Movie: Ready Player One

"Ready Player One"

In the year 2045, people can escape their harsh reality in the OASIS, an immersive virtual world where you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. OASIS creator James Halliday left his immense fortune and control of the Oasis to the winner of a contest designed to find a worthy heir. When unlikely hero Wade Watts conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends–known as the High Five–are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS and their world.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple of weeks now–not because I didn’t have anything to write about, but because I wanted to read the book first before I wrote down my thoughts about the movie. And I’m glad I did. Because now I can safely say that I prefer the film version to the source material.

Don’t get me wrong: Ready Player One is a good novel. It’s engaging, for the most part, and it has a great story structure. But the Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation is easier to like. And here are my reasons why:

The film is more pop-culture savvy. A lot of movie reviews have cited that the movie adaptation favored films in its quests and easter eggs. And it is true. But what a lot of them fail to mention is that the film is more aware of what’s popular to the mainstream audience. Not everyone is familiar with the old generation gaming platforms, much less their games. There were a lot of references in the book that flew over my head. So I believe that the film strikes a good balance of including what’s popular, while sticking in obscure references that feels like they were taken from the novel.

The characters are given more to do. The biggest difference between books and TV/film adaptations is the fact that the latter needs to cutaway to what’s happening elsewhere. Books have the luxury of pages, where they can focus on their main protagonist while slowly unraveling the development and objectives of other characters. With those pages, books can foreshadow and plant plot devices that they can harvest later on. TV and movies don’t have the same luxury–and are often restricted by budget and time.

With Ready Player One‘s source material, almost all decisive action comes from our protagonist Wade Watts. And, as such, most of the other characters feel half-baked. Love interest Art3mis doesn’t feel real–even during the final pages, when she and Wade finally meet in person. And there’s even less for players Aech, Daito, and Shoto to do. And here’s where the time constraints of a film worked in favor of the other characters. Because we can’t have hours upon hours of Wade just agonizing over clues, the movie utilized the other characters to figure things out faster than Wade does–or have them become a sounding board for Wade to talk things out with. And, in doing so, the characters feel more developed. Although, to be honest, they’re still not developed enough.

Pacing-wise, the film automatically wins because it’s only a couple of hours long. But more than that, it doesn’t fall into long periods of non-activity like the book. In the novel, when Wade is stuck on something, it feels like author Ernest Cline want us to feel just as stuck as he is. There were a handful of instances when I actually told the book to “get a move on” aloud.

Another thing I thought the film did better is the insertion of Ogden Morrow’s character. The reveal of his character felt like a brilliant move in the film–but in the novel, he quickly read as deus-ex-machina. That said, the book does get to expound more on who Ogden Morrow is, and who he became–but that’s the luxury of pages.

When it comes to the actual challenges though, I’m more split. I love that the movie made the challenges more visual and more personal… But I really liked the novel’s way of complicating the third quest. Both the film and the novel underlines the importance of relationships, but it’s the book that highlights its need better.

And speaking of what the book does better– I also think the novel was better at upping the stakes. The movie puts all the characters in one city, while the book has three of them living outside the US. And then there’s the tension. While the film shows early on how formidable the villains are, they become pretty tame as the rest of the movie unfolds. The book actually allows the villains to kill off one of the heroes.

Now with all this said… I feel like there’s enough of a distinction between the novel and the movie version of Ready Player One that they should be treated as separate entities. They have the same characters and premise, yes, and they do have a similar plot structure. But the things that happen in between? The hows and whys that push the story forward? They’re all pretty much different.

But I still like the movie better.

Book: Crystal Keepers (Five Kingdoms, Book 3)

"Crystal Keepers"

Cole Randolph still can’t believe the way his life has turned inside out. Stuck in a strange land far from his home, he has found his friend Dalton and has survived the first two kingdoms of the Outskirts, but none of that has prepared him for the magnetic highways and robotic bounty hunters of Zeropolis.

Ruled by Abram Trench, the one Grand Shaper who stayed loyal to the evil High King, the government of Zeropolis uses advanced technologies to keep tight control. Luckily, the resistance in Zeropolis is anchored by the Crystal Keepers–a group of young rebels with unique weapons.

On the run from the High King’s secret police, Cole and Dalton hope to find more of their lost friends and help Mira locate her sister Constance. But as their enemies ruthlessly dismantle the resistance, time is running out for Cole to uncover the secrets behind the Zeropolitan government and unravel the mystery of who helped the High King steal his daughters’ powers.

In Crystal Keepers, we finally get a story that feels original and not a retread of a previous adventure. As Cole and our other journeying protagonists enter the kingdom of Zeropolis, we’re treated to a world unlike we’ve seen in previous Brandon Mull novels–a technologically-advanced one.

The change of milieu really helps the storytelling feel fresh, as the checklist of things that need to happen author Mull employed in Rogue Knight doesn’t pop up here. The adventures are new, as are the dangers–which makes Crystal Keepers a page-turner. You don’t have an idea what’s going to happen next.

Now, I don’t know if this was a case of lowered expectations, but I really enjoyed reading the third installment off the Five Kingdoms series. Crystal Keepers feels action-packed without being overdone, and the pacing is slow enough to let the characters breathe and process what’s going on around them.

What I like best about this book is the fact that the writer is finally coloring in the characters that have, so far, only been mentioned and not seen. We’re starting to see how perception plays into the story, and how not everything is as black-and-white as previously thought. And yet, although a few chapters is given to the ongoing main arc, it doesn’t feel like a big break from the book’s own story line. It’s still pushing the book’s plot forward while pushing the bigger picture.

With the introduction of new characters, the ones we’ve been traveling with since the first book also come off a little better. To be honest, in Rogue Knight, our protagonists were starting to grate on my nerves. So the addition of new personalities and voices were very welcome, to water down my annoyance at the constant bickering between Cole and fellow traveler Jace.

There were still a few parts of the book that I wasn’t fond off–parts that felt obvious foreshadowing and device-planting. But on the whole, they didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the book. And I highly doubt that the intended readers of the series would be too discerning about obvious plot devices.

All that said, there is one twist that I’m still on the fence about.

In the first two books, there happened to be a great unexplainable being that’s causing mayhem in whatever kingdom they were in. Beings that turn out to be a personification of the princesses stolen powers. I was on the look out for the same device here, in the third book, but it didn’t appear until the last few chapters.

And, no, I don’t mean that it didn’t appear physically until the last few chapters. I mean that there was no sign of it at all until it needed to be the big villain.

Now, on the one hand, I really liked how Brandon Mull tried to change it up and not repeat what he did before. But, on the other hand, I’m not a fan of a third-act reveal of an enemy that needs to be defeated; one that the book needs to end big at that.

I guess I’ll just have to hope that this doesn’t happen again in the remaining two novels off the Five Kingdoms series.

I’m crossing my fingers.

Book: Dollhouse Epitaphs

Joss Whedon's Dollhouse: EpitaphsIn every major city, Dollhouses provided wealthy clients with any kind of companionship they required. For a price, beautiful young men and women opted to have their minds wiped clean, turning themselves into “dolls” who could be imprinted with computer-enhanced personalities and skills—to fit any buyer’s request. Now the Dollhouse technology has gone viral. . .

Dollhouse: Epitaphs is based on the television series created by Joss Whedon for actress Eliza Dushku. What started out as a project to showcase Eliza’s acting abilities quickly became something else, when the genius of Whedon combined elements of scary science-fiction with what is already possible in the real world: and what we have is Epitaphs.

The comic book is just the beginning of a series, if I’m not mistaken. Jed Whedon (brother of aforementioned Joss) and wife Marissa Tancharoen wrote two post-apocalyptic finales for Dollhouse when it was still on air. This time, they’re taking that future into the world of comics with the help of the talented Cliff Richards’ art.

Epitaphs deals with what happens when a powerful technology, like mind-wiping, gets into the wrong hands. The season one finale of Dollhouse dealt with a group of Los Angeles survivors trying to find a safe place away from technology that could mind wipe them, and their eventual escape. Dollhouse: Epitaphs takes us to Day One of the apocalypse.

We don’t get talking heads—characters that explain why what’s happening is happening. Instead we get dropped smack dab into the day of the apocalypse, with the three main characters of Epitaph One and the twist hero of Epitaph Two. We see a semblance of their normal lives before everything gets wrecked—and then we see them band together.

What I liked about Dollhouse: Epitaphs was the little things we learn about the characters; as well as the plot-fill of how the twist hero of Epitaph Two managed to make an army of his own. But as a standalone, I don’t think this particular story works. We only get the beginning. For the rest of the story, you’ll need to watch the Epitaph One episode. And probably grab the next issue: Dollhouse #1 when it does come out.

That’s the thing about comic books, isn’t it? You never get the whole story—unless you buy the next issue. It’s a marketing genius. Except I don’t think I’ll be following the comic series when it does begin this July. Why? Well, for one thing, it took me months to find an issue of Epitaphs. Apparently, our comic book stores rarely buy issues from independent publishers. And even when they do, they only get a few to make sure they don’t lose money.

Good thing for them, bad thing for us fans. But can I blame them? Not really. They’re running a business! But I sure am allowed to be disappointed that some independent titles aren’t getting released here.

artemis fowl: the atlantis complex

"the atlantis complex" by eoin colferhow the mighty has fallen.

in the beginnning, artemis fowl was a criminal mastermind — and he was only twelve years old.  three years later, nine in our time, he is fifteen years old and is not the boy he used to be. for one thing, he no longer thinks like a criminal. which should be a good thing, but when you’re reading about a young criminal mastermind, you kind of expect criminal thoughts.

then again, THE ATLANTIS COMPLEX doesn’t promote artemis as a criminal mastermind anymore.

Artemis has committed his entire fortune to a project he believes will save the planet and its inhabitants, both human and fairy. Can it be true? Has goodness taken hold of the world’s greatest teenage criminal mastermind?

Captain Holly Short is unconvinced, and discovers that Artemis is suffering from Atlantis Complex, a psychosis common in guilt-ridden fairies, not humans, and most likely triggered in Artemis by his dabbling in fairy magic. Symptoms include obsessive-compulsive behavior, paranoia, multiple personality disorder and, in extreme cases, embarrassing professions of love to a certain feisty LEPrecon fairy.

Unfortunately, Atlantis Complex has struck at the worst possible time. A deadly foe from Holly’s past is intent on destroying the actual city of Atlantis. Can Artemis escape the confines of his mind — and the grips of a giant squid — in time to save the underwater metropolis and its fairy inhabitants?

ARTEMIS FOWL: THE ATLANTIS COMPLEX seems to be an exercise in futility. i have enjoyed the previous six books of the ARTEMIS FOWL series immensely, and i was excited to read this latest installment because of the catchy blurb. and for the first time since i met artemis fowl, i was disappointed. heck, i had to fight off sleep throughout the time i was reading the book. and that’s when i know the book had lost my interest. i feel asleep twice while reading.

but why do i say it’s an exercise in futility? well, first of all there’s “the project” which the blurb describes as something that would save the world, for both humans and fairies. it reads and feels like a plot device, and for all intents and purposes, it was a plot device. to make sure that artemis and a few other characters would be at a certain place at a certain time. and then, when it does get mentioned again, it is only mentioned in passing.

this is the first time i start questioning the book. “the project.” it gets described in detail, and it is mentioned that artemis has spent quite some time developing it. since they’ve mentioned that the atlantis complex was doing things to artemis’s mind, i would’ve have chalked up the simplicity of the plans as a result of artemis’s deteriorating condition. but foaly, the genius centaur character, is actually impressed with the plan. and i don’t buy it.

the plan is child’s play for the old artemis. and the old foaly would never be impressed with the simplicity of the plan, because he would’ve already thought of it.

don’t worry, that’s not a real spoiler. “the project” really doesn’t play a part in the main story thread of the book — which i also found problematic.

once the villain is introduced, the book begins to pick up pace. and i would be lying if i said the book was not enjoyable. it was. it just wasn’t as good as the previous books. and things begin to get predictable near the end. i guess that’s the problem when you have to keep upping your a-game as you progress in your series.

but having been impressed with the complexities of THE TIME PARADOX, which was the book preceding THE ATLANTIS COMPLEX, i was expecting something in the same level. or at least around that level of genius. okay, maybe genius is too strong a word. but i was definitely looking for something that doesn’t cop out in the end.

THE ATLANTIS COMPLEX builds up this villain that would do anything — anything — to get what he wants. and in the end, well, the end was just disappointing. with a few pages left, i was wondering how the author would tie up everything. i wasn’t expecting a neat tie-up, but a good one. what i got was a cop-out. and i can’t really extrapolate without giving the whole plot away.

and don’t get me started on the actual atlantis complex. it’s a great psychosis, actually. i just didn’t like how it was played up for its comedy. it had so much potential for tension, for suspense — but instead we get a bumbling alter-ego, and a lot of numbers mumbo-jumbo.

also, this is my first ARTEMIS FOWL book with the new cover. while it does look better than the old covers, i really dislike the fact the publishers would change the look of the books midway through the series. the least they could have done was released a version with the old look as well. it’s as if they want die-hard collectors to repurchase the old books just so everything would look uniform. which i don’t plan to do.

oh well.

to conclude, ARTEMIS FOWL: THE ATLANTIS COMPLEX is definitely a disappointment to me.