Ready Player One Blu-ray and Streaming: What We Learn from the Extras
The Ready Player One Blu-ray extras reinforce what makes Spielberg’s film a wonder, and in other ways, they amplify the film’s flaws.
As an exploration of digital alternative reality, Ready Player One offers tantalizing realizations of author Ernest Cline’s speculations. It also offers a weak version of reality, in part due to Kline’s post-economic-apocalypse of The Stacks, that read better than they play visually, and in part, because Spielberg doesn’t bring enough reality to the scenes shot in the future real world. Spielberg does deliver some credible visuals of The Stacks, but any physical representation of such a far-fetched, near-term transformation of America’s cityscape risks being seen as an improbable development. Along with the improbable Stacks comes the unlikely human interaction between virtual reality (VR) and the real world. While the expansive vistas of the Oasis permit extensive mobility, the tiny glimpses into real life don’t suggest the kinds of technology required to support the visualized experiences. Even with the most sophisticated of technologies acquired by Wade, his ability to participate in the dance sequences (be they nostalgic or horrific), for instance, steps beyond what VR in any form seen on screen could provide.
The reinforcement of physical limitations in the film and the VR technology stretched to create the film fall in sharp contrast when viewing the extras. The pre-visualizations of the film and the avatar created for Spielberg to create shot lists directly from a virtual frame shooter delivers an excellent demonstration of how technology transforms process. As a person involved in VR technology, I am often asked what kinds of applications are better in VR? In other words, if I’m going to strap on a headset and spend hours in it, what applications make such a change in behavior compelling? Spielberg’s demonstration of his VR directing style answers that question for special effects filmmakers, as the technology can provide value to any special effects-driven sequence, not just one trying to visualize VR itself.
The Extras show just how much time was spent on the concepts and execution of the Oasis. I think it is important to draw a parallel between Ready Play One and another film that takes humankind in a very different direction, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Both films offer outstanding visualizations of difficult to imagine concepts and ideas, but both films fall short on the reality of humans in their fictional worlds. Nolan fails to explain, for instance, how the decreased human population has failed to make use of abandoned technology, including building technology, that could be cobbled together to protect people from dust. And Spielberg shows people in VR walking around the street, which will likely never happen (augmented reality yes, but not VR). These examples belie a propensity for filmmakers like Spielberg and Nolan to get enamored by the technology and the speculative portions of their film at the risk of failing to ground the films in a way that connect to audiences at the human level. When in space, when in the Oasis, audiences accept the suspension of belief, but when flaws in how those scenes connect to either threat and jeopardy, or the execution of the transition between “reality” and something else (space or VR) the illusion cracks. Audiences lose their sense of a continuous logic that ties the elements together.
The extras also explain some of the major shifts in plot from the book, which some have defended (Kate Erbland at IndiWire and Perri Nemiroff at Collider) and others have derided (James Temperton and Victoria Turk at Wired UK) . Ernest Cline is a fanboy. Many parts of his book spoke directly to his love for all things Spielbergian. There is a risk when a creator collaborates with their inspiration for the creator to offer more deference than might be necessary. Sure, Spielberg is also a creator, and he had his own take, but I think Cline gave into Spielberg on too many points and based on the extras, he did so with relish.
Of course, most authors have little control over their material once optioned to television or film, but in this case, Cline is a screenwriter. Cline was there to argue his plot points if he wanted to. From the following MovieZine interview it seems Cline was satisfied with the pop culture mash-up over plot. Spielberg, he opines, was probably the only filmmaker who could pull that off. Both creators seemingly made their choices of what to keep, what to add and what to discard. For the film they made, those may have been could choices, but as an adaptation of Cline’s novel, I encourage readers to go back and read the book if they haven’t already, and capture what they missed.
I’ll let Cline speak for himself and you can draw your own conclusions:
Spielberg at his core tells stories visually, and so his compression and reimagining of Cline’s book to focus on visual realizations, including of realizations not in the book. The Shinning sequence, for instance, was a Spielberg invention in order to supplant the references to his own work, which he confesses in the extras would be as Spock says at the end of Star Trek 2009, “oddly self-serving.” It is a nice piece of tribute filmmaking, but it isn’t clear that it makes its point anymore so than the scenes Cline wrote (despite Cline’s assertions above).
Spielberg shot Ready Player One as an adventure, not a drama. Cline wrote a drama with adventure. When in the Oasis, Spielberg distracts, but the emotional core, the evolution of Wade’s character as a human, that get’s lost, and that’s a shame.
The other extras offer insight, but none that offers deep insight into this film as much as they do the process, which is what many extras offer (film geeks can always learn by from extras because they give them access to working professionals talking about their craft in a specific application).
I wasn’t a kid in the 80s, but I was a product of 80s pop culture and its bleed over from previous decades. I came to love Star Trek in the late 1970s when I was in high school. In many cases, Spielberg made the choice of swapping out references to his work with references to Star Trek. Once you have your own copy of any film, you can freeze it and explore individual frames for as long as you like. I love that I can freeze frame on the Star Trek funeral scene and give my wife a sense for how I want to go out.
James Halliday, however, might not really be out, but existing somewhere in a homegrown singularity. We’ll have to wait to see what Cline comes up with next. I hope he can let the film goes when he writes the next book.
The Ready Player One Blu-ray and some digital copies include the following extras:
- Game Changer: Cracking the Code
- Effects for a Brave New World
- Level Up: Sound for the Future
- High Score: Endgame
- Ernie & Tye’s Excellent Adventure
- The ’80’s: You’re The Inspiration
Thank you for Warner Bros. for providing a review copy of the Blu-ray.