Ready Player One is the debut novel of Ernest Cline, a writer who, before its release, was best known for writing the original script of the super disappointing Fanboys. Despite this potentially damning connection, it was one of those books that was fucking everywhere recently. For a few months it was the only bloody book that anyone seemed to be talking about. I guess it helps when your primary audience are too young to have watched the shitty films you helped write. I hoped that I liked Cline’s novel because it does contain lots of things I’m very fond of. However, as a YA dealing with a dystopian future, I was sort of predisposed to fucking hate it. However, I just couldn’t stop myself reading it. It took a long time, admittedly, but I couldn’t stop reading it.
Ready Player One is the story of Wade Watts and his experiences inside the Oasis: a MMORPG virtual reality simulator. The novel is set in 2044 when life on Earth has become fucking unpleasant thanks to the human dependence on depleting fuel resources. Humanity has abandoned real-life and spends its time having adventures in the Oasis. Why bother living in the shitty real-world when you can ignore the trouble and enjoy a high-definition wonderland that is only as small as your bank balance.
The creator of the Oasis, James Halliday, is the kind of eccentric and shy tech-nerd that has become such a popular figure these days. On his death, a video is released introducing the users of the Oasis to a new quest that will see his vast fortune and control of his company handed over to the victor. The world’s largest, most important and incredibly complicated Easter Egg hunt. For five fucking years, people keep trying and failing to solve the first clue.
Halliday was obsessed with the 80s, the decade in which he grew up, so all the clues are an intricate attempt to rattle off page after page of pop culture references. Essentially, Ready Player One isn’t really a novel but more of an encyclopaedia. Cline has decided, for whatever reason, to show the world just how much he knows about video games, films, and television. It’s an exhausting stream of references and allusions. It’s no wonder readers are lapping it up so readily. When it’s basically just a list of things that make them go “I understood that reference”.
As far as I can tell, people love Ready Player One so much because it carries with it a warm sense of familiarity and safety. Wade is the kind of person Cline is targeting and has the kind of interests that most YA readers will share these days. In this day and age, it’s not a gamble to write a book for teenagers that’s about video games and is full to the brim with references to all things 80s and 90s. Cline isn’t writing well here: he’s writing clever.
When you take away all these references what is there really about Ready Player One? It’s not even a good YA dystopia. There are more than enough uninteresting and tired clichés for you to play YA dystopia bingo. From the first page there is no doubt about how it will end and it’s so simplistic that it’s not even funny. I can’t be the only one who found it a little insulting that Cline wrote a novel set in the future whilst only referencing the past. Can I? Although, why bother to write a fully fleshed out narrative and create your own pop culture when you can just ride the coattails of the things other people created? It’s fucking pandering at its most desperate.
It’s part of the reason I’ve become so disillusioned with Simon Pegg over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I love Spaced as much as the next guy but, if we’ve learnt anything over the last few years, it’s that without his endless Star Wars references Simon Pegg just isn’t quite the same. You can’t make up for an interesting premise or creativity with your in-depth knowledge of John Hughes movies or Rush songs. I’m a fully paid up member of the geek clan so love a good discussion of all things. I just don’t think it’s the be all and end all. Ready Player One just didn’t offer enough beyond its endless supply of nerd-bait.
It’s been 30 years since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was released and the continuation of the franchise has been brewing for a fucking long time. George Miller first had the idea for a fourth instalment in 1998 but it has taken 17 years for that seed to grow into the bat-shit crazy tree that is Mad Max: Fury Road. With Tom Hardy taking over from Mel Gibson, Fury Road has more in common with the second film than the third. During the final moments of The Road Warrior, our hero is pursued by a violent gang whilst driving an oil tanker to safety. In his update, Miller has stretched that concept to a full-length film and if that sounds like a flimsy premise then fear not.
Fury Road is high-octane, non-stopping action from the first scene to the very end and its fucking spectacular. What is lacks in dialogue and intricate narrative, it more than makes up for with dazzling stunts and awe-inspiring visuals. The chaos is continual and during the first half hour or so there isn’t even time to draw breath. The film is one long chase sequence that feels more like a silent movie than the post-apocalyptic blockbuster we’re used to these days.
Tom Hardy is the almost silent, brooding Mad who is chased by the ghosts of his past. Taken prisoner by Warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the original film) and his War Boys. During one of his many escape attempts, Max is fated to become entangled with fellow rebel and escapee, Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Employed to lead raids and transport commodities like fuel and bullets, the warrior has finally had enough of Joe’s tyranny and agrees to transport his harem of young, beautiful women to safety, whilst being chased by a whole host of supercharged and heavily armed vehicles.
Tom Hardy is commanding in the title role and brings about a brooding intensity that works well. He slowly and uncomfortably eases into the role of action hero but, for the most part, is pretty impassive. The problem is, Max isn’t really the film’s lead; that honour can only be given to Charlize Theron as the tough, resilient and memorable Furiosa. It is her inner drive that fuels the film not Max’s. With plenty of possible connections to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien, Theron is on top-form here. Without the words to back it up, the actress shows everything she need with a simple look.
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that women define Fury Road in way that the genre isn’t really used to yet. Furiosa is a women who certainly doesn’t let her sex define her but she does embrace it. She has hope that future generations can have a better future and does what she must to protect that. This is a film oozing with messages and images of female empowerment as women are inherently the ones who keep hope alive. Amongst all of the testosterone filled, macho nonsense we see from Joe and his War Boys, Fury Road is actually an enlightened answer to the genre norms. It is something that has caused quite a stir with some hardcore action junkies.
Which is utter bollocks for a number of reasons but mainly because the action is never pushed aside to make way for a debate about gender. This film offers spectacular pacing, sound design, editing and music are all miles better than one could hope for with a film of this type. The first chase sequence is one of the best action sequences in film history and that’s just Miller’s warm-up. Just when you think the team have pulled off the greatest stunt of all time something better will come along almost instantly. It is a film that keeps on pushing itself further until it eventually runs out of time.
Fury Road is also one of the most visually stunning films you could ever hope to meet. The design is so detailed and intricate that it demands multiple viewings to take it all in. From the simple colour change between orange during the day and blue at night to the grotesque bodies Miller delights in parading in front us, Fury Road is fucking beautiful, man. The CGI backdrop is like a fucking painting with its whirlwinds and dust storms providing the perfect canvas for the relentless car-chase. And Miller makes use of it too. He creates the tension he needs through overhead shots and wide-angles that define the dimensions of the action on screen. We can see exactly how far away the pursuit vehicles are and how quickly they’ll catchup. It’s fucking terrifying.
As a director who’s work has inspired so many contemporary filmmakers, Miller has taken a step to show that, whilst he is still working from the same sheet as before, he is never one to rest on his laurels. There is no sense of repetition from his earlier films as Miller has once again redefined his futuristic landscape. Miller has taken the action template that he helped to create and has updated it. Whilst the credits were rolling in the cinema after my viewing, a teenage boy sat next me to lamented that the film was a cliché that relied too heavily on explosions and deaths. Yes, there are dozens of car crashes, explosions and dead bodies in Fury Road but there is never any sense of repetition.
Mad Max: Fury Road is the kind of film that Michael Bay and his followers wish they could produce. What seems like nothing more than explosion porn is a sophisticated film that deserves to be celebrated. We may walk out of the cinema knowing almost as much about the society we were introduced to as we did going in but it’s fine. This shouldn’t, in any way, be seen as a lack of substance: Miller is a shrewd director who knows that stopping for long soliloquies of exposition wouldn’t work. The landscape we are viewing is a harsh one where its inhabitants must use their energy for survival rather than idle chit-chat. The stripped to bones plot and dialogue is as much of an indicator of the world we have accelerated into as anything shown on screen. Mad Max: Fury Road is a film full of split-second decisions where every bullet, every drop of water and every single moment counts. Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that has no time for bullshit of any kind; it’s the fucking real deal.