By Roy Sevilla Ho
Manila – When I first heard that a film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One was on its way, I had to think long and hard about whether it is even filmable in the first place. But judging from its exciting first trailer that was recently released in this year’s San Diego Comic Con, it looks like it’s going to pull off what I thought was impossible. I had thought a perfect director for the film would be someone like the kinetic Edgar Wright, but the chair went to Steven Spielberg, who I was concerned was past his glory days. Upon mulling it over further, of course, it had to be Spielberg. Ultimately, Ready Player One is a love song to the trappings of the 1980s, who else to helm it then but one of that decade’s most prolific imagineers.
What is Old is New Again
The book is set in the dystopian near-future and reads like a novelization of a video game or an RPG campaign module. Facing the depletion of fossil fuels and the effects of global warming, the denizens of this world find refuge in an all-encompassing digitally simulated universe, an MMO world that has evolved into a three dimensional alternate reality. Students log in to study in virtual classrooms and, when school is out, perform quests and hunt monsters for coins, now the most stable currency in the world. However, years before, the programmer who created the world dies and in his will reveals that he has hidden his entire fortune as an easter egg within the virtual world and left clues to its location in the form of challenges and puzzles that stem from the programmer’s love for the 1980s: its films, its cartoons, its music, its video games, everything. And so a worldwide obsession with the 1980s takes hold and the treasure hunt begins.
Ready Player One has become one of the Holy Scriptures of geekdom. Not surprising then that its main attraction is the unending pieces of obscure trivia and waxing nostalgic about growing up in the 80s the novel lays out. An intellectual gauntlet is thrown and who ever picks up the reference is deemed a worthy challenger and a kindred spirit. Who was Superman’s mermaid girlfriend? What level does a Dungeons and Dragons wizard have to be to cast a fireball? What was the name of the evil car in Knight Rider? This is a typical characteristic of the garden variety geek in real life, no matter where they’re from. Jesus, just read this blog and you will see many examples. It was like sending out a coded message to see if whoever was listening was a fellow member of some secret fraternity of fanboys.
Martial Law Geek
The book was a religious experience for me as I was, in fact, a teenaged nerd in the 1980s. Not the adorable ones that became the sidekicks in John Hughes films, more like Booger from Revenge of the Nerds. I was living in Cebu City but would spend my summers in Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles with my grandmother and my uncle and aunt, who had no children of their own. So it was mostly me and their golden retriever, Rainier, parked on a bean bag watching cartoons and eating Cocoa Pebbles.
When I would come back home to Cebu, I couldn’t really fit in with most of the other kids as I watched different shows, played with different toys and listened to different music. Most of the 80s was under the Marcos regime, so the music comes a few months after they’ve been released and some of the movies may pop up in a VHS rental shop. Some of the richer kids had an Atari 2600, I knew another guy who had a Commodore 64, but I was the only kid I knew that owned Mattel’s kick-ass Intellivision gaming system, so I had quite a few friends come over to play. Even the fact that I had spent time in America was a novel thing in those days, as it was much more difficult to get to travel during Martial Law.
So I always had the impression that I was set apart by the things that I was fascinated by since very few could relate. I was astounded then at how much of the factoids that Cline was churning out spoke to me on an emotional level. My first love was Judy Jetson. I have much love for movies like The Last Starfighter and WarGames, even forgotten gems (or so I thought) like Hawk the Slayer and Krull. Rush is still one of my favorite bands. As the book wound down I think Ready Player One had touched on almost everything I ever geeked out about and things I thought no one else remembered. Cline threw out a gauntlet and a multitude of nerds responded. I know I did. Looking back now, it is comforting to know you were never as alone as you once thought.
About the writer: Roy Sevilla Ho is a Manila-based movie writer and director. His blog, ZAPRUDER, is the same name for his entertainment and culture column of The Freeman Newspaper in Cebu in the late 1990s. ZAPRUDER is named after Abraham Zapruder, the most famous accidental film maker who shot a home video and inadvertently captured the assassination of Pres. Kennedy. Roy, by organic constitution, is not an accidental filmmaker. Begin to enjoy his blog and catch him on Twitter @roysevillaho.