Final Paper: Ready to Remediate - Digital Cinema’s Take on Nostalgia
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
FS348 for Professor Sandra Annett at Wilfrid Laurier University
Ready Player One, a 2018 film directed by the infamous Steven Spielberg, is a prime example of film from the digital age that takes advantage of the latest cinematic technology capabilities. This is a book-to-film adaptation from a novel published under the same title written by Ernest Cline. The film is set in 2045 and follows the protagonist, Wade Watts, on an adventure within a virtual reality world named the OASIS. The virtual world was created by the creative and notably rich James Halliday. Upon his death a challenge is released to win his estate, which puts the whole population into a thrilling race to find the Easter eggs in the OASIS. As Wade, an ultra-fan of Halliday, avoids the harshness of the outside world and partakes in the challenge, movie-goers are pulled inside the game and are able to see the fantastic OASIS as well. Full of allusions to comics, films and videogames, the OASIS is an incredible way to revisit the media of the 1980’s and see the favourited characters come to life again on the big screen. Those who grew up in the 80’s can share the excitement with their own children and flashback with their own siblings and parents as they watch the PG-rated film. I plan on showcasing the remixing techniques specifically displayed in the opening scenes and the final challenge scene, also incorporating The Shining, and the format of the contest within the OASIS game world. The film Ready Player One magnifies the digital potential of cinema by utilising pastiche, video game structures and immersive CGI as techniques of remediation to attract and entertain an audience created from a wide-variety of particular fan cultures.
To understand the techniques found in this film that portray remediation, it is of utmost importance to clarify what remediation means. Remediation is essentially a “process of mutual exchange and influence between old and new media” (Annett, 17 Sept. 2018). It involves immediacy, which “plays with our desire to be immersed in media” as well as hypermediacy, which “creates an awareness of the media being used” and therefore remediation has a double logic (Annett, 17 Sept. 2018). David J. Bolter and Richard Grusin wrote a book titled Remediation: Understanding New Media in 1999, which may have been written nineteen years ago now but is still highly relevant in developing a level of comprehension around remediation in digital technology. They claim, “our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them (Bolter & Grusin, 1999, p. 5). In Ready Player One, Wade enters the OASIS by putting on his virtual reality headset and through the camera shots and added CGI the audience is also swooped into the first-person perspective. We are made aware of the use of VR technology and also aware that we did not put on a headset ourselves and yet still have the point-of-view (POV) as if we are in the OASIS ourselves. Bolter and Grusin (1999) explain, “In order to create a sense of presence, virtual reality should come as close as possible to our daily visual experience. Its graphic space should be continuous and full of objects and should fill the viewer’s field of vision without rupture” (p. 22). As we are introduced to the virtual world, we, and most importantly Wade, can see it as hyperreal and the lines between reality and the game are blurred in the game’s structure.
However, the graphics are not something one would see as a headset is removed. This is representative of the human desire to be immersed in media. A key component to the success of the film is the willingness of the audience to believe they are in the OASIS with Wade; this is the logic of immediacy.
There was a sense in which they believed in the reality of the image, and theorists since the Renaissance have underwritten that belief. This “naive” view of immediacy is the expression of a historical desire, and it is one necessary half of the double logic of remediation. (Bolter & Grusin, 1999, p. 31)
This connects to Kristen Daly’s idea of our post modernized interactive culture: Cinema 3.0. The film follows the plot line as if it were the quest of a video game. The Arthurian context of the quest will be touched upon later, but for now there will be a focus on how this game-like scenario allows a “viewser” to engage with the film. The term “viewser” was coined by Daly in 2010 to emphasize the participatory culture of digital film. An audience does not simply sit and watch a film but is actively consuming the media and can easily imagine themselves as a part of the film. From the flips and turns in the opening sequence once “looking through” the VR goggles to seeing the visual of the game points charts and character levels, the audience gets to experience being in the OASIS without actually doing more than sitting and watching the film. It could also be aligned with Daly’s idea of Sudoku Cinema. Although a viewser is not figuring out the plot and what is happening, they are still figuring out the clues and references within the content of Ready Player One as if they are on the quest for the golden Easter egg and not just Wade’s OASIS character, Parzival (Daly, 2010, p. 90). The integration of video game structures is a capability in digital cinema that would not have been nearly as believable or near possible prior to the 1980’s.
The highly specific division of planets in the OASIS as displayed in particular by the opening scenes, but is again apparent in the quests and challenges, is made possible by the technological capabilities of digital cinema. It enables the story to be transferred from Ernest Cline’s novel into film successfully. The intertextuality of using an Arthurian storyline in film is profound and the ability to convey the action is clearly better done with digital film graphics over text in a book. Less is left to the imagination and instead the audience can see the fantastical world that Parzival adventures through during the film. Without CGI technology, many of the references would not be as realistic and the pastiche of characters would not melt together as seamlessly. There is an effortless look to the way the different films, cartoons and more blend together within the film with appropriate lighting, scale and textures. The movement of the “camera” through the digital space is incredibly smooth and the transitions from Parzival’s perspective to establishing shots allows for a viewer to be encapsulated within the medium. When viewing the film on a wide screen, audience members can feel as if they are directly in the game; they have entered the OASIS.
Aronstein and Thompson (2015) develop an argument based on the development of the game play and game mechanics (p. 52). The game’s structure follows the Arthurian narrative of the quest to find the Holy Grail, which is outlined in Cline’s novel (Aronstein & Thompson, 2015, p. 52). The pastiche of theme is carried one step further in the film as the plot carries over into another medium. The narrative moves from legend to the video game context to be in the novel to digital film. Through the narrative, Wade comes to the conclusion that just as a typical video game progresses, once a challenge was won or figured out the next level would be more difficult and “often require an entirely new strategy” (Aronstein & Thompson, 2015, p. 62).
Aronstein and Thompson (2015) also indicate that Ready Player One’s (the novel) “Arthurian references seem to function merely as fragments of trivia, the recognition of which establishes both the hero’s and the readers’ nerd-cred” (p. 52). The geek and nerd-cred that viewers who understand the references get while consuming the film in a group setting or reflecting afterwards is of high stance. There is an extreme amount of possible prior knowledge to have and bring to the discussion table for this film. This geekiness is celebrated in the film because without the intense passion towards Halliday, Parzival would not have been able to finish the levels. “The geek cred [is] apparently central to success in the game” (Aronstein & Thompson, 2015, p. 58). Another moment of remix cinema in Ready Player One comes with the use of the hotel from The Shining as a part of a quest for a key. The whole setting is that of another movie. For those who have not seen this other film, the scene has a completely different meaning than that of a fan of the film or of someone who has at least seen The Shining previously. There is a benefit in having popular culture insight and these viewers would be able to anticipate the progression of this scene.
The hypermediated characters from 80’s comics, television and film that are displayed in the film also fit into Daly’s idea of remix cinema. “On the opening page of Understanding Media (1964), Marshall McLuhan remarked that “the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium” (quoted in Bolter and Grusin, 1999, p. 45). The act of remixing is essentially taking pieces of one medium and putting it into another. By recognizing the elements that “do not belong” we are made aware of the medium change itself. However, this is not a cause for alarm but seems to ignite excitement. Walter Metz (2018) wrote:
The magic spell that defeats the evil corporation from winning the game in the OASIS is exactly the one uttered by Merlin (Nicol Williamson) thirty-seven years ago. When my son, Charles leaned over and asked me what reference that was, I knew that we were sharing a moment of intergenerational bliss.
The act of remixing cinema both through image and script is a crucial component in the film’s positive reception. The character and object cameos add that extra layer of meaning to the film. There is plenty of nostalgia no matter if a viewer likes Batman, Star Trek, Back to the Future or even Hello Kitty. The fact that Ready Player One covers such a vast quantity of fandoms allows pretty much everyone to experience the thrill from an older medium or different digital film. Russo and Watkins (2007) clarify that remediation is the refashioning of information (p. 154). The inserting of a fan-favourite character into Ready Player One gives the film viewer a new experience. Russo and Watkins also note that each experience is different, and this is due to the various memories or previous encounters with a character and the relationship between this and the “real” (p. 155). This film acts as a social space or text layered as pastiche. It provides a place “where audiences can gather to navigate and interact with knowledge systems and with each other” (p.155). The audience is able to bond over the cameos, and there are more than 100 different ones to find. The film promotes the engagement between a variety of generations and not one specific age-group. The pastiche of intertextuality in this film is a visual representation of the fans layered and connected in this digital film’s fanbase. There is a “database of references… and a viewser is encouraged to make the associations, links, and collective collaborations necessary to sort them out,” just like in many Tarantino movies (Daly, 2010, p. 88). The game itself to win Halliday’s fortune is introduced with a Star Trek reference. The scene involves the funeral of Halliday and Halliday is inside the iconic casket. By allocating an entire planet in the OASIS to Star Trek, Trekkies will share these references with other fans across social media and nerd-out over seeing their favourite enterprise.
Finally Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as a film but also as the original Roald Dahl book, informs the plot of Ready Player One. Helle Kannik Haastrup critiques intertextuality and in particular comments on Umberto Eco’s theory that “in order to have a function, intertextuality must be able to be acknowledged by the viewer” (quoted in Haastrup, 2014, p. 87). Haastrup indicates that intertextuality is a form of storytelling in remediation (2014). The final step of the game to win Halliday’s estate involves undeniable trust. Similar to the trust placed in Charlie Bucket after he returns the everlasting gobstopper to Willy Wonka and stops the spread of the candy secrets from getting in the hands of Slugworth, another candy maker, Parzival displays that he too is a “worthy heir”, but in his case to the grand riches of Halliday and to be in control of the OASIS (Metz, 2018).
The trend of including past texts in new media is not a new concept. Remediation has occurred for many years bringing paintings into photography and other mediums influencing the use and meaning of others. Currently in postmodern ideology there is an increased desire to hold onto the past, which contrasts the modern pattern of looking towards a hopeful future. This is where we can see the joys of remediation impacting the film industry. We return to older texts and create fresh memories alongside the nostalgic feelings of childhood. Disney is going through a boom of live-action remakes with plenty of CGI to move the animal characters and display the magic of the classic films. A prediction could be that there will be more remakes created as directors run out of hope for a prosperous future and lean on the good tales of the past and only update their content with relevant technological effects. Ready Player One is just one example of great filmmaking of the late 2010’s using CGI, postmodernist pastiche and is a clear example of how remediation can be used in film. This film is most definitely a product of its time, but of course is simultaneously a product of many “times”. The film without its historic cameos and use of digital technique would be a basic Arthurian tale. However, it is the digital elements that bring the story to its full potential as a feature film and bring together a passionate fanbase that ranges beyond 30 years with more to come.
Annett, Sandra. “The Double Logic of Remediation.” FS348 Film Theory in the Digital Age, 17 Sept. 2018, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON. Lecture.
Aronstein, Susan and Jason Thompson. "Coding the Grail: Ready Player One’s Arthurian Mash-Up." Arthuriana, vol. 25 no. 4, 2015, pp. 51-65. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/art.2015.0045. Accessed 13 Nov. 2018.
Bolter, J. David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. The MIT Press, 1999.
Daly, Kristen. “Cinema 3.0: The Interactive-Image.” Cinema Journal, vol. 50, no. 1, 2010. Accessed 3 Dec. 2018.
Haastrup, Helle Kannik. “Storytelling Intertextuality.” Film International, vol. 12, no. 1, 2014, http://web.a.ebscohost.com.libproxy.wlu.ca/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=e7296db1-32c2-41ce-b4bb-f866b0372f94%40sessionmgr4008. Accessed 13 Nov. 2018.
Metz, Walter. “‘So Shines a Good Deed in a Weary World’”: Intertextuality in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018).” Film Criticism, vol. 42, no. 4, 2018, http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/fc.13761232.0042.402. Accessed 13 Nov. 2018.
Russo, Angelina and Jerry Watkins. “Digital Cultural Communication: Audience and Remediation.” Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage, edited by Fiona Cameron and Sarah Kenderdine, The MIT Press, 2007, pp. 149-164.
Spielberg, Steven, director. Ready Player One. Warner Home Video, 2018.