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I make terrible predictions. That's what I do. I have a long, storied history of making very big, bold predictions that not only wind up being a little off, but being the MOST off possible. Like, not even close to right. Like, declaring there will NEVER be Star Wars sequels or that Deadpool would be a box office bomb.

So in an effort to hold myself more accountable, I'm doing predictions on a weekly basis here on Dorkly, all related to my typical nerd stuff. And for each prediction I get wrong, I'll actually have a price to pay - so here's this week's prediction, and the punishment I'll endure if I miss the mark.

...and this week marks something SPECIAL. See, over the weekend I was thinking about what lunk-headed prediction to make, and I settled on predicting the upcoming adaptation of Ready Player One would wind up with a Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes - which would be Spielberg's first Rotten film (as a director) in over 20 years. But then the film lifted its review embargo early on Monday, and the reviews have been largely positive, settling in the mid-70s so far.

So - I was so bad at predictions, that I LOST my prediction before this article (the SECOND in a series) was even published. It is not an encouraging development.

For the sake of honesty and transparency, the remainder of the article will go ahead as I wrote it - EVEN THOUGH IT IS NOW RETROACTIVELY COMPLETELY WRONG AND I LOOK LIKE A HUGE IDIOT (well, huger than usual). I swear to you I'm not purposely making dumb predictions - this was honestly something I believed in, and now (IN ONLY WEEK 2) I'm already the wrongest possible.



Prediction:

Ready Player One will have a sub-60% critics' score on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the first Steven Spielberg-directed feature in 20 years to be rated 'Rotten' by the site



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Steven Spielberg is one of the most acclaimed and successful directors in film history - he's got countless Oscars to his name, numerous cultural classics under his belt, and his name has become synonymous with quality. On that note, he has an incredible track record with his films' receptions - the last movie he directed that was rated 'Rotten' on RottenTomatoes was over 20 years ago, The Lost World: Jurassic Park. In his entire feature film career, he's only ever directed three films ever that were rated below 60% Fresh on RottenTomatoes - The Lost World, Hook, and 1941. And that's across a career spanning nearly half a century.

But he's about to have his first Rotten-rated film in the new millenium - Ready Player One.

Ready Player One always seemed like an odd fit for Spielberg - hell, so much of the novel is wrapped up in the kind of 1980s nostalgia that Spielberg himself helped define. Numerous properties that he directed or produced are major references or plot points in the book, so the idea of him directing the screen adaptation seemed a little too on-the-nose. But hey - maybe he was charmed by how loving the book was towards Spielberg's golden era and it struck a chord with him. And maybe he just felt it was the right property to get him back into the adventure blockbuster arena (which he hasn't really delved into in a while - not really since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, unless you count his motion capture experiment The Adventures of Tintin).

But from every sign we've seen, this film looks like it's going to be a horrendous mess.

Let's start with the source material - and I should say upfront that I have never actually read the book, so my criticisms are largely surface-level and baseless, but I've never let "not having any actual information" keep me back from having an opinion before. Literally everything I've seen of the book itself has made me want to cringe so hard that my face goes supernova and collapses into a black hole of embarrassment and shame. It reads like a cruel parody of nerd culture - like someone straight up mocking the entire idea of what nerds enjoy. I've heard it described as "50 Shades of Grey" for geeks, and - man - that sounds just about right.

It's the kind of awkward self-insert fan fiction you might write when you're - I dunno - 11 years old? Again, I haven't read the book - so maybe paragraphs like this are few and far between. But the mere existence of this paragraph as a sincere attempt at sounding cool makes me feel woozy - for everyone who says The Big Bang Theory is insulting and degrading to nerds, I think we need to realize this book is the true slander. It's the worst, most juvenile stereotyping of nerds I've ever seen - like all nerds care about is references, devoid of context or substance.

Personal criticisms of the book aside (not that I'm alone in this - plenty of other trusted people have loathed this book), it simply looks terrible. You'd think a big budget action-adventure movie from Steven Spielberg would be able to pull together some effective and inspiring marketing materials, but what we've seen so far has been...lacking.

The posters for the film have notably come in two varieties so far -

 

Elongated-Leg Kid

 

REFERENCES!!!

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See the rest here

 

It's this 2nd thing that is the biggest cause for concern - beyond the fact that most of these "homage" posters are awkwardly photoshopped, ugly nonsense, so much of the film hinges entirely on references to better, more self-contained films. The problem with heavily referencing movies like The Iron Giant and Back To the Future and The Matrix is that you're making something dependent on callbacks to other movies the audience naturally have more affinity for, as they already saw and fell in love with all of those films. They have nostalgia for those things you're referencing so heavily - and you're just reminding them that they'd rather be watching THOSE MOVIES.

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Now, you might be arguing "What about Who Framed Roger Rabbit? That movie was FILLED TO THE BRIM with references, and it was great!" And you're right in one regard - Who Framed Roger Rabbit? WAS great. A really spectacular, impressive film - and one that was produced by none other than Steven Spielberg! The big difference there is that the references and cameos were all just window dressing - all the main characters were original, none of the plot points were really dependent on specific things from Looney Tunes or Disney, and it was more based around the tropes of a specific genre (mid-century animation). Also, it was just so goddamn good.

RPO isn't quite the same - there is no one thing it's playing off of, it's just using the general pastiche of 'nostalgia.' It's not even looking at sticking to one particular time period, really - the references seem widened from its book version to include much more updated games and films, even up to the present day (Overwatch is represented!). And - if you've read the book - you'll know the plot REVOLVES around specific knowledge of 80s pop culture references. It's not just window dressing - it's the entire spine of the story.


Again, though - this is one guy's subjective take. Let's discuss the three films where Spielberg really went wrong and landed himself with a Rotten score (it should be mentioned The Terminal is RIGHT on the edge of being Rotten, but not quite over the line): 1941, Hook, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Realistically we should only discuss Hook and The Lost World, as 1941 was pretty much an unmitigated disaster from start to finish, and occurred early enough in Spielberg's career that he fully admits to not really knowing what his career even was at that point. It's no surprise Spielberg hasn't really done a pure comedy since.

Hook and The Lost World are both films that hinge entirely on fond memories of better movies - The Lost World was made off of the runaway success of Jurassic Park, but lost all of that film's magic by watering down Ian Malcolm from a quirky mathematician bad boy into a concerned dad whose daughter did gymnastics to fight raptors. And Hook was just...well, I know a lot of people have a lot of fondness for Hook, but it's really not very good. It takes the core element that always made Peter Pan work (the boy who never grew up) and does the exact opposite with it. It relies on you loving Peter Pan...but then destroys the most interesting element of Peter Pan. Rufio is cool though.

There is one other film in Spielberg's ouevre that really falls into this trap though - and it DOES have a Fresh rating: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The nice thing about the first three Indy movies is that they all are somewhat free-standing and don't rely almost at all on the previous films. Indy gets new allies, finds new enemies, and gets into totally new adventures in each one (minus Marcus and Sallah's small roles in Last Crusade). Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was different though - so much of the film was dependent on callbacks to previous films (Marion's major role through the film, the peek at the Ark of the Covenant and the return to the warehouse, etc.) that it felt like the thing they were trying to avoid - a weary franchise past its sell-by date desperately trying to recapture that old magic and failing. It's not a TERRIBLE film, but it's certainly not a good one, and ranks amongst Spielberg's worst work. My gut tells me it only has a Fresh rating because so many critics were overcome by nostalgic pining for this KIND of movie, and gave it a pass because it was a mildly competent Indiana Jones film.

The same is true with Ready Player One - it's all about reminding you of movies you already liked, and hoping that'll be enough to get you to like THIS one. These are movies, however, that DIDN'T rely on cheap references - they made you love their original characters and worlds, they told interesting stories that didn't depend on nostalgia, they immersed you in a new world. RPO is the opposite of all of that, and that's a bummer.

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And just to touch on this: the screenplay for the final film is credited to Zak Penn and Ernest Cline. Ernest Cline's only other screenwriting credit is Fanboys, a mid-2000s movie with a troubled release history and a plotline entirely dependent on fans really excited about Star Wars (the film is okay, but mostly just a shallow excuse to make lots and lots and lots of Star Wars references). Ernest Cline is also just the author of RPO, so his involvement with the film isn't surprising or really inspiring anything will change significantly from his original vision. So let's take a look at the real wild card here - Zak Penn.

I have nothing against Zak Penn, who DOES have some solid films to his name (like X2), but the rest of his output is...questionable, at best. Inspector Gadget, Elektra, X-Men: The Last Stand? Yikes. One minor bright spot in his recent credits is 2012's The Avengers, credited to himself and Joss Whedon. But not all is as it appears. In a piece in Vanity Fair, it was revealed that Joss Whedon had entirely thrown out Penn's script, but Penn was still credited due to WGA guidelines. Whedon said his draft was so bad, that Marvel should throw it out and "pretend like it never happened."

So, that's not a very encouraging signal.

Between bad source material, bad precedent, bad marketing materials, and a bad screenwriting history, I'm pretty confident in saying Ready Player One will be Spielberg's first Rotten rated film in over 20 years.



WHAT HAPPENS IF I'M WRONG

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Well, let's be honest here - I'm wrong a lot. And of all the directors to underestimate in this day and age, Spielberg isn't really at the top of the list. He's one of the most successful and respected directors in Hollywood for a reason - he (usually) makes damn good films. He ALSO has a history of turning out AMAZING movies based on mediocre books. Jaws is nothing special (and maybe even outright terrible) and Jurassic Park is a much duller affair as a novel (the climax involves a lot of patience and rolling eggs, less crazy chases and deus ex T-Rex). So there's a damn good chance this movie could be good - or at least good enough to eke out a Fresh rating on RottenTomatoes (lest we forget that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull sits at 77%).

So, if I'm wrong, I'll commit to the Ready Player One lifestyle and wear the above shirt nonstop for a full week. Yes, I will adorn myself in References to nerdy stuff, just like in Ready Player One. I'll endure complaints from my wife, dismissive looks from strangers, and nonstop ribbing from my co-workers all because I was too blind to see that Spielberg wouldn't make a dud.





HEY SO I'M ALREADY WRONG AS HELL, SO I GUESS I HAVE TO BUY THIS STUPID SHIRT AND WEAR IT FOR A WEEK, GODDAMN IT.