Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Top Eleven: Tips For Steven Spielberg Regarding Filming Ready Player One

So, the Ready Player One movie is happening.  While I realize that my giving tips to Steven Spielberg about movie making is akin to Tommy Wiseau giving acting tips to Marlon Brando, there are a few things that I remember from my time listening to the audiobook version that have stuck with me, things that I don't think worked in a medium that wasn't "words on paper/screen" and are things I hope the movie would address.

Because I'm sure there's a good movie in there somewhere.  I'm just not 100% confident in Hollywood's history of portraying video games in any way, shape, or form.

But maybe I'm just cynical.

So here's eleven tips that, at least to me, should be kept in mind while creating a film that's one part huge "anybody can be a hero" adventure in the vein of Star Wars and Harry Potter, and one part "look at all the pop culture references we can make!"

11)  Explain the pop cultural resurgence.

Something that drove me nuts about the book was the fact that entertainment from a completely different age could consume the lives of a generation with no context for what was happening.  They might learn about things like Reaganomics through old news footage and media, but the culture is so incredibly different in the world of Ready Player One that it boggles my mind that people would look at it like anything other than cute nostalgia from their parents.

Why do these characters connect with things like old sitcoms, video games with archaic graphics, or obscure movies?  Even if it's just a throwaway line in the beginning from a TV psychologist, it would at least help.

10)  Don't overdo the CG.

Now, clearly, this is a movie that primarily takes place in a video game, so you're going to need a lot of computer-created graphics.  But I know you, Steven, and I know you love animatronics and stage sets.  Don't be afraid to fall back on classics, unless you're going to push the video game aspect of it so far into ridiculousness that it just makes sense for objects and characters to not have any weight to their movements.

In a similar vein...

9)  Try the Chris Evans/Captain America approach to the main characters.

The cast of core characters are teenagers, but nobody ever designs their online avatar to look just like them unless they have an ego a mile wide.  Most of the action takes place with the avatars, with short cut-aways showing people logging in and out.  You might be prepared to simply have the avatars look like slightly tweaked versions of the actors, but I would actually argue going the other way.  Get the actors in shape, and then use CG (one of the few instances I'll encourage it) to take that away, giving you a "Chris Evans before he was Captain America" look.

Speaking of actors...

8) Don't be afraid to let them not be too pretty in the real world.

Most professional gamers aren't fitness stars or supermodels.  If they were, they'd be fitness models and supermodels instead of professional gamers.  I get that everybody in movies needs to be attractive unless they're either a joke character or just a supporting character who needs to have some other primary defining characteristic, but I'd honestly appreciate it if the stars of a series based on brains and video games were allowed to not also be the most beautiful people in the world.

In a way it's strange how movies enforce the idea that "beautiful people are better than normal-looking people because they're clearly the best at everything they do."  It would be nice to see this movie toss that tradition aside and play up the aspects that make people good at video games without relying on the standard Hollywood definition of beauty.

7) If you have to choose between action or intelligence, please err on the side of intelligence.

Look, the book is long, I get that, and you're going to have to cut things.  However, it's a book about a puzzle with action sequences mixed in, not a book about action sequences with a few puzzles tossed around.  I would rather see some of the action sequences trimmed or cut completely than simply have people solve puzzles with no real thought put into them because they're "just that smart."  It feels better to see characters need to work to earn something, so having longer, quieter moments where the main characters put the puzzle pieces together and explain how they reached that level of thinking would mean more to the plot than a huge focus on some of the battle scenes.

6)  Feel free to- well, if you're going to- how about-

...okay, look, everything boils down to the last point, so I'm just going to cut out numbers 6 through 2 and get down to it.

1)  Cut most of the pop culture.

Yes, I'm aware that pop culture is the only reason this story is as long as it is and isn't just a pamphlet.  However, not everybody is going to understand the obscure Japanese giant robot references, the history of video game Easter eggs when connected to Adventure, or the intricate details of the house from Zork.  Playing into the nostalgia that the book presents (and those ungodly lists of pop culture references that go on and on and on) to an audience now would be the equivalent of attempting to make the 80's Cafe from Back To The Future 2 into the greatest restaurant in the world.

The story, when you boil it down, is about the importance of living in the real world and not simply spending every moment in an escapist fantasy, which I think the book tried really hard to present, but it got so overloaded with its own cleverness and love of culture that the message got lost.  I've spent a lot of time in my life online.  I made friends online, I experienced great storytelling and daring adventures online.  I even met people who I felt as close to online as anybody I've ever known online.

However, while there is a freedom to be experienced in living online for a while (if someone judges you, you can always just leave and log on somewhere else, and odds are there's a group of people with similar interests to you somewhere) there's a lot from the real world that's missing, and if I had the chance to redo my life, I probably wouldn't have spent quite as much time in front of a screen as I did back then.

So please, Steven, don't be afraid to throw away the weight of so many references and adoration for the archives of pop culture if it means you get to tell an engaging story.  I just saw Star Wars recently, I don't really need to see the Millennium Falcon again in a different movie.  I don't really need to see every single giant robot that came from Japan, every arcade machine designed to steal coins from children, or any episodes of any television show that was on in those days.  Ready Player One got lost in its own gimmick, but you could make it so much better.  Focus on the key parts of the story and the references that actually shape the plot, throw in a few Easter eggs in the background for the hardcore nerds, but please, please let this be more than just another mindless action film so full of itself it loses the audience.

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