Ready Player One Shining Scene

Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them

One of the big selling points in the trailers for Ready Player One is the combination of popular culture from different studios, media, etc. Look, there’s Freddy Krueger! (Bad news: if you saw the trailer, you have seen that character’s entire appearance.) Hey, look, King Kong! The T-Rex from Jurassic Park! Other stuff! The detailed invocation of The Shining is unquestionably unexpected, and one of the film’s few pleasant surprises. But its use of this classic speaks to the generally hollow pop-culture references throughout the film, no matter who’s credited as director.

In my description of what happens in this sequence in Ready Player One, you may have noticed a couple of people in The Shining who I haven’t mentioned yet, like, say, Jack Torrance or his wife Wendy, or their son Danny, or the kindly caretaker Mr. Hallorann. That’s because, while this brief sequence shows us Room 237, the Gold Room, and the outdoor labyrinth at nighttime in the snow, none of the characters who speak or act or emote in The Shining appear in this film. The movie is invoked less for its terror — if you’ve seen the film, you may enjoy it more than if you’re clueless as to why there are creepy twins or gushing blood — than for King’s loathing of the adaptation.

There’s also a microcosm of the film’s problem with its female characters in this sequence. It’s a good thing that Art3mis gets to have a heroic moment, but don’t think too long about the circumstances that led her to this point. She’s saving an avatar of a woman who went on one date with a guy who then created that avatar to be perpetually stuck in a horrific dance with members of the undead unless she’s rescued by someone who thinks and acts exactly the way that Halliday would. (Ready Player One isn’t entirely against criticizing its characters, but does so only briefly; when Halliday explains to his colleague that Karen/Kira wanted to go dancing, he immediately says, “So we went to a movie” without realizing how that makes him sound.)

Art3mis is not fully a damsel in distress — in the real world, she’s leading a kinda/sorta rebellion against the corporation that wants to co-opt the Oasis for profit — but there’s a disturbing directness to how much of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl she appears to be. She exists to validate Wade’s love of pop culture (which, to be clear, isn’t even his love of pop culture, as much as his choice to love whatever pop culture Halliday liked, which is creepy all on its own), and has a birthmark on her face that causes her to feel self-conscious. Thank goodness Wade sees through that to appreciate her inner beauty, as well as her outer beauty, because the birthmark on Samantha’s face doesn’t obscure that she’s played by the winsome Olivia Cooke.

Come Play With Us

How Ready Player One utilizes The Shining is a longer version of how it invokes other pop culture. Consider how this movie features the Iron Giant, from Brad Bird’s wonderful and underrated film, in its climactic battle. Yes, sure, it’s cool to see the Iron Giant in a Steven Spielberg movie, but less so when a character who never wanted to be a weapon is used in another movie gleefully as…a weapon. Yes, sure, it’s cool to see the DeLorean from Back to the Future here, or King Kong or the T-Rex, or even blink-and-you’ll-miss-them references to Last Action Hero and the like. But there is a point where all of those references, even the extended one to The Shining, make this movie into something akin to that old Chris Farley Show sketch on Saturday Night Live, asking us if we remember all these cool things from a couple decades ago. I do remember The Iron Giant. And The Shining. I love The Shining. Maybe I should just watch that instead.

Steven Spielberg is — prepare for an incoming hot take — one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. In his hands, Ready Player One is more frustrating than a failure, because he’s able to craft solid action setpieces and pace the film well. As much as The Shining sequence stands out because it’s baffling, it’s also maybe the best scene in Ready Player One. Of course, a lot of why it’s the best scene is simple: The Shining is, Stephen King’s opinion aside, one of Stanley Kubrick’s best films and if anyone was going to recreate it even briefly, it might as well be one of the greatest living filmmakers. This is probably the best possible adaptation of Ready Player One we could ever get, but even its best, most unexpected scene can’t hide the nagging flaws at its center.

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