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Ready Player One is Already Polarizing Fans and Critics

Critics are praising Spielerg's direction, but the problems from the novel persist.

News by Matt Kim, .

Ready Player One, based on the Ernest Cline novel of the same name, had its premiere this weekend at music and culture festival SXSW with reviews published the morning after. While the initial impressions on Twitter seemed largely positive, the mood surrounding the film is decidedly mixed.

When the first trailer for Ready, Player One hit the internet last summer at San Diego Comic-Con, it was met with a fierce backlash from social media. Users posted whole passages from the novel to underscore how large portions of the book's opening segments dedicated to slathering as many pop-cultural references in a single paragraph. The reactions were strong enough to make readers rethink early, glowing reviews of the novel.

However, the Ready Player One film—directed by Steven Spielberg—premiered this weekend amid the same social media-driven skepticism of the source material. And the reception has been good, with critics saying that Spielberg has done it again, or that he's improved the source material. Here's a sample of social media impressions from the critics at SXSW that were positive.

Many of the praise is given to Spielberg's direction, but many of the positive comments also reflect how much people just love seeing the pop-culture plethora of Cline's original novel. Much like the novel, the film's use of pop-culture references through the lens of Steven Spielberg proved to be an unstoppable hit, rather than the head-scratching overkill the critics of Ready Player One thought it would be.

Yet the critiques against the film still largely mirror the critiques against the book in a way that suggests if you didn't like reading Ready Player One, the film might not be for you either.

The negative reviews of the film touch on all the same problems that Cline's original novel also suffered from. Namely that this is a film that wants its audience to feel special for understanding geeky references across pop-culture. One io9 review negatively called the film an "orgy of nostalgia."

So it seems that ultimately, Ready Player One is exactly what people thought it would be based on the novel, the only difference is whether or not you'll be taken in by Spielberg's scope and vision when it came to translating the source material, or if you'll be bogged down by its pop-culture excess.

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Comments 22

  • Avatar for dard410 #1 dard410 6 months ago
    It's almost as if not everybody likes the same thing and different people have different tastes. Maybe some people will like the film, while others won't...
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  • Avatar for Vyse #2 Vyse 6 months ago
    ‘The reactions were strong enough to make readers rethink early, glowing reviews of the novel.’ Wah? How does a trailer of a film adaption do that? Surely if you like the book you liked the book. This is a very strange article which rather aptly reflects the strangeness of social media. Or maybe I am just getting old. ☹️
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  • Avatar for Number1Laing #3 Number1Laing 6 months ago
    @dard410 different opinions? can't have that.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #4 Roto13 6 months ago
    @Vyse By being bad enough to make people think "Was the source material this bad?" And then people looked back at the book and hey, turns out, yeah, it was actually atrocious. After the trailer dropped, I saw excerpts from the book all over the place and every single one of them made me wonder how that book got published. I feel like they were going for the Family Guy audience.
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  • Avatar for Ingonyama70 #5 Ingonyama70 6 months ago
    Hmm. I knew I was going to see this movie as soon as The Iron Giant made an appearance...which paints a bright red "TARGET AUDIENCE SUCKER" target on my forehead, I'm aware.

    Honestly, even though I haven't seen a Spielberg film since Tintin (which I heartily enjoyed, but the rest of the world seems content to ignore or forget), the only Spielberg film I ever remember actively disliking was AI, and largely that was due to its more Kubrickian influences; I never "got" Stanley Kubrick.

    RP1 looks like something I COULD get into. Big-budget projects like movies and games having sleazy corporate villains is nothing new -- nor is the irony implicit in that. Square-Enix remaking FInal Fantasy VII is a prime example of that kind of lack of self-awareness at work, and I'll still buy it when it comes out.

    A lot of people (particularly the Tumblr crowd) look at movies like there should always be an "educational" element to them, a Valuable Moral Lesson (usually sociopolitical) that's either implicit or explicit. And yes, there's definitely a place for those, especially in this day and age.

    But not all movies have to have something to say. Sometimes they can just be dumb, adventurous neon fun. Spielberg's movies have never been particularly deep social commentary. Sometimes it's just fun to watch Indiana Jones punch Nazis, or ET levitate a bicycle, or a T-Rex nom on a velociraptor while John Williams blares in the background. I look at Ready Player 1 and I see that kind of movie.

    And really, so long as the movie entertains, and doesn't mistakenly send bad or harmful messages, it's OK if it doesn't subcribe to today's "call-out culture". We still have plenty of media that does that in spades, and it's never been Spielberg's forte.
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  • Avatar for Vyse #6 Vyse 6 months ago
    @Roto13 I guess. The use of the word 'readers' did make me assume 'existing readers' which did confuse me somewhat.

    I initially tried reading the book a year or so ago and gave up as I certainly agree the beginning chapters are pretty stodgy. I then tried again last month and actually found it a reasonable page turner once it got going. Admittedly I was in the midst of the flu at the time so make of that would you will(!) but it took my mind off feeling ill to which I am grateful.

    And even if you don't like it, I still don't get the ire as displayed by some of the social media posts in the article though. I just think it is better to focus on positive about the things you like, especially when it comes to entertainment.
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  • Avatar for docexe #7 docexe 6 months ago
    At the risk of eliciting ire directed at my person: Would it be accurate to say this is pretty much the equivalent of Twilight or 50 shades of Grey but aimed at the nerd crowd?
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #8 Kuni-Nino 6 months ago
    It’s weird to me that there is such a hate campaign for a story that aspires to be nothing more than nostalgic pulp. I’ve already seen detractors of the book describe anyone who likes the story as bad people. What the hell is going on?
    @docexe I’ve seen comparisons to Da Vinci Code. Blandly written but it has an interesting plot. So take that for what you will. I’m only watching this movie because of Spielberg. Edited March 2018 by Kuni-Nino
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  • Avatar for docexe #9 docexe 6 months ago
    @Ingonyama70: No offense, but I find it slightly troubling how you essentially threw under the bus a somewhat large chunk of Spielberg's filmography there. Then again, I have to admit that of his more "serious" films, I have only watched Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List, which I found good but not exactly outstanding (the way both movies turn towards sappiness at the end just doesn't help them).
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  • Avatar for Mikki-Saturn #10 Mikki-Saturn 6 months ago
    Well I read the book, and I enjoyed it overall. But I also never took it for more than it was. I feel that this book may have been overpraised when it first came out, and that in turn inspired a hyperbolic backlash. It's a pulpy page-turner sort of affair that's very squarely aimed at entertainment rather than serious literature. I'm fine with that, personally, but obviously one's mileage may vary.

    I'm sure I'll see the movie, and I'll go into that with similar expectations.Edited March 2018 by Mikki-Saturn
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  • Avatar for Drachmalius #11 Drachmalius 6 months ago
    All of the positive reviews list things that I see as negatives, nothing about this looks appealing.
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  • Avatar for docexe #12 docexe 6 months ago
    @Kuni-Nino I have only read excerpts of the novel, and I did found them terrible, but not really meriting anything else than a sarcastic remark and an eye roll.

    Hence the comparison to Twilight and 50 Shades: Bad novels, but not really deserving of the amount of scorn they usually receive online. It seems at times that people hate them more because they were popular enough to get adapted into movies, rather than because of their actual artistic merits (or lack of them). I suspect something similar at play with Ready Player One.

    That being said, I have to admit I'm interested in the movie, but primarily because of morbid fascination: Given how film rights tend to work, It's just astonishing to me that Spielberg managed to get so much IP from so many different right holders into a single movie. I'm not sure if I will actually see it at the cinema though. Edited March 2018 by docexe
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #13 donkeyintheforest 6 months ago
    @docexe Well twilight is basically vampires vs werewolf fanfic and fifty shades of gray actually started as twilight fanfic (!). However, ready player one isn't actually fanfic; none of the characters or vehicles you see in the trailer are supposed to be those characters, they are all in game items/avatars for a kind of fancy second life in which most of the book takes place. It's an original story, but instead of the characters driving fords and toyotas, they're driving back to the future deloreans and millenium falcons.

    If you're talking about writing quality, ready player one is no masterpiece, but I though it was written much more competently than something like hunger games (prob second worst written book I've read stylistically, but plenty of people enjoyed it and the movie was fine so I'm not complaining really). That just comes down to personal preference though and has no real bearing on how the movie will turn out. When I read ready player one a few years ago I thought the book would make for a fun movie, but that licencing all the IPs mentioned would be an impossible task; however with Spielberg aboard it seems they've made some major headway!

    When you have a story that focuses around characters accomplishing tasks like getting a killscreen in pac-man faster than the bad guys, and large scale virtual battles with Leopardon (likely replaced by the iron giant in the movie) fighting MechaGodzilla, how seriously does it have to be taken?
    @Roto13 I think I understand the family guy comment to be about this movie relying on references to be entertaining, but while a viewers enjoyment of this movie may benefit from familiarity with pop culture franchises, the book at least does not pander to lowest common denominator racist, sexist, etc jokes like family guy does. It actually has a positive message about social equality.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #14 Flipsider99 6 months ago
    I'm interested in this movie for a different reason: I'm starved for a popcorn movie that ISN'T about superheroes or Star Wars, for once! It seems so incredibly rare these days!

    I'm also starved for big budget popcorn movies that actually have good original music scores! If this movie can actually equal some of Alan Silvestri's classic work, then I'd be overjoyed! (Then again, people told me that Spiderman Homecoming had good music too, and it was horrible. And Alan Silvestri hasn't done anything notable in a long while, that I'm aware of. So I should probably still keep my expectations low.)

    Well even if the movie has crappy music, like every other modern movie does, I'm still happy it isn't about superheroes! Can't wait to see it!
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  • Avatar for docexe #15 docexe 6 months ago
    @donkeyintheforest I elaborated a bit more in a comment above (and I probably should have done so in the original post), but what I meant by the comparison to Twilight and 50 Shades is: "A bad novel that has accrued a really fervent Fandom but also a pretty large and vocal hatedom, and that elicits a lot more hate, rage and scorn online than what it actually merits, regardless of its actual lack of artistic quality".

    That being said, I might argue, in response to one of your points, that even the most silly or off-the-wall premise can still be treated seriously and even lead to great art. The most recent example that comes to mind is The Shape of Water, which essentially boils down to "an alternate universe romance FanFic of The Creature from the Black Lagoon" (and Guillermo del Toro has even admitted as much!). Like many other things, it ultimately comes down to execution. Edited March 2018 by docexe
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #16 donkeyintheforest 6 months ago
    @docexe thanks for clearing that up, though who am I to call 50 shades or Twilight bad novels (haha alright they're bad novels)? yeah, I'm pretty much of the mind that I am not going to waste my time complaining about what other people like online unless it's directly related to the discussion. if they like something that I dont, and it doesn't hurt me, so what? Also I tend to like stuff that is generally not thought of as great by most people so I guess I can see where they're coming from. I totally agree with you that "A bad novel that has accrued a really fervent Fandom but also a pretty large and vocal hatedom, and that elicits a lot more hate, rage and scorn online than what it actually merits, regardless of its actual lack of artistic quality".

    As for arguing "that even the most silly or off-the-wall premise can still be treated seriously and even lead to great art," I don't think I really objected to this. I def implied that this movie is not great art, but I didn't mean to make a big sweepeing statement.

    That said, I would not call The Shape of Water great art either. It had about the most generic bad guy ever (even generic for a Michael Shannon character), the standard tropes of plot structure, generic science vs ethics/caring themes (even Monster Trucks did that better), etc. It did have wonderful sets, an interesting color palate, a likeable protagonist and some very solid secondary characters. It also stands out next to a lot of the Oscar bait that usually gets nominated. However, having watched Creature from the Black Lagoon a week prior to watching The Shape of Water, I can safely say (in my opinion) its a better film and still not great art either.

    Admittedly, I have a pretty high bar for what constitutes "great art" and it tends to be found in museums and in the mind, not in movie theaters or on videogame consoles. There is a difference between artistry and art, and maybe even "great art." I'm not saying videogames or film (and digital; movies in general) aren't capable of being "art," I'm just saying it is very rare, and can still be great works with meaning and technical proficiency regardless of whether they are considered "art" or "great art" or whatever.
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  • Avatar for Macuelos #17 Macuelos 6 months ago
    I read this book some years ago, probably around the time Armada came out, and I found it to an enjoyable romp. It's definitely not for everyone, but as a "casual" fan of some of the references included in the book, I didn't find it incredibly offensive. It probably helped that I didn't get half of the references included; Europe still has quite a different tint of nostalgia associated with the period the book alludes to. I suppose if you're a big fan of the properties referenced, it might make your blood boil, but if that's the case you might have wonky priorities in the first place.

    It's enjoyable for what it is, some pulp literature that doesn't seem to take itself too seriously. It's not High Literature, that's for sure. Did people get this upset when Pixels launched, too?

    @Ingonyama70 Tintin was not a horrible film, but all of the character look incredibly eh. Having grown up with the comics, I was not a big fan of the way it threw 4-5 comics in the blender and hoped for the best. It's okay, but I'd rather watch the Bernasconi cartoon again. Edited March 2018 by Macuelos
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  • Avatar for Galgomite #18 Galgomite 6 months ago
    The moment I saw the trailer I thought, "this movie will cure 80's nostalgia."
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  • Avatar for docexe #19 docexe 6 months ago
    @donkeyintheforest Well, part of your prior comment implied that with movies like Ready One Player one should lower their expectations by default based on how goofy the story and the premise can be: “When you have a story that focuses around characters accomplishing tasks like getting a killscreen in pac-man faster than the bad guys, and large scale virtual battles with Leopardon (likely replaced by the iron giant in the movie) fighting MechaGodzilla, how seriously does it have to be taken?”

    I disagree with that, although ultimately my point was that the quality of a movie (or really, any piece of art, and yes, I do consider things like film or videogames for that matter to be art) does not depend on the premise but rather on the execution. So, depending of how it is executed, I think It’s definitely possible take a movie like that seriously and judge it accordingly (although, to clarify, I’m not necessarily saying that’s the case of Ready Player One, I’m just making a general statement there).

    We also clearly have different standards when it comes to the term “Great Art” and mine are, admittedly, broader. I suppose mine could be boiled down to “an outstanding and captivating piece of craftsmanship in a given artistic medium and/or genre”. So to me the term even extends to genre films, and I do consider movies like, say, Psychosis, Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, the original Planet of the Apes, Ben-hur (the 50’s adaptation), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Inception, and a long etc. to be great art.

    In that sense, I do consider The Shape of water to be great art because it’s a really well-crafted and captivating movie. Sure, you have a point that it does use some common and conventional tropes of its genre, but the story is effective in what it’s trying to convey, it does some interesting and unusual things with some of the characters, the acting is great and it’s just really beautifully shot. That being said, I don’t actually consider it Del Toro’s best movie. That title goes for Pan’s Labyrinth. =P
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #20 donkeyintheforest 6 months ago
    @docexe While I 100% agree that all those movies you list could be considered "outstanding and captivating piece[s] of craftsmanship in a given artistic medium and/or genre" I don't consider any of them art (however, I could see arguments made for Dr Strangelove or 2001, and I haven't seen Psychosis). You have defined art far too broadly (there are many definitions of art, and yes, yours would fit one, but that is not the type I am talking about). There is a distinct difference between art and craft. Something can be a fantastic movie, but that does not make it art (and to be clear, I don't think academy award type films are "art" either). I think art has a much more complicated definition than just being something well made and interesting for its medium/genre. I think it requires a knowledge of themes much greater than those confined to genre or medium. Contemporary art subverts or recontextualizes rules and expectations to create a message that also requires contemplation and knowledge from the viewer.

    I'm sorry my definition is so squishy, but art is subjective. It's often easier to say what is not art than what is. There is just so much to learn before anyone can understand a piece of art. While something like a Richard Serra work may just look like a slab of metal, there is actually a lot more going on there. For most movies shown in theaters however, they aren't relying on the viewer to bring as much to the table; they just want people to be entertained/have a straightforward experience. It is all about expectations, and what a viewer wants to get from what they’re viewing (playing, listening to, etc). You say I think I am saying that people should “should lower their expectations by default based on how goofy the story and the premise can be” but I am actually saying people should change their expectations. If you expect to get the same thing out of TMNT: Out of the Shadows as Shirin Neshat’s Turbulent, you’re going to be disappointed... but I love both! Although I generally keep separate my love of art and my love of things like standard videogames or movies due to these expectations, it can get exciting when they overlap.

    I tend to think of video games/film as medium rather than genre, so you can have things like Jeffrey Shaw's Golden Calf, The Cat and the Coup, and even Super Mario clouds; things I would consider art overlapping with video games. There is a lot more of that type of stuff out there, but it's hard to find because it’s uncovered by the gaming press (for the most part), stuck in small articles in Art Forum, or limited to in-person experiences like those at conventions. The overlap between gamers and art historians/artists is growing, but the distance between their expectations is still vast. As far as "movies" I'd consider art, they'd be more along the lines of Meshes of the Afternoon, River of Fundament, Semiotics of the Kitchen, Two or Three Things I know about her, even The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Holy Mountain and Pink Flamingos (there is room for argument on some of those, but they are generally safe bets when describing art academically; “art films/arthouse” mean different things to different people too but that’s another topic haha).

    When I said, “When you have a story that focuses around characters accomplishing tasks like getting a killscreen in pac-man faster than the bad guys, and large scale virtual battles with Leopardon (likely replaced by the iron giant in the movie) fighting MechaGodzilla, how seriously does it have to be taken?” it wasn’t because I meant that those subjects could never result in great art, it’s because I’ve read the book, know what happens, know that it’s not great art, and know that people are reacting in a way to the trailers that comes not from a place of analysis of the film (or even book), but from their feelings about things like the commodification of nostalgia, or seeing their favorite IPs diluted, or possibly some other personal response that has caused them to lash out. Most of the conversation about this movie has been led by people who haven’t seen the film, and even the comments of people have seen it (quoted above) shows that commenters are holding grudges less about the film and more because of meta-analysis (encompassing the cultural shift in pop culture that brings the obscured and rejected into the mainstream, idolizing recognized properties, etc.). Basically, I think that there is far too much group sanctioned negativity surrounding this movie that is not based on the merits of the film itself. I could see how you read what I wrote to mean something other than I intended though (just as I interpreted your Family Guy comment in a different way than you intended).

    Anyways, I appreciate the discussion and sorry if I’m writing too much haha. I prefer hellboy 2 to Pans Labyrinth; the latter wasted most of the movie spent with misogynist fascists (I came for the labyrinth and its denizens advertised in the trailer and only got like 10 mins of that!) and the former had a goblin market that contained a lot of the cool creature stuff that I liked in Pan. Haven’t seen Pan’s since the theater though, so maybe it deserves a rewatch. I think Crimson Peak is my fave Del Toro, but I haven’t seen Chronos, Mimic, or Devils Backbone.
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  • Avatar for docexe #21 docexe 6 months ago
    @donkeyintheforest Just replying to clarify that I didn’t make the “Family Guy” comment. =P

    You make some interesting points, I agree with some (especially those when you posit from where the negative reaction to this film might be coming from), I (vehemently!) disagree with others, but then again I have to admit most of my knowledge of “art analysis” and “art theory” is amateurish for the most part, and if we continue discussing that we will get further out of topic, so it’s probably better to leave it here. I do now understand what you meant about calibrating expectations accordingly. Edited March 2018 by docexe
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #22 donkeyintheforest 6 months ago
    @docexe haha thanks for pointing that out. I responded to two people in my first comment and and missed that the family guy thing was to the other person cause it's been a few days. Sorry about that. Yeah part of my background is in art and art history. Everyone can have their own view of what art is, but at a certain point it makes sense to have relatively agreed upon definition and canon of works or the conversation can devolve into subjective discussion of definition what you propose might happen here. I am using the traditionally agreed upon that's evolved over the last few hundred years as taught in academia, but I totally agree it doesn't always make sense without that background. It doesn't even always make sense with that background hahaha. Thanks for engaging.
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