prize, the Sword of Ultimate Sorcery."


I was eating some corn chips at the time, so I was using voice commands to operate the image-analysis software. I instructed it to demagnify the scan of the wrapper and center the image on my display. As I did this, it reminded me of a scene in Blade Runner, where Harrison Ford's character, Deckard, uses a similar voice-controlled scanner to analyze a photograph.

Blade Runner was referenced in the text of Anorak's Almanac no less than fourteen times. It had been one of Halliday's top ten all-time favorite films. And the film was based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, one of Halliday's favorite authors. For these reasons, I'd seen Blade Runner over four dozen times and had memorized every frame of the film and every line of dialogue.

As the Vonnegut streaked through hyperspace, I pulled the Director's Cut of Blade Runner up in a window on my display, then jumped ahead to review two scenes in particular.

The movie, released in 1982, is set in Los Angeles in the year 2019, in a sprawling, hyper-technological future that had never come to pass. The story follows a guy named Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford. Deckard works as a «blade runner», a special type of cop who hunts down and kills replicants - genetically engineered beings that are almost indistinguishable from real humans. In fact, replicants look and act so much like real humans that the only way a blade runner can spot one is by using a polygraph-like device called a Voight-Kampff machine to test them.

Continue your quest by taking the test.


Ready Player One does not surprise. Wade's character arc, if there's one at all, is a revelatory arc, not an evolutionary one. He doesn't really change over the course of the story; he's already awesome and everyone else just has to realize it. The ending is some moralizing about reality being all that matters, but that's contradicted heavily the entire rest of the book. Every move is telegraphed, every character beat is expected, many of the characters or paper-thin or in some cases, almost offensive. The villain is even a draconian corporation looking to control the game. It's not really about anything deeper. It's fun popcorn. Trying to dig deeper is only hoping for disappointment.

In that way, a big-budget Hollywood film might be the best way forward for Ready Player One. A visual buffet of everything you love in one place. Jumping from reference to reference with reckless abandon. The film could build upon the book's foundation. Film pacing means many of the more useless references will be shortened or excised for pacing purposes. Steven Spielberg is a master at many things in filmmaking, but most importantly, he's really good at imparting emotional weight. He might improve Ready Player One for the better.

Until the film releases though, the trailer is the book in under three minutes. It is an accurate representation of the novel; characters do cool things, things happen, and then it all ends, tugging your nostalgic heartstrings along the way. If any of the above sounds grating, you can watch the trailer, read a Wikipedia synopsis, and move on with your life. If not, I'm sure the teaser has already excited you for the possibilities.

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Comments 33

  • Avatar for yuberus #1 yuberus A month ago
    I totally agree - I thought the book was enjoyable fluff, but it's not particularly *good* unless you read it as a commentary on nostalgia and living in the past (and given that he did the same thing in Armada I'd argue that's beyond the author's intent). I just don't have much desire to go out and see the film version of it.
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #2 SIGGYZtar A month ago
    I thought the book was terrible as it relied to heavily on being a referential know-it-all. I would've loved it as a twelve year old, but I haven't been one in quite a while.
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  • Avatar for Ralek #3 Ralek A month ago
    The book - content-wise - was definitely mostly preoccupied with a man's nostalgia and pop-culture references of one sort or another, but it was also a kid quite literally deciding to lock himself away from the world to live in another one, a digital one at that. I mean, the book is not subtle about that part at all. I don't think that you could therefore really say it's about 'nothing' because that part is certainly 'something' and it's actually a 'something' I say has a fair bit of relevenance these days, even more so in 2017 than in 2011 (with consumer VR having become a reality now).

    Again, not saying it's not mostly about the stuff you mention, or that it is a parituclarly well written or in any way, shape or form important book, but I had a decent time reading it a couple of years back (nothing wrong with a good hit of nostalgia ^^), and like I said, I don't quite agree that it was about nothing.

    I don't think it was in a need for a movie though, not at all, and I can't even be bothered to watch the trailer, because I have next to 0 interest in another Pixels (god help us all).
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  • Avatar for DrCorndog #4 DrCorndog A month ago
    If those excerpts are anything to go by, there's no need for me to see this movie. Truly awful writing. "Ham-fisted" doesn't begin to describe it.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #5 Roto13 A month ago
    Big Bang Theory meets Family Guy.
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #6 SIGGYZtar A month ago
    @Roto13 Wil Wheaton is the President of video games.
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  • Avatar for Mikki-Saturn #7 Mikki-Saturn A month ago
    @Ralek I would add that there was a sub theme of the main character being unhappy in the real world for specific reasons - powerlessness, lack of confidence, dissatisfaction with his appearance - all of which the game world allowed him to subvert. But over the course of his digital quest he actually changes all of that, becoming fit, confident, etc. It's all standard Hero's Journey type stuff, but it is there, and I think it provides the emotional center of the book, so that it isn't merely about the references. Still I essentially agree with Mike's points. It's a pretty entertaining breezy page turner, but it's not fine literature.
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  • Avatar for Wellman2nd #8 Wellman2nd A month ago
    The trailer did nothing for me. Heard of the book but never read it nor inclination to based off the subject matter.

    But this article does make me feel a bit better on its prospects as a movie. Maybe there is a really great story in there waiting for expansion.
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  • Avatar for ReptilianSamurai #9 ReptilianSamurai A month ago
    There is so much negativity towards this book. Why can't we just let people enjoy things? The references are a key aspect of the plot, but there is more depth here than just a list of things to be nostalgic about. It's a different kind of story, and it really resonated with me partly because as a geek, pop culture references are a big part of my life. The idea that we as a culture would reach back into our past in this way and what was old would be popular again, and there's a whole world here post global warming and a society built around living more in virtual reality than the real world (which sucks). Plus a very cool mystery treasure hunt story. I heartily enjoyed the book and am cautiously optimistic that the movie won't screw up what made it so great!

    Also, I'd say Halliday is the Wozniak, not the Jobs. He was the behind the scenes technical wizard, not the business man.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #10 donkeyintheforest A month ago
    I thought the book was fine. I had some friends that loved it, and that's great!

    The movie has the potential to be awesome though. I was worried, because it's pretty rare that you'd be able to get the rights to have the Millenium Falcon fighting alongside the Enterprise against Mechagodzilla, etc etc. but with Spielberg at the helm I think people are going to be much more willing to license their IP. I have yet to be disappointed by a Spielberg sci-fi film, so I am pretty stoked, but I thought the story of the book was so-so so I'm not overhyped either.

    That said, this movie is basically peak "nerd-culture." Hopefully enough people will be tired of Steampunk X-files meets Dr Who as a member of the Serenity crew that we can develop more new properties. Blah blah get off my lawn.

    PS-and to the people who are complaining that the trailer isn't 80's nostalgia enough, the (late 70's early and) 80's stuff was only the solution to the main story, there were tons of people in outfits and vehicles for lots of other time periods inhabiting the Metaverse/OASIS.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #11 donkeyintheforest A month ago
    @MHWilliams "Probably not the best place to go, as Valerian passed through its debut weekend with only $23.5 million at the box office."

    If you've seen it and it's bad, maybe pass judgement there, but to just claim a movie is bad because of it's low box office pull is like saying that the only movies better than Batman V Superman in 2016 are Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Zootopia, The Jungle Book (2016), and The Secret Life of Pets. I liked Kubo better than all those, but it made less than a 10th the money of the lowest earner of those listed...
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  • Avatar for Lane #12 Lane A month ago
    Thank you - the pop culture references sprinkled everywhere were fun, but it was not a good book. Very early on the author pretty much lays out his personal political views point for point. I knew then that this wasn't Shakespeare I was about to read.

    I fully expect the movie to be terrible. Because all the deep references (well deep-er, anyway) in the book will be excised to appeal to a mass market audience, stripping it of what made it interesting in the first place.Edited 3 times. Last edited July 2017 by Lane
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  • Avatar for DrCorndog #13 DrCorndog A month ago
    @ReptilianSamurai No one's telling you what to enjoy or not enjoy. If you liked the book, then I hope you like the movie, too.
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  • Avatar for Dorchadas #14 Dorchadas A month ago
    The ending is some moralizing about reality being all that matters, but that's contradicted heavily the entire rest of the book.

    Reality is all that matters except when by ignoring reality you can become a multi-billionaire.

    I thought the book was okay, but I really didn't like the first half. It's just a stream of constant 80s references vomited out in the hope that something--anything--will resonate with the reader. Here's one of the parts that stood out to me as particularly egregious:
    I made a big entrance when I arrived in my flying DeLorean, which I’d obtained by completing a Back to the Future quest on the planet Zemeckis. The DeLorean came outfitted with a (nonfunctioning) flux capacitor, but I’d made several additions to its equipment and appearance. First, I’d installed an artificially intelligent onboard computer named KITT (purchased in an online auction) into the dashboard, along with a matching red Knight Rider scanner just above the DeLorean’s grill. Then I’d outfitted the car with an oscillation overthruster, a device that allowed it to travel through solid matter. Finally, to complete my ’80s super-vehicle theme, I’d slapped a Ghostbusters logo on each of the DeLorean’s gull-wing doors, then added personalized plates that read ECTO-88.
    None of that matters. The car is never mentioned again outside that paragraph. It's just "Hey, remember [THING]? I remember [THING] too!"
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  • Avatar for internisus #15 internisus A month ago
    @donkeyintheforest He didn't say it was bad. He said it was probably not the best place to go.
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  • Avatar for Desdecardo13 #16 Desdecardo13 A month ago
    @DrCorndog Or you can find out for yourself and not fall for a click bait article.
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  • Avatar for Ralek #17 Ralek A month ago
    @Mikki-Saturn Oh yeah, that stuff is definitely in there for sure, but as you say, it's pretty standard the Hero's Journey stuff mixed with a basic Coming-Of-Age story. My point was that the underlying theme actually kinda had a point (I mean, in the broadest sense possible, stories like this are already happening within e.g. MMORPGs, and with the arrival of VR, I think it's quite imagineable, that people will turn to a life centered around a virtual reality for real this time around - way more so than with stuff like Second Life back in the day, which already had a proper currency though).

    Hence I think it actually something of substance and thus more-or-less relevant to say - other than all the nostalgia and the name and references dropping. On the other hand, it's hardly unique in what it tackles thematically, or how it tackles it. We've seen better takes on this already, not just in books either, but also on the big (everyone has at least seen Matrix I wager^^) as well as the small screen. I for one really liked the way in which the Black Mirror Anthology touched upon very similar themes in a few of their episodes (like Playtest for example).

    If the movie were to focus on this stuff, and take some liberties otherwise, I might be possibly be something worth watching, but again, I imagine something along the lines of Pixel - and I rather watch some paint dry than suffer through that again ^^
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  • Avatar for Ralek #18 Ralek A month ago
    @Mikki-Saturn Oh yeah, that stuff is definitely in there for sure, but as you say, it's pretty standard the Hero's Journey stuff mixed with a basic Coming-Of-Age story. My point was that the underlying theme actually kinda had a point (I mean, in the broadest sense possible, stories like this are already happening within e.g. MMORPGs, and with the arrival of VR, I think it's quite imagineable, that people will turn to a life centered around a virtual reality for real this time around - way more so than with stuff like Second Life back in the day, which already had a proper currency though).

    Hence I think it actually something of substance and thus more-or-less relevant to say - other than all the nostalgia and the name and references dropping. On the other hand, it's hardly unique in what it tackles thematically, or how it tackles it. We've seen better takes on this already, not just in books either, but also on the big (everyone has at least seen Matrix I wager^^) as well as the small screen. I for one really liked the way in which the Black Mirror Anthology touched upon very similar themes in a few of their episodes (like Playtest for example).

    If the movie were to focus on this stuff, and take some liberties otherwise, I might be possibly be something worth watching, but again, I imagine something along the lines of Pixel - and I rather watch some paint dry than suffer through that again ^^
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  • Avatar for Ralek #19 Ralek A month ago
    @Mikki-Saturn Oh yeah, that stuff is definitely in there for sure, but as you say, it's pretty standard the Hero's Journey stuff mixed with a basic Coming-Of-Age story. My point was that the underlying theme actually kinda had a point (I mean, in the broadest sense possible, stories like this are already happening within e.g. MMORPGs, and with the arrival of VR, I think it's quite imagineable, that people will turn to a life centered around a virtual reality for real this time around - way more so than with stuff like Second Life back in the day, which already had a proper currency though).

    Hence I think it actually something of substance and thus more-or-less relevant to say - other than all the nostalgia and the name and references dropping. On the other hand, it's hardly unique in what it tackles thematically, or how it tackles it. We've seen better takes on this already, not just in books either, but also on the big (everyone has at least seen Matrix I wager^^) as well as the small screen. I for one really liked the way in which the Black Mirror Anthology touched upon very similar themes in a few of their episodes (like Playtest for example).

    If the movie were to focus on this stuff, and take some liberties otherwise, I might be possibly be something worth watching, but again, I imagine something along the lines of Pixel - and I rather watch some paint dry than suffer through that again ^^
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #20 donkeyintheforest A month ago
    @internisus Well, I thought that was what he was implying that by telling us to avoid the movie. I wouldn't tell people to avoid a movie unless I thought it was bad. Avoiding a movie just because of its lack of a box office draw alone makes no sense to me.
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  • @Roto13 No kidding, reading those excerpts made me think, "oh, so it's the Family Guy for pseudointellectuals".
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #22 MHWilliams A month ago
    @donkeyintheforest I made no judgment on the quality of the film, merely that as a point of marketing, it didn't work. Opening weekends are generally a function of marketing, not movie quality.
    @Ralek But as I point out, it doesn't really tackle that theme. It tries to and it's most of the way there, but in the end, success is achieved primarily through the game world, not reality. In fact, reality was was the main way the villains went about achieving their success. It's like "reality is all that matters", but... not really. In fact, Oasis was his way to connect with his "real life" friends and the medium through which his relationships were forged.
    @Desdecardo13 Hey, if you can call my article "click bait" - and what's the article being written that you don't want people to click on and read? - then we can can all have opinions about a book or movie, right?Edited 2 times. Last edited July 2017 by MHWilliams
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #23 Roto13 A month ago
    @Desdecardo13 Waaaaah, someone has legitimate criticisms of the only book I've ever read, clickbait, fake news, waaaaaaah.
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  • Avatar for yuberus #24 yuberus A month ago
    @Ralek I'd have thought there were deeper motivations and storytelling at the heart of the book - and indeed, I did - until he published Armada with the exact same reference-laden style. It just suggested to me that I was clearly thinking more about this setting than Cline was when he wrote it.
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  • Avatar for docexe #25 docexe A month ago
    The only thing I can say about this is that it’s kind of surreal to see one of those multicrossover fanfics from ff.net/AO3 being published as a book, then turned into a movie that resembles one of those multicrossover fanvideos on Youtube.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #26 donkeyintheforest A month ago
    @MHWilliams Oh I think I get it; you were saying "probably not the best place to go" is to a place where you have a trailer that makes viewers say "Wow, that's cool!" I don't know if I agree with that either, but I thought you were saying don't go to the movie. A little confusing, but I blame the darn English language.
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  • Avatar for StrwbrryJams #27 StrwbrryJams A month ago
    Very heartily agree- I didn't care for the book (But that's just my taste!), but i do think it hews more toward fact to say that it is relatively thin, but for the references.
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  • Avatar for StrwbrryJams #28 StrwbrryJams A month ago
    Oh boy, and I'm just remembering the forced relationship scenes, which were gross.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #29 MHWilliams A month ago
    @donkeyintheforest Yeah, a great visual style can intrigued audiences, but what they really care about the the emotional hook.
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  • Avatar for mazook98 #30 mazook98 A month ago
    "For fans of the books, the trailer reads like a solid, faithful adaptation..."
    Did I really just read this?
    That couldn't possibly be any farther from the truth.
    I, and just around 100% of people who are obviously fans of the book had a wholly opposite reaction.
    That trailer looked like something Michael Bay put out with new software after pushing the "randomize" button. Without the trailer's first 2 scenes (from the stacks and the party), there'd be no way to even suss out that this is a trailer for Ready Player One.
    After seeing the trailer, I could only feel that the movie will basically stay totally untrue to the novel.
    (Which would have been *extremely* easy to do.)
    The book wasn't a try-to-please-everyone experience; it was aimed at a pretty specific (but large) audience. It's too bad that they're trying to make this a movie for everyone.
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  • Avatar for dakkendoofer #31 dakkendoofer A month ago
    Very accurately in the"opinion" section. You don't like the book, that's fine.... But it was a New York Times bestseller, and was appreciated by Entertainment Weekly, The Boston Globe, The A.V. Club, CNN, io9, Boing Boing, USA Today, and NPR. All of my friends that have read it have loved it, and I love it as well (along with all the previously-stated groups that commented).
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  • Avatar for Ralek #32 Ralek A month ago
    @yuberus Depends whether you think the authors original intentions matter all that much.
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  • Avatar for Ralek #33 Ralek A month ago
    @Mikki-Saturn Oh yeah, that stuff is definitely in there for sure, but as you say, it's pretty standard the Hero's Journey stuff mixed with a basic Coming-Of-Age story. My point was that the underlying theme actually kinda had a point (I mean, in the broadest sense possible, stories like this are already happening within e.g. MMORPGs, and with the arrival of VR, I think it's quite imagineable, that people will turn to a life centered around a virtual reality for real this time around - way more so than with stuff like Second Life back in the day, which already had a proper currency though).

    Hence I think it actually something of substance and thus more-or-less relevant to say - other than all the nostalgia and the name and references dropping. On the other hand, it's hardly unique in what it tackles thematically, or how it tackles it. We've seen better takes on this already, not just in books either, but also on the big (everyone has at least seen Matrix I wager^^) as well as the small screen. I for one really liked the way in which the Black Mirror Anthology touched upon very similar themes in a few of their episodes (like Playtest for example).

    If the movie were to focus on this stuff, and take some liberties otherwise, I might be possibly be something worth watching, but again, I imagine something along the lines of Pixel - and I rather watch some paint dry than suffer through that again ^^
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