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Warning: SPOILERS for both A Quiet Place and Ready Player One are both in play. If you still haven't seen one or both of these films, and want to remain unspoiled, bookmark this piece and come back once you're current.
If you look at the box office landscape of the past couple of weeks, there are two Steven Spielberg-inspired films on the market at this moment. One is the naturally Spielbergian Ready Player One, a film based on material that was not only inspired by the director's filmography, but also directed by the man himself. The other is a more surprising pick, as John Krasinski's co-written/directed A Quiet Place drew a lot of cues from the legendary director's work. And believe it or not, the latter film is the better of the two Spielberg-like movies. Right now, you're probably shaking your head, questioning everything I've just said to you. But fear not, as the case can be made, and it is about to be laid out in detail. We'll issue one last spoiler warning for both Ready Player One and A Quiet Place, as both will be discussed at length. With that in mind, let's begin to tear into what makes a Spielberg flick tick.
What Makes A Spielberg Movie
So the basic DNA of a Steven Spielberg movie varies depending on the type of Spielberg you're looking for. You can go for a historical film, like Saving Private Ryan; an experimental film, like A.I.: Artificial Intelligence; or a blockbuster thrill ride, like Jaws and Jurassic Park. But at the center of all three sub-genres is the usual, effective bag of tricks: identifiable characters, a plot that goes from emotionally introspective to tense at the drop of a hat, and the ability to make us believe the impossible is possible - no matter how farfetched. With all three of those aspects in play, you make a fantastic Spielberg movie, no matter what the subject matter is.
Saving one man through the craziness of World War II, believing a robot could be a real boy, and fearing dinosaurs and sharks on a regular basis have all been made possible through his hand. All three of those examples are a testament to what has kept Steven Spielberg simultaneously in the history books and the popular conversation. The groundwork is now properly laid for us to take a look at how A Quiet Place and Ready Player One both measure up to that standard.
How A Quiet Place Succeeds As A Spielberg Movie
John Krasinski's A Quiet Place knowingly evokes shades of Jaws, as it plays around with how much we can see the monsters throughout the film, as well as other factors the film has been made famous for. Specifically, it also weaves an effective family drama inbetween the tension-filled set pieces, as we see the Abbott family dealing with the loss of their youngest member and the impending arrival of a new one. So while A Quiet Place is definitely a horror thriller, it has a good first act of set-up that endears us to this family, lets us know the rules of their world, and makes us fear these far-flung creatures that could never exist in our world.
So by time the second and third act kick off, all of the perilous action that the film puts the entire family through is all the more thrilling, as those characters are now people we want to root for. By the time the heartbreaking death of John Krasinski's Lee Abbott rolls around, the Jaws comparison completely earns its weight, as seeing him sacrifice himself is as sad as watching Quint get gobbled up by Bruce the shark. If you took the character building of Jaws and mixed it with the creature feature thrills of Jurassic Park, you get the framework of just how well A Quiet Place works.
How Ready Player One Fails As A Spielberg Movie
Looking at the trifecta of believing the impossible, emotionally introspective work, and identifiable characters, A Quiet Place works in spades. Sadly, Ready Player One barely covers two of the three categories, with one that it fails in completely. While the film does leave us being able to buy the illusion of the OASIS, and toys with emotional introspection through the story of James Halliday, Ready Player One doesn't leave us with any characters to truly identify with. Much like the OASIS is packed with Easter eggs and nods to '80s humor, it's up to what the user does with them in order to craft an effective experience.
Blame it on the numerous pop culture references flying through Ready Player One and its source material, but beyond the point of identifying with Wade because he's the protagonist, we don't have a lot to work with. We aren't given enough time with Wade and his friends to really get to know their dynamic and their own stories before the action comes into play. By time that first race is over, we're left breathless with the thrills, but not totally convinced that Wade won because of his plucky attitude. Worst of all, the family drama he faces at home is so barely touched upon, so we feel nothing when his aunt and her boyfriend die in a blaze of explosive wrath. It barely registers as a plot point.
Ultimately, without a proper build-up of characters and the world they inhabit, the story that Ready Player One tries to tell, while being fun, isn't exactly that tense. Ernest Cline's novel was inspired by Spielberg directed and produced films of the era, but there wasn't enough room for the director himself to put his special touch into the film's story. It's a thrill ride, but not one that digs deep into the magic Steven Spielberg films are known for. Meanwhile, A Quiet Place merges the better pieces of Spielbergian canon and effectively walks the line between emotion and spectacle that his best films do blindfolded. Both films are entertaining and exciting ways to pass the time, but over time and multiple viewings, one film will hold up better than the other as an example of an effective Spielberg blockbuster, with A Quiet Place winning the silent majority.
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