That was a book that was one of those profound disappointments — I heard so much gushing over it, so much praise and enthusiasm, that I opened it with high expectations…and instead found page after poorly written page of drivel wrapped around 1980s pop trivia. It’s a crappy work of soppy nostalgia for bad computer games and bad TV and bad fiction. I read the first couple of chapters in disbelief, and then riffled through the rest looking for any redeeming qualities at all, and they just weren’t there.
So now Steven Spielberg is turning it into a movie — a sappy, treacly movie that he probably likes because it’s about his glory days and also features lots of praise for sentimental old Spielberg movies. There is so much good science fiction that could be turned into a movie, and this is what he chooses to throw millions of dollars at? I am so disappointed, and so unsurprised, since this book was a calculated attempt to cash in.
My repulsion for this book was so great that I am relieved when I see reviews that share my views — I’m not an out-of-touch weirdo after all!
Jeb Lund tears it apart at length, and he’s also not impressed with Spielberg picking it up.
Spielberg is 70 now, nearly 20 years removed from his best films and on a mostly downward trajectory from challenging work. He’s burrowed into American nostalgia, reflexive emotional cues and variations on modern myth. He couldn’t even let you walk out of Saving Private Ryan with your own conclusions about a nonfictional war, instead bookending the film with scenes that forced you to measure the worth of the story in terms that were either cloying or extortionate.
By those lights, Ready Player One might have seemed a luxury. There’s no need to fretfully anticipate how audiences will respond to the story because it’s made exclusively from preexisting stories that have already been successfully audience tested. His only job is to put his stamp on iconic elements of other movies—images, gadgets, effects and stakes already provided by the history of film and television. Spielberg finally gets to do Blade Runner without worrying about lacking the temperament to explore its alienating meditation on consciousness. (And, in any event, Cline gives him no means to either.) There are other films for him to copy and paste from anyway.
If you removed every nod, homage, riff, and instance of outright poaching from this book, it would cease to exist. Wiping the movie WarGames from the face of the earth would destroy the first act, just as doing the same to Holy Grail would annihilate the finale—both of which entail earning points for literally parroting the scripts in time. There is little of the plot—or its entirety—that can’t be condensed to a Hollywood elevator pitch. “What if The Matrix was also The Last Starfighter?”
Nearly every one of Ready Player One’s faults is a direct result of Cline’s authorial narcissism. The writing process appears to have begun with the question: What if the entire world revolved around me, and the specific video games and movies I like? The rest was assembled around that essential core. Cline is far from the first author to write a self-insert wish fulfillment narrative, but he may be the first to write one this lazy and self-indulgent. To place oneself in the character of Wade Watts, an 18-year-old video game trivia knower, requires no imagined heroism or personal growth. It simply constructs a world around the reader, where his comfort zone, his passively acquired knowledge of retro video games and Star Wars, is enough to effortlessly make him a Great Man of History. A fantasy this mundane is barely a fantasy at all — just a desire to be unjustly rewarded for mediocrity. And, thanks to Steven Spielberg, Cline’s mediocrity has been rewarded beyond his wildest dreams.
I agree with both reviews of the book. I can’t imagine that the movie can improve on its awful source material, so it’s definitely one I will skip — the nausea I would feel on an attempt to cheerfully revisit the era of Reagan is unimaginable.