Pop Art and Ready Player One


March was a great month for film! Two weeks ago, I watched A Wrinkle in Time. Last weekend, we trekked back to the theater to catch the adaptation of Ready Player One based on the book by Ernest Cline.

As many of the reviews of this movie have stated, this was a free-for-all pop-culture-filled story containing nearly every 80s film and arcade game reference possible. I’m not hugely into the 80s, given that I was born in the middle of the decade. But I loved the book and was equally excited for the movie!

In the reviews, there was talk about fanboys and fangirls, weaponizing of The Iron Giant and the fact that Ernest Cline got to work with one of his idols, Steven Spielberg. But the one thing that no one (at least not as far as I’ve seen) has talked about is the pop art references that pervade this film.

I’m nowhere near being an expert on art history, but it’s the artistic references used in this film that really got my head turning. Every time Wade and Samantha enter the Oasis, their avatars, Parzival and Artemis, are decked out in the dots reminiscent of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art movement. According to theartstory.org, pop art is a modern art form characterized by mass culture objects. NPR talks about the “comic book look” of Lichtenstein’s most famous pieces. Both of these concepts work really well with the arc of Cline’s story.

Perhaps the directorial choice of pop art dots goes no deeper than the comic book reference. After all, according to Wade, you can do anything in the Oasis, even climb Mount Everest with Batman. While a lot of Ernest Cline’s 80s references are a celebration of everything 80s, I think the concept does go a bit deeper than this, even if he didn’t intend it. The glorifying of everything means you are celebrating only artifice and the invention of something that is not real, which hints at the message beneath all the video games.

The use of the pop art dots to suggest when the characters are in the Oasis was a deliberate choice and goes right along with the first of Cline’s intentions, to celebrate the stories, music and gaming that are both part of his formative years. It’s a smart way of helping to mark when the characters travel from the real world into the artificial realm of the Oasis.

Dots as an artistic mechanism are nothing new in art, of course. They are a huge part of the impressionism movement too. But, there’s nothing quite like dots to suggest the millions of pixels that create an image on the web – when you’re in a completely different medium and telling a story on film.

The film adaptation of Ready Player One was a wild visual ride. I loved seeing the action scenes I read in the book portrayed on screen and even though I’m not a huge 80s pop culture enthusiast, I still enjoyed seeing characters from other famous films and comic books I recognized brought to life on screen. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, I’m all about the story and the interpretation. It’s pretty infrequently that a director’s interpretation gets in the way of my enjoyment of watching a story I’ve read played out on screen.

Have you checked out the movie? What were your thoughts on the experience? Please share in the comments!

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