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Non-Review Review: Ready Player One

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Reader Player One is a very curious piece of cinema. It is an incredibly flawed piece of work, with a lot of its flaws so fundamental that they are threaded into the very architecture of the film. Screenwriter Zak Penn has offered a very thorough and involved reinvention of Ernest Cline’s source novel, a ground-up renovation of Cline’s catalogue of popular culture references and collection of narrative tropes. Indeed, Penn’s screenplay improves a great deal on the novel that inspired it; junking and reworking entire sequences, bulking up supporting characters, trying to find a beating human heart.

Worlds apart.

More than that, Ready Player One provides Spielberg with the opportunity to go “all out.” There is a sense watching Ready Player One that Spielberg has approached the film not as a collection of popular culture references and in-jokes, but instead as an attempt to reconnect with a younger audience. Whether or not Reader Player One is the right source material for such an attempt, there is no denying Spielberg’s energy and vigour. Ready Player One is a dynamic piece of film, Spielberg demonstrating all the technique for which he is known, but with an enthusiasm that puts younger directors to shame.

However, there is no escaping the biggest issue with the film remains its source material. The problem with Ready Player One as a film is that it is an adaptation of Ready Player One as a novel.

Back to the past.

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Trial and Trailer: The Perils of Publicity in the Internet Era

It is a cliché to suggest that trailers are spoiling movies.

Clint Eastwood was complaining about the trend more than a decade and a half ago, lamenting, “Half the time you go and watch a film, you see eight or 10 different trailers and you’ve seen the whole plot line. There’s really no reason to go see the film.” While film fans might look back nostalgically on classic trailers like Alien or Point Blank, the truth is that movie trailers have always been a bit of a haphazard artform. The trailer for Carrie is as spoilery as any modern trailer.

At the same time, there is a definite trend in contemporary trailers – especially for big blockbuster releases – to ensure that the audience knows exactly what they are going to get. This is most obvious in trailers like Alien: Covenant or Spider-Man: Homecoming, which go beyond spoiling the entire plot thread to spoiling big moments from the film; memorable cameos or distinctive sequences. When dealing with spectacle driven films like Kong: Skull Island, there is a conscious effort to load the trailer with spectacle, revealing monsters and set pieces.

To be fair, this is arguably more of a problem with big budget summer releases. These trailers typically belong to blockbusters that have to absolutely saturate the market in order to build hype, releasing trailers more than a half a year before release or even offering trailers for trailers. It is inevitable that this desire to effectively carpet-bomb the media landscape with footage will reveal far too much about the film in question, particularly for those who task themselves with keeping track of this information. The sparse understated trailers for smaller films like Get Out are a blessing.

It is interesting to wonder what drives these creative decisions, why studios are saturating the market with trailers that seem to lay out every beat ahead of time and which effectively promise every twist that will be delivered over the course of the narrative. There is a lot to be said for the joy of seeing a film blind, without knowing exactly what is coming and how it will be delivered. It seems reasonable to argue that the job of a trailer is to tease, to offer the viewer a hint of what is in store, instead of mapping out how they might spend two hours of their lives.

However, while these views are quite common on the internet and among film fans, it is interesting to wonder whether they reflect the opinions and taste of the mass audience. Is this increasing tendency towards spoiler-heavy trailers that plot out the entire arc of a film are driven by the tastes of audiences? Is this how the majority of viewers want their entertainment delivered, even if they would never frame it in those terms?

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Rajiin (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Rajiin is not as bad as Extinction. So there’s that.

Rajiin continues the pulpy theme that runs through the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise and into the fourth. There is a sense that the writing staff are cutting loose with a collection of decidedly retro science-fiction tropes that they found in the old storage cupboard. The third and fourth seasons have a gonzo energy to them, with elements like the reptile!Xindi and the evil!alien!space!Nazis feeling like ideas that escaped from the types of magazines where Benny Russell used to work.

"Captain, my scans report that she does have Bette Davis eyes."

“Captain, my scans report that she does have Bette Davis eyes.”

At its best, this new storytelling freedom allows the show to cut loose with ideas that would have made Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager blush. The show would never have attempted episodes like Impulse and North Star in its first or second season. Even if the episodes are not flawless, they have an energy and vitality that was sorely lacking in the first two years of the show. It feels like the writing staff are really having fun with the concept, playing with the sort of goofy ideas that they never would have attempted a year or so earlier.

Of course, there is a flip side to that coin. The biggest misfires of the third season are generally rooted in that pulpy storytelling style. Extinction was effectively a “lost race” story that felt like a throwback to colonial narratives about explorers in exotic parts of the world. Rajiin is the story of an alien seductress who our hero rescues from slavery, only to use her womanly wiles to seduce the crew for a sinister purpose.

"Hey, Kirk got to do this all the time!"

“Hey, Kirk got to do this all the time!”

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Non-Review Review: Pixels

Pixels has a fun concept.

The idea of video game characters invading the world is a delightfully gonzo piece of pop culture nostalgia. It is easy to see why Sony picked up the option for Patrick Jean’s 2010 short film, even if the concept was not new. Neither version of Pixels can quite measure up to Raiders of the Lost Arcade, the short that aired as part of Anthology of Interest II during the third season of Futurama. That ten minute short story captured the sheer unadulterated joy of a world under siege from its juvenile obsessions.

You are my sunshine...

You are my sunshine…

There are a lot of problems with Pixels. The most obvious is that it seems completely disinterested in its core concept as anything other than a vehicle for Adam Sandler. There is a lot of CGI and a number of recognisable pop culture references, but Pixels plays just like any other Happy Madison vehicle. It is an excuse to pair Adam Sandler up with a beautiful actress and pay for trips for friends and acquaintances around the world while making jokes that were tired when most of the audience was making them in the playground.

Pixels never embraces the goofy joy of an invasion of eighties video games, instead wallowing in the presence of washed up nineties hackery.

All the President's... People.

All the President’s… People.

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