Tag Archives: Movies

The Lake teaser trailer signals the return of practical effects for giant movie monster creation

The Lake

There’s no denying that CGI has revolutionized the giant monster movie, and it has some prime examples of the kind of horror it’s capable of producing on the big screen. Cloverfield comes to mind as not only one of the best big monster movies in recent times but also one of the scariest. The monster’s design, the set pieces, and the mystery behind the creature’s presence all converge to produce a very unsettling experience unlike anything seen before in the genre.

And yet, for my money, nothing beats Jurassic Park’s T-Rex animatronic as the most impressive giant movie monster in film history. There’s just something special about knowing the creature that’s trying to eat the movie’s characters is actually there, especially during the first encounter when it slaughters the goat and breaks out of its paddock. That the actors aren’t just reacting to a guy in a green suit holding a dinosaur prop head as a marker for the subsequent CGI work gives the sequence a uniquely horrifying feel that heightens the tension in unprecedented ways (even though CGI was used in some scenes to for the T-Rex).

The new big budget Thai/Chinese production The Lake is aiming for the same thing that made Jurassic Park so impactful, bringing the practical effects monster back into the fold with a giant creature designed by Jordu Schell, the artist behind the Cloverfield Monster, Starship Troopers, The Thing, Men in Black, Planet of the Apes, and Predators.

The film looks to tap more into horror than fantasy for its giant monster story. The teaser trailer keeps things pretty light on details, preferring to offer a generous set of hints as to the threat the human characters will be facing instead of the reasons why there’s a monster attacking people in the first place. It’s highly effective at hyping up the threat, though. The glimpses we get of the monster suggest its design will feature classic giant creature elements along with key tweaks the trailer doesn’t entirely give away.

There are also instances in which the possibility of smaller creatures are hinted at, but not definitively. This is, after all, a teaser and its purpose is to foster an air of mystery that surrounds the creature’s origins. The shots of the monster do look impressive and showcase the prowess of practical effects in storytelling. There’s an overwhelming sense of presence to the creature and it helps make it look supremely dangerous and deadly.

Schell’s monster design, what’s shown of it, is downright disturbing. It compares to his design for Cloverfield by favoring horror over sci-fi on a visual level. Regardless of what its origin ends up being, one thing’s already certain: the creature will leave an impression. The production looks ambitious and the settings varied enough to guarantee the action won’t just focus on big cities or densely populated areas. In this regard, The Lake somewhat reminds of Bong Joon-Ho’s 2006 The Host, another monster movie that aimed for being different within the genre. It explored other environments and spaces to great effect, preferring to keep some distance from the all-too-common skyscraper-dominated areas that populate these type of movies. That’s on top of having a unique creature that still invites close observation to fully appreciate.

the lake

The Lake is slated for an August, 2022 release in Thailand. There’s no information yet on when it’ll reach our shores and whether it’ll go for an initial theatrical run or if it’s headed straight for a Video on Demand release. Whatever the case may be, this new giant creature feature deserves attention for bringing practical effects back to the table and hopefully introducing the form to a new generation of movie-goers.

Underrated: Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice Ultimate Edition

With the Snyder Cut of Justice League having just been released, I felt it was an ideal time to rerun this older post. This has nothing to do with me not preparing a column in advance. Nope. Not at all.


This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice Ultimate Edition.


Let’s not beat around the bush here: the theatrical cut of Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice wasn’t the greatest superhero movie of last year and while it wasn’t the worst comic book movie of the year, it was perhaps one of the most disappointing – for me at least. I had expected so much from the movie, because it was fucking Batman and Superman on the big screen together. And… well we got an average movie. There were parts that were great (Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot), and parts that were pretty good (Henry Cavil), and… some less than savoury parts. I left the theatre feeling quite unsure of how I felt; did the good outweigh the bad, or did it balance it out? What didn’t click for me? Could the movie had been better?

Shortly after seeing the movie I found out that there would be an R rated extended cut of the film released for home media, and I wondered whether that would do anything to set the film right.

As it turns out, it did.

Almost every problem I had with the pacing, plot and direction of the movie was made better by the extended cut. I still wasn’t happy that the entire movie had effectively been told in short form in the trailers, but there wasn’t much I could do about that other than not watching the trailer in the first palace. Since that wasn’t an option…

Look, I get that Warner Brothers probably had concerns about audiences sitting for an extended period of time… I mean the near two and a half hour run time of the theatrical cut was the longest movie in recent memory, and understandably Warner’s were concerned about audiences attention spans. It’s not like we’d ever sit patiently during Lord Of The Rings, or binge watch five hours of Daredevil in one sitting. That’s just not who we are. And to think we’d rather have  a great long movie longer than a slightly shorter average one would never cross their minds. 

It’s okay, though.

Whether it’s thanks to the success of Deadpool, or the critical slamming early on, or both, the Extended cut of the movie is a much better story in every way. The plot holes that resulted from the opening sequence are fixed because of the additional footage showing the soldiers using flame throwers to incinerate bodies to mimic Superman’s heat vision, if you wrote the movie off based on the theatrical cut then you’re missing one of the better superhero movies of last year.

Yeah, I said it.

The Extended edition is a better move than Civil War is, but because the real version of the film was never released in theaters, the movie as a whole got quite an unfair reputation – albeit fairly earned based on the expectations people had for this supposed juggernaut of a film, and what was initially delivered. If you’ve only seen the theatrical cut of the movie, then give the Extended edition a shot. The additional scenes add significantly to the overall experience, delivering a much better experience than anything you’d have expected from the theatrical experience.

The Stylist gives the slasher genre an overdue makeover

The Stylist
The Stylist, poster

To no one’s surprise, the slasher genre has largely been dominated by male killers, most of them with deeply seated mommy issues. Norman Bates, Jason, Leatherface (as revealed in the 2006 prequel), all take their childhood traumas and dump them on unsuspecting women that must die because they remind them of their own mothers. One woman’s failure becomes a blight on the entirety of womanhood.

Jill Gevargizian’s The Stylist isn’t unaware of this trend among slashers. It actually acknowledges it for its story’s benefit, finding in it an opportunity for subversion, for turning the table on the formula without completely disposing of it.

The Stylist presents audiences with a female killer called Claire (played by Najarra Townsend), a hair stylist that kills unsuspecting customers and removes their scalps to preserve their hair. The reasons why she does this is where the formula gets refreshingly tampered with. Claire isn’t obsessed with hair. She’s obsessed with the image people want to project with their new hair styles.

The movie takes advantage of Claire’s macabre methods to offer commentary on acute social anxiety and how the weight we put on physical appearances forces certain inflexible expectations upon people. One of Claire’s victims, for instance, makes a comment on how we always want what we can’t have as we settle into our lives, mostly by making decisions that box us into society’s idea of what we should be. This is basically the movie’s motto. We always want what we can’t have.

The Stylist

The movie develops this idea by focusing on a particular character that reaches out to Claire for her wedding hair, a thing that stresses the bride to be to the point of considering it the thing that’ll brings the whole experience together, as if the event’s success hinges on curls and extensions.

The concept of marriage, being one of the experiences people struggle with the most in terms of when to do it or even if it should be done in the first place, acts as the catalyst that puts Claire on crisis mode. It puts her face to face with a human tradition that requires having certain things she unfortunately doesn’t have: meaningful friendships.

The situation lends itself well to the metaphors at play. It helps them surface more noticeably as given how it’s commonly assumed that the person that has to shoulder the burden of making sure the wedding ends up being a resounding success is the bride, who also has the responsibility to dazzle in her dress and keep up appearances.

Claire takes all this in and struggles with her place in it, fortifying her frustrations with fitting in as a woman within that environment. In this regard, parts of the original slasher formula start seeping in. Women are still the killer’s main source of anguish, but the killings aren’t borne out of misogyny. They come from a profound frustration, and perhaps incompatibility, with the roles they’re expected to fulfill. That’s what makes the story feel so subversive as a slasher.

The Stylist

Najarra Townsend’s performance as the serial killer stylist is a definite highlight and one of the best in a year filled with strong horror performances (Robert Patric’s in What Josiah Saw comes to mind as one of the others). Claire is a very awkward character that always looks as if she’s uncomfortable in her own skin—hence her desire to become other women while wearing their scalps—and Townsend captures that in every single scene.

The film’s lighting is another high point. It has an eye-popping color palette that could’ve fooled anyone into thinking the story was going to borrow heavily from Giallo slasher movies. While there’s certainly a wink or two here and there that’ll surely leave fans of the genre satisfied, the overall tone of the story and its focus on deep character development owes more to films like Maniac (1980) and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), in which the intention is to paint a picture of the killer in as many shades as possible.

The Stylist is an unsettling film that relishes in its ability to make audiences uncomfortable. It’s confrontational even, shoving viewers into a place where they’re forced to ask themselves if Claire’s experiences wouldn’t be enough to drive anyone to do the things she does to try and fit in. It’s stylish, smart, and quite simply unforgettable, the same things one would expect from a killer haircut.

Movie Review: Halloween Kills betrays its characters in the franchise’s dumbest entry

David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween was a masterful take on the small but heavily storied world of Michael Meyers and Laurie Strode. It succeeded in not being another babysitter murder flick where horny teenagers get the knife as the sadistic masked killer goes from house to house. Instead, it turned the main survivor of the 1978 John Carpenter original movie, played by Jaime Lee Curtis, into a hardened and battle-ready warrior that weaponized her trauma while also training her daughter to also be able to defend herself.

Halloween Kills
Halloween Kills

Halloween Kills takes all of that and throws it out the window without much to offer in return, other than a dumb violent movie burdened with messy metaphors and unnecessary lore alterations. Sure, Michael Meyers kills, and some of the kills are satisfying to watch, but what ultimately gets butchered in the process is the core Strode family struggle the first movie worked so hard to establish.

In what’s the second movie in a trilogy that was originally meant to be a two-parter, Halloween Kills picks up moments after the ending of the previous movie to see Michael Meyers surviving the fire at the Strode house. Laurie, daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) drive off thinking Meyers is a pile of ash underneath the rubble they left behind, but little do they know that The Shape is alive and well, and royally pissed off to boot. Chaos ensues.

In an interesting turn on expectations, Halloween Kills takes Easter eggs to a new level by making characters from the original film take on larger roles in this one, shifting the focus from Laurie’s fight against the Boogieman and onto how Haddonfield itself figures into Michael Meyers’ plans (which the movie very lazily tries to reveal through exposition dumps, in addition to trying to convince audiences on the silly idea that the killer has a masterplan of sorts). In fact, it’s what lies at the heart of the movie. The Boogieman isn’t just someone’s problem. It’s everyone’s.

Halloween Kills
Halloween Kills

Things start to get very shaky here as the expansion of the mythos seems inconsequential and sidelines Laurie and her family’s story in favor of half-baked messages and forced alterations to formula. For instance, it turns out that Michael (intentionally?) exposes Haddonfield as the real monster as its people take arms to dole out justice by themselves in a spectacularly dumb show of mob rule that tries very hard to evoke images of the January 6th Capitol Riots, resulting in the tragic death of an innocent man in the film.

One character actually blurts out the movie’s message at one point, observing that the unruly mob has basically become Haddonfield’s real killer (an issue that is “fixed” by creating a smaller, more focused mob, it seems). What’s worse is that all the time spent setting the angry mob up is time taken away from doing anything meaningful with what the previous movie brought to the table.

On the killing side of things, the movie fulfills the promise of its title, but it does so at the cost of turning Meyers into another kind of slasher that shares more with Friday the 13th’s Jason rather than the one we all know and love by now. Not that there’s anything wrong with experimentation, but implementation is key for these variations on character to succeed. Halloween Kills does not approach this aspect convincingly.

Michael is at his most sadistic in this installment, but his signature ‘slow and intimate’ killing style feels too out of character. There is only one kill scene in which we get a glimpse of that behind-the-scenes sadism Meyers usually indulges in out of camera in previous entries, in which the victim gets several knives stuck to his back for no other reason other than to show how much violence truly drives the character’s identity.

Halloween Kills
Halloween Kills

Remember, this is the same killer that beheaded a cop in the previous film and turned the head into a grizzly Jack-o-Lantern, lighted candle included. We never see him carve the cop’s face in the style of a Jack-o-Lantern, but we know he likes to get creative with his kills. Halloween Kills’ focus on fast, action-heavy kill sequences rob him of that creativity.

David Gordon Green’s Halloween sequel sacrifices too much of everything for an uninspired and clunky sequel. Its most tragic casualty is Laurie’s story, which never reaches anything worth writing about other than clichés and stunted character development. It’s a shame. I had hopes for this new trilogy. All I was left thinking of was that everything should’ve been left wrapped up in 2018. Unfortunately, we still have one more movie to go.

Those Two Geeks Episode 122: Alex and Joe Ramble about what they’re looking forward to

Alex and Joe chat about what it is they’re looking forward to over the next year or so, in theory. They also most just ramble.

As always, Alex and Joe can be found on Twitter respectively @karcossa and @jcb_smark if you feel the need to tell them they’re wrong individually, or @those2geeks if you want to yell at them together on twitter, or by email at ItsThose2Geeks@gmail.com.

Those Two Geeks Episode 120: Bravely talking about Disney Pixar’s Soul. And Loki.

Alex and Joe talk about Pixar movies, specifically Soul and Brave. And maybe some Loki.

As always, Alex and Joe can be found on Twitter respectively @karcossa and @jcb_smark if you feel the need to tell them they’re wrong individually, or @those2geeks if you want to yell at them together on twitter, or by email at ItsThose2Geeks@gmail.com.

Underrated: Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice Ultimate Edition

With the Snyder Cut of Justice League having just been released, I felt it was an ideal time to rerun this older post. This has nothing to do with me not preparing a column in advance. Nope. Not at all.


This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice Ultimate Edition.


Let’s not beat around the bush here: the theatrical cut of Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice wasn’t the greatest superhero movie of last year and while it wasn’t the worst comic book movie of the year, it was perhaps one of the most disappointing – for me at least. I had expected so much from the movie, because it was fucking Batman and Superman on the big screen together. And… well we got an average movie. There were parts that were great (Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot), and parts that were pretty good (Henry Cavil), and… some less than savoury parts. I left the theatre feeling quite unsure of how I felt; did the good outweigh the bad, or did it balance it out? What didn’t click for me? Could the movie had been better?

Shortly after seeing the movie I found out that there would be an R rated extended cut of the film released for home media, and I wondered whether that would do anything to set the film right.

As it turns out, it did.

Almost every problem I had with the pacing, plot and direction of the movie was made better by the extended cut. I still wasn’t happy that the entire movie had effectively been told in short form in the trailers, but there wasn’t much I could do about that other than not watching the trailer in the first palace. Since that wasn’t an option…

Look, I get that Warner Brothers probably had concerns about audiences sitting for an extended period of time… I mean the near two and a half hour run time of the theatrical cut was the longest movie in recent memory, and understandably Warner’s were concerned about audiences attention spans. It’s not like we’d ever sit patiently during Lord Of The Rings, or binge watch five hours of Daredevil in one sitting. That’s just not who we are. And to think we’d rather have  a great long movie longer than a slightly shorter average one would never cross their minds. 

It’s okay, though.

Whether it’s thanks to the success of Deadpool, or the critical slamming early on, or both, the Extended cut of the movie is a much better story in every way. The plot holes that resulted from the opening sequence are fixed because of the additional footage showing the soldiers using flame throwers to incinerate bodies to mimic Superman’s heat vision, if you wrote the movie off based on the theatrical cut then you’re missing one of the better superhero movies of last year.

Yeah, I said it.

The Extended edition is a better move than Civil War is, but because the real version of the film was never released in theaters, the movie as a whole got quite an unfair reputation – albeit fairly earned based on the expectations people had for this supposed juggernaut of a film, and what was initially delivered. If you’ve only seen the theatrical cut of the movie, then give the Extended edition a shot. The additional scenes add significantly to the overall experience, delivering a much better experience than anything you’d have expected from the theatrical experience.

Those Two Geeks Episode Sixty Four: Waiting For Theaters To Reopen For New Movies Or Streaming Them?

Alex and Joe talk about how the movie’s schedule has changed with the pandemic. Amongst other things.

As always, Alex and Joe can be found on twitter respectively @karcossa and @jcb_smark if you feel the need to tell them they’re wrong individually, or @those2geeks if you want to yell at them together on twitter, or by email at ItsThose2Geeks@gmail.com.

Shudder’s CURSED FILMS is a surprisingly noble look at notorious horror cinema

Cursed Films
Shudder

The idea of a cursed film evokes images of satanic creatures standing behind the camera, corrupting what’s captured on celluloid. It’s a kind of subgenre in its own right, a kind of supernatural conspiracy theory hub for fans that do not believe in coincidence when it comes to set fires, mysterious crew deaths, and filming disasters. Shudder’s new Cursed Films docuseries traverses this particular horror terrain, and it does it well, but thankfully not in ways I was expecting.

Cursed Films is a five-part documentary series focusing on five films widely considered to be cursed by horror fans, collectors, and even casual moviegoers, especially those that love to dig into the mythos behind productions marked by tragedy and controversy.

The cursed movies explored in the docuseries are The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Omen, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and The Crow. As of the time of this writing, only the first three films have been explored in the series.

Those expecting a gratuitous indulgence in the dark stories surrounding these films, and validation of popular beliefs, will not leave entirely satisfied. I say this as a good thing. Cursed Films is, surprisingly (to me, at least), a very serious deconstruction of horror myths, where fact and fiction are separated and then dissected to get at the root of why people like to think cursed movies exist.

The first episode dives straight into perhaps the most controversial movie of the bunch, The Exorcist. My personal favorite horror movie (traditionalist that I am, I guess), William Friedkin’s movie about a girl possessed by a demon has been mired in darkness since day one. People worried that the actual making of the film resulted in the legitimate summoning of Lucifer and his army of possession-hungry demons. Injuries sustained by actors during production and even unexplained set burnings seems to confirm all of this to eager followers of the happenings of The Exorcist’s initial release.

People lined up in droves to see The Exorcist.

To tell you the truth, just writing the name of this movie down gives me chills, irrational though that may be. It’s the only movie that gets scarier with each viewing for me, and yet Cursed Films took me down a different path with it. It dedicated most of its runtime to explaining why people so aggressively associate the devil with the movie and why horror inspires audiences to pursue such dark trains of thought.

The show features psychologists, religious scholars, key production and cast members, and writers all mostly aligned within the idea that the only thing that can curse a movie is its audience. Psychological terms are conjured up to explain why fans gravitate towards curses to explain the mysteries of their favorite movies, all of which have perfectly plausible explanations (for the most part).

The Exorcist episode, for instance, debunks a lot of its myths by looking at the PR campaigns of a desperate movie studio hellbent on turning a profit while also looking at how some of the accidents in the workspace actually happened. It even includes talks on the impact of the work culture the movie’s director created during filming, which is well documented.

Perhaps the most potent and surgically precise look at a cursed film can be seen in the Poltergeist episode. Two deaths and rumors about the macabre nature of certain props have been circulated enough for some people to confirm the tragedies that accompany the franchise are the results of a curse, possibly originating from beyond the grave.

Scene from the movie Poltergeist.

What Cursed Films does with this movie is nothing short of masterful, going from legend to legend in an attempt to dispel the “curse,” which for the series means proving no such thing exists. It looks at the psychological and supernatural value people put into objects and locations seen in popular films and how it translates into a whole tradition of people visiting fictional haunted places as if they’re actually haunted.

I’ve participated in this, although not under the impression the place I visited was really haunted. I once had the chance to drive close to where the Amityville house from the infamous 1979 Amityville Horror movie was located. The fact the movie was loosely based on “true events”—that have since then been disproved—made the opportunity all the more enticing, so I took it. I saw the house. People live there. I saw no ghosts walking around, not a single swarm of flies hovering over its windows, and no blood dripping from its walls. In fact, I saw other houses that looked almost the same neighboring it. So much for a place housing one of the gates of Hell.

I thought about this short trip to Amityville a lot while watching Cursed Films. The show’s deconstruction of what could be termed as magical-horror thinking made me rethink the entire experience. It’s interesting because even though I knew the house wasn’t haunted, I did feel unsettled. The power of the movie, and the story it’s based on, had definitely charged the place with a supernatural sensation that was hard to shake off. In the end though, it was just a house. For the few minutes I was there, the only thing haunting it was a curious horror fan holding up traffic to take in one of horror cinema’s most iconic locations. Watching Cursed Films, one can feel a lot like this, especially if you’re prone to give into urban legends.

Cursed Films aims at reminding people horror fiction is just that, fiction. And it needs that emphasis on fiction. In fact, the docuseries suggests these myths and legends do a disservice to the people behind the scares, the ones who work for a living to get a scream out of people in the movie theaters. It’s a meditation on the power of belief when it comes to the representation of evil in film. It wants us to consider that movies themselves don’t have to be haunted to become superior works of horror fiction. They can achieve that pretty well on their own, without the necessity of being cursed.

Movie Review: Ready Player One

We’re awash in nostalgia.

With nearly all of Hollywood’s tentpole films this year devoted to sequels, reboots, and remakes, it can begin to feel like our culture is merely remixing the past, with the internet leading the way as we meme our way into a space somewhere between South Park‘s “member berries” and Star Trek‘s “Darmok.”

That is to say our nostalgia has a currency to it, and some of it is baseless circle-jerking, (‘Member Star Wars? Oh, I ‘member!) or “member berries” for short.

And some of it passes on important meaning, emotion, and lessons that can be best expressed by a cultural metaphor or meme (Darmok and Jilad at Tinagra.) See? some of you probably teared up a little at that reference. Because it conveyed something more than just the nostalgia itself.

So, in steps Steven Spielberg — whose name is basically a meme in itself — to direct the adaptation of Ernest Cline‘s novel about a dystopian near-future where everyone has retreated from a crappy real world to the comforts of The OASIS, a massive virtual reality video game where you can be and do anything. Upon the death of the OASIS’s creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), he reveals he has hidden an “Easter Egg” within the game, and whoever finds it first by completing three challenges and collecting three keys, will inherit sole control over The OASIS.

Our hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is an easter egg hunter, or Gunter, who has devoted his life to studying Halliday and all of the pop culture and video games he loved, especially from the 1980’s. He and his friends end up on the trail of the egg, battling along their way evil corporation IOI, their limitless virtual resources, and its ruthless CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).

pooh piglet darmok

The first question is, how does it compare to the book? Throw away all of your expectations and most of the plot of the book. This is almost wholly different in terms of plot points, but somehow manages to capture the spirit of the book’s challenges better than the source material itself.

A major criticism of Cline’s prose is that it is an almost relentless onslaught of references. It also is hugely problematic in that it is essentially a male power fantasy wish fulfillment engine fueled by our collective nostalgia for the 80’s and 90’s.

Nostalgia is a heady elixir, and one which we should understand if we are to put it in its proper place. The word itself comes from greek roots — “algia” meaning pain (eg, fibromyalgia, nueralgia, etc) and “nostos” meaning to return home.

We ache for a place that we wish we could get back to, but, as the saying goes, you can never go home again. The current wave of 80’s nostalgia seems almost insane to someone who was actually there — social and economic conservatism, economic torpor, the cold war, and, yeah you had cool music and movies, but only as an escape from reality.

And in the 80’s you had a revival of nostalgia for another inexplicable time period: the 1950’s. It’s worth pointing out that to many Boomers entering their cultural heyday in the 80’s would mean a longing look back at their childhoods through films like Back to the Future and Stand By Me. So, seeing our current fascination with the 80’s and 90’s as the exact same phenomenon, but now it’s Gen X and Millenials looking back, helps put it into context.

But the most important thing to remember about all of this is it is never as good as you remember it. Cline’s work was always nostalgia-forward, hoping to plaster over any plot or character problems with warm feelings about Star Wars and John Hughes. And it largely worked, but it was more member berries and less Darmok.

Spielberg, on the other hand, is able to tease out the essence of what made the book great and concoct a new cocktail of kid-friendly adventure (his specialty) and dystopian revolution where the nostalgia bomb works to propel characters and situations forward rather than miring them in cultural onanism. It’s character and theme forward rather than nostalgia forward. And the cultural references play more as Darmok, such as when Wade talks about one of Halliday’s favorite movie quotes from Richard Donner’s Superman, “Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.”

The best example of this is a section in the middle of the film where our heroes have to find a key hidden in a recreation of the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Whereas in the novel, Wade had to “play through” the clunky-and-not-as-good-as-you-remember-it-I-promise War Games as Matthew Broderick’s character (and later through Monty Python and the Holy Grail), the on-screen version was more about elucidating the best pieces of  The Shining, again, as a sort of cultural currency. It’s almost as if it’s Spielberg’s chance to fanboy-out over something– as though he is Halliday leading us through something he loves. The care and beauty in this sequence is unmatched anywhere else in the film as filmmaker and material almost become one.

That’s not to say the rest of the film is bad. But it does seem a little more pedestrian, but perhaps in the way Spielberg is able to use a light touch to bring the best of his back catalog to life. Because that’s ultimately what nostalgia is — a sense of missing or loss or want of something that never actually was. It’s not that Spielberg’s work as director or executive producer was always so perfect or important, but that time has imbued it with meaning. Exhibit A is a movie like Hook, which was savaged by critics and not a huge success, but which holds a special place in the heart of so many people today.

Perhaps the best departure from the book is the film’s treatment of its female protagonists. Elite (l337) video gamer Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) is shown to be just as much a hero in her own right as Wade’s “Parzival” and given much more to do in the film than the book, where she was somewhat relegated to a “digital manic pixie dream girl” and “girlfriend as reward” trope in the finale. Instead, she figures out the key that ties all of Halliday’s clues together to provide an incredibly refreshing message at the end: we should all sometimes put down our video games and spend some time outside in the real world.

And it is in the real world where real girl Samantha (nee Art3mis) saves both the film and the world. She also has a real-life grudge against megacorp IOI that helps tease out the film’s dystopian themes, hopefully making us think of current problems with net neutrality, income inequality, payday lenders, etc, etc. She grounds the film. She’s the real hero, even if we’re focusing on Wade a little too much.

And what film would work without a great villain? Mendelsohn’s Sorrento is a delight in how evil he is. And yet, like all great villains, he truly believes that what he’s doing is right. Much like another film that mashed together references and universes, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,  Nolan Sorrento is very much like Judge Doom. Doom wants his freeway full of billboards and suburban sprawl to replace the simplicity of public transportation on the redcar. Sorrento wants to replace a largely free-to-play experience with tiered service and advertising — and it’s worth noting through the film that almost any time you see an advertisement in the real world, it’s for IOI.

Ready Player One isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a lot of fun. Its technical wizardry is unsurpassed. And at its heart is a filmmaker in a perfect zen state able to balance nostalgia and fun without overplaying his hand. In thirty years, kids who were born in the 2000s will be talking about Ready Player One in the same hushed, reverential tones 80’s and 90’s kids talk about The Goonies or Jurassic Park.  And hopefully we take the film’s message to heart — of living in the real world and putting aside our escapism to try to confront real world dystopian nightmares — and make sure our actual 2045 has the fun and imagination of Halliday’s OASIS and none of the real world nightmares of Wade Watts’ existence. Just don’t fill up on member berries.

3.75 out of 5 stars

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