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Tyler

Ready Player One

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Just came back from seeing it; and I am surprised that I liked it as much as I did, in the face of all these (now reading) detractors.  

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If you read anything else about Ready Player One, read this essay -

From Palmer Rampell at The Los Angeles Review of Books, May 3, 2018:
The New Yorker critic Pauline Kael wondered rhetorically while being interviewed in 1985. ‘One hates to say it comes down to the success of Steven Spielberg, but…’ She left a pregnant pause. For critics like Kael, Spielberg, along with George Lucas and others, shifted the production model in Hollywood away from introspective low-budget pictures helmed by auteurs — like Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider (the so-called Hollywood Renaissance) — to blockbuster productions with ever-proliferating sequels and extensive advertising campaigns. Spielberg’s critics insist that his blockbusters are ‘infantilizing’ or even ‘totalitarian’ in their unreflectiveness and focus on spectacle. At the same time, the popularity of the blockbuster has enabled Spielberg to become the highest grossing director of all time, personally worth $3.6 billion. And while Spielberg began as a countercultural auteur, or so the legend goes, there is also good evidence to suggest that he was sanguine about corporate production from early in his career. Like Halliday and, one day, Wade, his obvious doubles, Spielberg is a multibillion-dollar creator of artworks for the masses, and the battle in the film between Wade and Sorrento is a battle over the legacy of the cultural meaning of the 1980s, the nature of corporate productions, and by extension Spielberg’s oeuvre. Was the culture of the ’80s all just for profit and in bad taste, with Sorrento as its true heir, or, following Wade, can we find something redemptive underneath the shoulder pads, hoop earrings, and acid-washed jeans? ...

Once we see that Spielberg is pointing to the intertwined visions of director and corporation, Ready Player One looks like a celebration of one corporation in particular — Warners — and of the corporate vision — the vertically integrated multimedia conglomerate — that has underpinned it for the past 50 years. The media conglomerates of the 1970s and ’80s could underwrite the Hollywood blockbuster’s high risk and high reward because they had diversified their holdings by investing in a number of different industries: film, television, video games, et cetera ... What would it mean to read the film as celebrating not just Spielberg but also Warners’ culture, to think of the film not only as Spielberg’s creation but also as Warners’ advancement of a particular agenda at this moment in time? One obvious answer is that Ready Player One promotes virtual reality as a medium for the masses, a potential boon to both Time Warner and Spielberg, who have invested in virtual reality technologies as the next multimedia frontier ...

But ironically, in its frequent allusions to Warners’ productions, Ready Player One cannot help but reveal the gap between its celebration of the free and open distribution of content and the studios’ actual practice of covetously guarding their intellectual property. To paraphrase Henry Ford a bit, users of the OASIS can explore any IP that they want — so long as it belongs to Warners. Users can generate their own content, but perhaps the most notable example of user-generated content is Wade’s friend Aech’s massive recreation of the Iron Giant. Her creative imagination has been thoroughly colonized by Warners’ IP, which AT&T plans to release to its consumers in similarly customizable experiences. The OASIS is thus exactly what many reasonably fear AT&T envisions as the future of the internet: a putatively free internet that is dominated by Time Warner’s content.

While, to Spielberg, the Golden Egg may refer to the quality of the art produced under corporate supervision, to Time Warner and AT&T, a golden egg refers to the monetary value of the associated goose. In fact, AT&T has described its premium satellite and cable subscribers as precisely that: ‘a golden goose,’ by which they mean a reliable source of revenue.”

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Hmmm. I hadn't thought about the dominance of Warner-owned content here, but I guess that is a point.

It's kind of a funny thing to consider right now, for me, as I've been doing some reading about the history of animation over the last 40 years, and one key development in that history was the production of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, arguably the first film of the "Disney renaissance" (it came out one year before The Little Mermaid kicked off the string of Ashman-Menken musicals that also included Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, and it definitely paved the way for the acceptance of Disney cartoons as films that *adults* could enjoy); and one of the most notable things about that film is how it brought together animated characters from *multiple* studios (the first-ever on-screen pairing of Donald Duck and Daffy Duck! of Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny!). And, in turn, one of the things that made the bringing-together of so many studios possible was the role that Steven Spielberg played behind the scenes on that film; the movie was produced by Disney, which was then being run by Jeffrey Katzenberg (Spielberg's future DreamWorks partner), and Spielberg was buddies with the people at Warner Brothers (who had worked with him on Twilight Zone: The Movie, The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun, which he (co-)directed, as well as Gremlins, The Goonies and InnerSpace, which he produced). The film was also directed by Robert Zemeckis, who was something of a Spielberg protege (Spielberg having produced Zemeckis's earlier films Used Cars and Back to the Future).

So, there once was a time when Spielberg was arguably bigger than any one studio -- he could bring studios *together*! -- and it's interesting if his newest film, which is *supposed* to be a nostalgic pop-culture mash-up a la Roger Rabbit, actually limits itself to a single studio's intellectual property. (It doesn't quite, though; the chestburster from the Alien movies is a Fox property, for example.)

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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