WRITING MOVIE WRONGS BY: JIM WEST (www.moviewrongs.com)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Ernest Cline and Zac Penn
Based on a bestselling book, 80s nostalgia served on a warm post-apocalyptic platter has finally made its way to the big screen; and the legal permissions needed to take the book’s fair use of copyrighted and trademarked characters to film is, in itself, a miracle. Yet some key things from the book did not make it to the movie for this very reason. Spielberg himself is part of the 80s nostalgia, having directed so many films that permeate the ethos of which the material of this story burns brightest. Even the core story itself is a mere clone of another, even older, classic story (more on this later).
Here come the spoilers.
This film kicks off with an old school street race on the streets of Havana. It’sWade Watts is a kid who spends most of his real life in a virtual world called the OASIS. In the bleak future almost everyone spends their lives living in a virtual reality where they can be anything or anyone. The film handles the explanation well. Groups of people within the game perform challenges to earn coins with which they can buy things both in the virtual world (such as weapons and artifacts) or in the real world (where it gets delivered by drone to their home). The creator of OASIS has died but left the world a challenge to find three keys which, when combined, will unlock an Easter egg in the OASIS and grant the player ownership of his shares and of OASIS itself. This is essentially a riff from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but hidden by an Easter egg as opposed to a golden ticket in a chocolate bar. In fact, as I watched this story unfold, I began to question any of its originality. I was left with nothing to write about. Even when the antagonist, Nolan Sorrento, who runs operations at Innovative Online Industries (IOI), tries to cheat his way to the same Easter egg as his company, wants control of the OASIS to monetize, it falls flat as a believable villain. The scene of him risking his life and limb to personally see to the real life demise of the hero is just not in line with what his character is first presented as. The brisk pace of the film leaves the story resting upon ‘did you see that character or that figure from your childhood’ moments which is very ‘blink and you will miss it’ in this film. Other than that, the story doesn’t really deliver and left me unsatisfied. Rather than wanting to stay in the OASIS I wanted to get out of the theater and play in the real world.
I must admit I haven’t read the book, and I can imagine some things were changed due to copyright and legal issues. But the things I would change to improve this film are to show us Watt growing up in this world and idolizing the creator of the OASIS and how revered he is to Watts. Show us Sorrento’s relationship to the creator and how he is driven to do the things he does. Show us the society’s dependence upon OASIS and lend more credence to why IOI and Sorrento want control of it so badly. Give Watts time to grieve over losing the last family member he had left when the stacks gets blown up. Show some real human emotion for the characters beyond Watts wanting to kiss a girl. There was a feeling that I couldn’t connect to any of the characters to get any sense of gravitas to the story. Thus it became all ‘style over substance’ for me.
In closing, the writers need to not lose sight of character development and motivations for both the hero and villain that propel them to do what they do. Otherwise, it is just a forgettable film full of flashes, glimmers and homage to the toys, cartoons, games and movies of the 80s
Thanks for reading Writing Movie ‘WRONGS’.