I could be wrong, but I think we have reached the height of 1980’s nostalgia. This nostalgia will probably maintain for a while, but with things like Stranger Things (which I talked about here), nonstop Star Wars movies, high rise jeans with ripped holes in them making a comeback, internet video games purposely designed to look and sound like 8 and 16 bit 80’s games, and now Ready Player One, I can’t imagine people getting even more excited about the 80’s than they are now.
I’m certainly not complaining. I’ve made no secret over the years in my blog and my books about how the 80’s was my decade, how I miss it, the special relationship I have with it, and how the 80’s formed much of my attitudes and viewpoints about independence, masculinity, fitness, wealth, happiness, sex, technology, success, and business.
I read the Ready Player One book in preparation for watching the movie, just like I did with the Dark Tower series, since as always, I never want a shitty movie to soil my love of a book. If you see a movie before reading a book, and the movie is bad, you’re probably not going to read the book even if the book is amazing. Sadly, there is an entire generation of people who will never read the book Battlefield Earth because the movie was so laughably terrible, even though that book is one of the most entertaining sci-fi novels ever written.
This system worked well with the Dark Tower series (which I reviewed here). The books were pretty good and the movie was absolutely dreadful, but that’s okay since I read the books first.
Thankfully, the Ready Player One book and movie were both fun, even though the movie changed pretty much everything in the book, though it did so for valid reasons. This is one of the rare times I will review both a book and a movie at the same time. Warning: massive spoilers ahead for both the movie and the book.
The premise of the story is that in the future, around the 2040’s, America has economically collapsed (yep, accurate prediction) and to escape their horrible, povery-stricken lives, most everyone spends most of their time in a hyper realistic virtual reality version of the internet (yep, accurate prediction) called the Oasis.
The creator of the Oasis (and the real life writer of the story) was born in 1972, the same year I was born, and grew up loving the same stuff I loved as a child and teenager in the 80’s. Tron, Dungeons and Dragons, Zork, Knight Rider, Blade Runner, and a billon other 80’s games, movies, and TV shows. Thus, the Oasis is filled with these references and characters. The plot is that the creator has died and left three magical keys that, once found, gives the owner half a trillion dollars in real-life money, as well as complete control over the Oasis.
Just like Stranger Things, both the book and movie of Ready Player One is jam packed full of 80’s pop culture references, many of which people not in Generation X would be aware of. Yeah, most people my kid’s age or parent’s age could identify Freddy Kruger, but would they know the hero’s login password in the books is from the 80’s movie The Last Starfighter like I did? Or that the wording of the magic spell at the end of the movie was from the 80’s movie Excalibur like I did? Probably not. This story is a love letter to 80’s nerds like me, i.e. Gen X men in their 40’s.
The hero of the story, a young beta male, has to do things in the book like complete a realistic representation of a Dungeons and Dragons module Tomb of Horrors (a module I actually owned in the 80’s), complete a game of Zork (a game I played in the 80’s), go through a realistic representation of the movie Wargames (one of my favorite movies in the 80’s, and the movie that compelled me to get into computers), and so on.
In the movie, they change things around to make the story more palatable to a wide audience. Instead of the characters going into Wargames like in the book, they go into the movie The Shining instead. That makes sense; 80’s nerds like me are going to prefer Wargames, but most normal people of all ages and all nations would have no idea what the hell that movie was, but they’ve all seen The Shining, or at least are aware of what it is. This is one of the best sequences in the movie. Steven Spielberg actually re-created precise sets of The Shining, and the characters actually participated in real scenes from that move, including the hallway full of blood and the sexy naked woman in the bathroom who turns into a disgusting zombie when she kisses Jack Nicholson.
Instead of going through a Dungeons and Dragons module, the movie uses a race, full of 80’s (and prior) cars like the Batmobile, the A-Team van, Speed Racer’s Mach 5, Mad Max’s interceptor, and so on. The hero of the story drives the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future (with a Knight Rider scanner mounted on the front), and the female lead rides the red motorcycle from Akira. During the race, racers are attacked by the t-rex from Jurassic Park (complete with his original sound effects), and then by King Kong.
In a bar scene, you’ll see people like Laura Croft, Ryu (from Street Fighter), Harley Quinn, Hello Kitty, Robocop, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so on.
Anyway, you get the idea. It’s a pretty impressive feat that they were able to get the IP rights to use all of these characters, and I’m only mentioning a tiny few of them. There are YouTube videos going through every easter egg and famous character in this movie, and many of these videos just list shit for over 20 minutes. This is one of those movies that I’ll be pausing a lot when it comes out on video.
One big thing I loved in the book that I figured they would not do for the movie was a climactic battle in which the villain gets inside the body of Mechagodzilla (just Google that if you have no idea who this is) and uses him to fight other famous giant robots from various properties. Well, damn, I don’t know how they did it, but in the movie they actually do this. I saw this movie with my kids and my parents, and was sitting next to my daughter who grew up with all the old Godzilla movies (because I showed her) and loved them. When the main villain was flipping through a screen with different robots, and I saw the icon for Mechagodzilla, I actually said out loud, “Holy shit!” When my daughter looked at me funny, I smiled, pointed at the screen, and said, “Watch this.”
Then it was her turn to be surprised when fucking Mechagodzilla appeared, while the movie actually played his theme song, and he proceed to battle Gundam(!) and the Iron Giant(!). So much fun. My inner child was happy. (Again, Google these characters if you have no idea who they are.)
I could go on and on about what a special thing this is for me, even if it’s just a frivolous book and movie, which it is. To be fair, the book is not well written. The characters and dialog are overly simplistic, the hero is a Mary Sue, and the plot is very predictable. But again, since this book was written for American Gen X men in their 40’s, the positives of the book outweighed all of these negatives for me. This is unlikely to happen if you are not in that category though.
Do I recommend reading the book? If you are under the age of 35 or over the age of 55, not really. You won’t get the majority of the references, won’t care about them like I do, and will probably be annoyed at the substandard writing. Even if you enjoyed the book on its sci-fi merits, reading it wouldn’t be the special experience for you that it was for me.
However! If you’re a man in my general age range (35-55), particularly if you’re an American, hell yes, you need to read it. It’s like eating candy, and will make you smile.
Do I recommend seeing the movie? Yes. Most everyone will enjoy it, and friggin’ Spielberg directed it so you know it’s a well executed movie even if you’re not immersed in the source material like I am. My parents both really liked it and they’re in their 70’s, as did my kids who are in their early 20’s.
All of this being said, none of this changes what I’ve said about movies lately, that movies are really terrible now and that we are now entering a dark age in terms of fictional content, where everything is a remake, reboot, sequel, whatever, yet another indicator of our slow cultural collapse. Fun things like this 80’s nostalgia is just a nice little side benefit of Hollywood’s reluctance to do anything new or original. I don’t expect it to last, but it sure is fun, at least for me, while it does.