Hollywood, I mean. They just don’t care about trying. That’s the only conclusion I could reach when I saw the new posters for Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel. I say Hollywood, but Warner Bros is the studio that has this particular picture, so maybe I shouldn’t be so broad.
But lets be honest, WB isn’t unique in this gross impulse. Nobody. Cares. Baby food for the people, it seems, forever.
Not that I’m surprised.
The consumer appetite for 80s and 90s nostalgia is high and getting higher all the time. Reboots and sequels and franchise continuations are the foundation of the Hollywood studio system, and in such a lucrative business landscape, a movie like Ready Player One was inevitable. The film’s very premise is nostalgia. The characters inhabit a world built out of existing Intellectual Properties, and if a movie studio is going to build a movie out of other movies, then they’re going to pick the movies you already love.
It’s a Frankenstein’s monster situation in that way, and only in that way, since Frankenstein is one of the most inspired and creative works of fiction in the English language and Ready Player One, well, isn’t.
Thing is, though, a lot of the work in film and television that feeds the Gen-X / Millennial nostalgia hunger is actually quite good. Disney does it well, year after year, with live-action remakes of classics, with new Star Wars films that somehow exceed expectations, with Marvel, a juggernaut that despite the weight of a 18 movies continues to get better. Disney takes the stories and characters audiences love and finds a way to make it work. Good on ’em.
Netflix has gone the other way, creating perhaps the pinnacle of throwback entertainment right now, Stranger Things: a funny, scary, kid-based, 80s-pop culture inspired television show that demonstrates that stories inspired by the recent past can be both nostalgic and innovative. Stranger Things isn’t great, but it is something creative, fun, and nostalgic.
This who Ready Player One situation, though, this is different.
Wistfulness, longing, the sentiment of yearning for your childhood, do you feel that when you see a bad copy of a Back to the Future poster? I don’t. I just get annoyed at the baseness of the exploitation.
I would liken this to selling snake-oil but a snake-oil salesman has to put effort into selling their bullshit. Ready Player One, it seems, can’t even its inspire its marketers to that low level of energy.These don’t harken back to the movies you love. They’re just ripping them apart for no reason.It’s possible I’m overreacting. It’s quite reasonable to say that this is all done in self-awareness; that Cline’s reliance on classic pop culture references is so over the top that Warner Bros. is having fun at Cline’s expense. Maybe it indicates an internal awareness that exists in the film, too. Maybe Ready Player One will be another excellent piece of mass entertainment directed by the individual who helped create the modern concept of pop culture.
But I don’t care. This cheap attempt to bolster sentimentality makes me angry. Some of the films their using are actually great, original works of art that influenced cinema, that shaped culture, that changed lives (mine, included). Blade Runner, Lost Boys, Beetlejuice, these are movies allowed people (me) to see art and the world and their families and their social environments differently. These movies allowed audiences (me!) to orient ourselves in our own worlds when we felt adrift and clueless and lost.
Now they’re just chum for a bad marketing campaign, selling an adaptation of a bad book. And they indicate, to me at least, that Warner Bros has little reverence for the playground of exciting genre cinema that Spielberg helped build. Fie.
–Christopher Zumski Finke