Of course you knew I would be off to see Ready Player One this weekend.
I think it shows again that Metacritic is a more reliable guide than Rottentomatoes: unfortunately, it's more of a 64 than an 76. (Actually, that RT score has come down from 80-something a day or two ago.)
On the upside: even though hyperkinetic in many parts, Spielberg hyperkineticism is better than that by other directors. There is still directorial flair there, and I have to say that it puts motion capture to good use to create an immersive feeling to the virtual world.
On the downside: it's still motion capture in a virtual world. This does drain the story of real risk and consequences. I mean, as has already been said elsewhere, it is like watching while someone else plays a game at home: it may be tense and involving for the player, but after a while, the over-the-shoulder viewer gets less interested because they don't have anything at stake, and they can see that the player doesn't really either, apart from testing their own skills.
Hence, I quite liked a lot of the inventiveness of the scenario for the first half, but by the last third, I felt no real tension and the imagery became less interesting. I think the screenplay is a large part of the problem: despite the bad guys being prepared to kill, they really don't seem to put much effort into it. There are hints of how it could have been more risky for players - at one point the hero mentions that there is a weapon that can be used in virtual reality that will kill not over the avatar, but the player as well. (How is not explained, and it doesn't get referenced again.) I think this is the major issue.
That said, my son liked it more than I did, and it has the benefit of being one of those flawed movies which packs enough content that it becomes interesting to discuss the ways in which it is flawed. (I'll throw another one in - the acting is pretty curious and questionable as well.) I think the movie will do well enough at the box office, but won't be a runaway hit. But then again, I thought the same of Black Panther, so my judgement of young audience reactions is not always correct.
In another Spielbergian aspect to this Easter weekend, I had noticed that his widely panned 1979 film 1941 was about to be taken off Netflix, so I re-watched again for the first time in many years.
I still think it's a very amusing and pretty thrilling movie, and what a contrast to RP1 in that it shows all the benefits of pre-CGI movie making: scores of stunt people involved in doing risky looking things, often not as a joke itself, but just to provide the atmosphere of chaos. I remember critics disliked it because there seemed to be so much money put into it with (what they thought was) little pay off. But for some people the excess itself is part of what's funny. If you're going to make an obvious, corny joke, doing it with a dangerous and real explosion in the background makes it seem funny that they bothered doing it at all. A very "meta" way to find humour, I suppose, but it works for me.
It still looks terrific, and yet the special effects were nearly all physical - the miniature Hollywood Boulevard and amusement park were enormous, apparently, and because the action was at night, the fakery was much better hidden than would otherwise have been possible.
And besides, the soundtrack by John Williams is really him at his peak - the march theme I still find stirring, and the dance hall tune to which the great indoor dance/fight happens keeps replaying in my head.
So, yeah, I still had a pretty good Spielbergian weekend, but not quite in the way he intended...