Pleasantville and Ready Player One

The 1998 Pleasantville movie is basically the antithesis of Ready Player One, the 2011 book.  (For various reasons, the Ready Player One 2018 movie is not as direct a comparison.)

Pleasantville is about smashing nostalgia, while Ready Player One is about celebrating it.

If Wade Watts had been transported to Pleasantville, it seems fairly likely that he would have quite happily stayed in black and white, reciting memorized lines episode by episode until he reached the end of a rerun cycle and looped back to the beginning again, looping endlessly without change, much like Pleasantville’s Main Street goes nowhere, its end just taking you back to its beginning.

One has to wonder whether he would have lived out this existence happily, a kind of static safe immortality in an unchanging world, or if at some point he would have wanted to break out.  Would pleasant safety have outweighed all other considerations?

It may be hard to imagine that someone could crave that endless sameness, but to some extent it depends on your learned experiences and mental processing about uncertainty.  The past stays in place, it stays at a safe distance.  The present can be overwhelming.  Pleasantville celebrates the reality of our colourful, noisy, chaotic, uncertain world, but not all of us are equipped by nature or nurture to embrace that experience.

Margaret Henderson: “What’s outside of Pleasantville?”
[long pause]
David / Bud: “There are some places that the road doesn’t go in a circle. There are some places where the road keeps going.”

Margaret: “So what’s it like?”
David: “What?”
Margaret: “Out there.”
David: “Well, it’s a … it’s louder, and… scarier, I guess, and it’s a… lot more dangerous.”
Margaret: “Sounds fantastic.”

And it is fantastic but also, it can be overwhelming, and painful.  Beautiful

David and Margaret in Pleasantville.

David and Margaret in Pleasantville.

but also painful.

David’s Mom: “I’m 40 years old, I mean it’s not supposed to be like this.”
David: “It’s not supposed to be anything.”

The past is predictable.  The Romans will always invade Britain in 43 AD, Harry Potter will always be sorted into Gryffindor, Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy will always save the world from nuclear war.  Wade Watts will watch Family Ties over and over again and Michael J. Fox will always be Alex P. Keaton, no more and no less.  You can loop around and around in reruns or rewatching or rereading and the characters never get to rebel, the events never change.

I’ve written about this kind of toxic nostalgia in the context of Ready Player One, but I didn’t talk a lot about why.  James Halliday has toxic nostalgia because he’s damaged.  He can have everything that money can buy, but he can’t have a different past, all his coding and control can’t change the fact that Kira Underwood married Og, not him.

There are only two ways through that.

Eternal Safety

In My-So Called Life, Brian will never ask out Angela, he will always be standing in episode 19, the last episode, watching her drive away with Jordan.  Because it’s the safe choice, the controlled choice.  In Star Trek: Generations, Tolian Soran will destroy an entire world just to escape back to the safe and controlled immortality of The Nexus.  Both destroying the future to stay safe alone.

In BBC Radio 4 – Archive on 4 – Commuterville, Matthew Sweet reaches his conclusion about the endlessly repeated routine of our lives in very English school essay fashion, calling on Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence.  There is a definite comfort in routine, but also a kind of madness.

Endless Change

George Parker: “So what’s going to. happen now?”
Betty Parker: “I don’t know.  Do you know what’s going to happen now?
George Parker: “No, I don’t.”

It’s easy to say we should embrace this uncertainty, that we should learn the lesson of 1993’s Groundhog Day and work on making ourselves better as we go through our routine days.  But have empathy for those who are struggling to escape their life experiences and expectations.

It’s not supposed to be anything

There is supposed to be a kind of arc, a youthful embrace of change followed by an adult settling into a safe routine.  But Pleasantville challenges this arc.  While it certainly does celebrate youthful change, it makes it clear there is no winning, there is no right ending.  There’s just uncertainty.  Ready Player One is about what happens if you reject that uncertainty.  This is playing out at a large scale across our society.  People miss the factories… but you know, the factories were kind of terrible too.  We can’t go back.  It’s not coming back.  All you really get to choose is whether you’re going to be James Halliday and Wade Watts, endlessly jumping through a portal into an unchanging past, or if you’re going to be David, finding that there is beauty in change after all.

Movie Better Than Book

It’s not common, but sometimes a movie can be better than a book. Clearer, more focused, or just reimagined.

Neverending Story by Michael Ende – The book drags on, including a war. The 1984 movie is a much more focused, clearer story. Incidentally the Neverending Story II (1990) and Neverending Story III (1994) are terrible. In my usual approach to my personal canon, I have decided they don’t exist.

(Sequels with rollerblades are terrible. 1985’s Return to Oz… rollerblades. Terrible.)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick / Blade Runner – The book is typical Philip K. Dick, which is to say weird, dense, hard to follow. The 1982 Blade Runner movie is much better.

Movie Different Than Book

It’s pretty hard to compare Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg to the the 1995 movie, as Jumanji is a short kid’s picture book. The core ideas are in the book, but basically the entire storyline of the movie with the town and the kids is added. It made a pretty good movie.

Movies Adapted Into Books

This is a whole other universe that I will mention but not explore. Pretty much every major science fiction and fantasy movie that didn’t originate as a book has a book adaptation. Sometimes they illuminate or give a different view of the story. For example E.T. (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in his adventure on earth) by William Kotzwinkle in 1982 has rather more Dungeons and Dragons than you might expect. And continues into its own (not very good) 1985 sequel E.T. The Book of the Green Planet.

Also see previous post: Book Better Than Movie.

Book Better Than Movie

These are books that are better than the movies made from them.
It is a big challenge to take the complex, lengthy and often internal dialogue of a book and transform it into a short visual representation.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – It’s unfortunate that, having done a masterful job on The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson messed up The Hobbit (2012, 2013, 2014) by trying to turn this simple tale into an epic. Tolkien himself had revisited The Hobbit after The Lord of the Rings but abandoned the rewrite, finding that trying to make Hobbit more like the Rings took away from the integrity of the story. I look forward to a remake that gets it right.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – This is great as an audiobook. It could have made a good movie, but instead The Golden Compass (2007) went very heavy into the church side of things, and basically didn’t do justice to the book.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – This is a good audiobook, read by the author. I don’t remember the 2007 movie that well, but it didn’t capture the book.

Ender’s War by Orson Scott Card – This is probably unfilmable as written, but nevertheless the core of the story is the practice battles that they fight, which the 2013 movie failed to capture.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – I don’t really remember much about the movie, but I recall the 2004 movie failed to capture the book.

Contact by Carl Sagan – Turned into a very USA religion versus science 1997 movie, which is not at all the nature of the book.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – I find the book better than both the original radio drama and the movie, because of Adams’ gift with written language. The humour of a line like “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” is hard to replicate in audio or film.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – I had a lot to say about the many ways in which the Ready Player One (2018) movie totally failed as an adaptation of the book.

Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling – I like this as the Stephen Fry audiobook. The first two movies directed by Chris Columbus had a good visual sense of Hogwarts and the students, in particular the importance of the house colours and a special school with a uniform. The third movie by Alfonso Cuarón in 2004 tried to do some grand theme about time and lost all of the visual sense and the understanding of being away at a special school, trying to make it just ordinary kids.

But Still a Good Movie

The Princess Bride by William Goldman – This is an example of a book that takes full advantage of literary techniques, including a lot of author asides. It is a very funny book. It made a good movie, but the movie couldn’t capture all the complexity and technique of the book.

The Martian by Andy Weir – The book is funnier than the movie, and the book has the luxury of being very highly technical, which wouldn’t have been feasible in the movie. Still a good movie though.

Also see next post: Movie Better Than Book.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Plain Kate is a well-constructed, harrowing journey by American-Canadian Erin Bow, “author of young adult novels that will make you cry on the bus”.

I gave it 5/5 on LibraryThing.

To some extent the determination of the character and the difficulty of her journey reminded me vaguely of Lyra in The Golden Compass, although they are very different books.

Timeless by Armand Baltazar

I really like Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar. It is a kind of hybrid book: mostly text, but with some beautiful images. Unusually, the images are integral to the story – they advance the story, rather than just illustrating something in the text.

Here’s what I said in my review on LibraryThing:

In a story of a shattered world, beautiful art and wonderful ideas are seamlessly melded together.

An unusual book design in that the images themselves are narrative – they don’t illustrate events in the text, they tell new parts of the story.

I rated it 5/5.

four urbanist books

Jan Gehl spoke in Ottawa in 2010.

His book Cities for People is an excellent guide to understanding how humans experience the city and how to make good environments for people.

You can also watch Jan Gehl’s ideas in the documentary film The Human Scale.

Jeff Tumlin spoke in Ottawa in 2012, at the Planning Summit (which is now gone from the city’s website).

His book Sustainable Transportation Planning provides the context for understanding the current built environment and how to change it (it’s not just a planning manual, it’s a set of tools to help people work better with planners).

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Ken Greenberg spoke in Ottawa in 2011 as part of the Downtown Moves Public Lecture Program (which is now gone from the city’s website, but is available in the Internet Archive).

His book Walking Home frames the discussion as a journey from the suburbs we built back to the dense urban environments people are rediscovering, and that are best for humans.

W.H. Whyte has never spoken in Ottawa, because, well, he’s dead.

His book City, from 1988, is a fantastic exploration of how public space is actually used, and of how people actually experience the urban landscape.

IMG_7358

W.H. Whyte, Jane Jacobs and Jan Gehl are all intensely scientific in their approach to the city: they observe, they measure.  This is quite different from the modernist and brutalist approach, which asserted and imposed.

Note: Rescued this blog post from 2013, seemed about time to post it.

bandes dessinées and graphic novels

While Japanese manga and anime are known in North America, it seems to me that French bandes dessinées are not. Which is unfortunate, because these large-format graphic novels are often extraordinarily beautiful, in addition to having interesting stories. That being said, this is not some ideal literature – it often suffers from problems of racism and sexism.

As starting points, I recommend:

Ninn par Jean-Michel DARLOT et Johan PILET – 1. La Ligne Noire, 2. Les Grands Lointains

Le voyage Extraordinaire par Denis-Pierre FILIPPI et Silvio CAMBONI – Tome 1, 2, 4, 5. Tome 6 à paraître le 13 juin 2018.
sauf Tome 3

Unfortunately, Tome 3 has some remarkably sexist scenes and I can’t recommend it.

Les mondes cachés par Denis-Pierre FILIPPI et Silvio CAMBONI – 1. L’Arbre-Forêt, 2. La Confrérie secrète

You can find out more about bandes dessinées at www.bedetheque.com

In Canada, if you can’t find them from your regular retailer, you can often find them from Quebec retailers, e.g.:

Note that in France bandes dessinées are not just one particular genre or for one particular age group, so make sure you check the book before you give it to someone to read. For example Les aigles de Rome par Enrico MARINI is a very visceral story set in ancient Rome, and includes shall we say graphic intimacy.

There is a Canadian graphic novel series that I like a lot:

Three Thieves by Scott Chantler – 1. Tower of Treasure, 2. The Sign of the Black Rock, 3. The Captive Prince, 4. The King’s Dragon, 5. Pirates of the Silver Coast, 6. The Dark Island, 7. The Iron Hand (series is complete)

And from the rest of the world, there are a few others:

Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi – books 1 through 7 – book 8 is scheduled to be released September 25, 2018
It’s a wild mix of genres, and quite a complicated story. It is very popular. The closest equivalent I can think of in text is Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian series, although those are for an older audience and much darker with elements of horror mixed in with the rest of the jumble of genres.

Mighty Jack & Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke are good.

Dream Jumper by Greg Grunberg and Lucas Turnbloom – 1. Nightmare Escape is good, unfortunately 2. Curse of the Harvester is not.

5 Worlds by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller and Boya Sun – Book 1 The Sand Warrior is good. Book 2 The Cobalt Prince is scheduled to be released May 8, 2018.

I quite like Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, it’s funny and sad.