When I was sitting in the Paramount
Theater watching the SXSW world premiere of Steven Spielberg's Ready
Player One a thought ran through my head: the kids are going to flip
their shit for this movie.
Yes, that includes all children who
like big, goofy, fun adventure stories, but “the kids” in this
particular fleeting thought referred to my nephews, Max (7) and Rocco
(10). One of the greatest joys of my life over the last few years has
been introducing these kids to various movies, some obvious kid
stuff, some a little more challenging, and watching Ready Player One
that first time it felt like I had been building them up to this
moment where it would all pay off.
We've seen all three Back to the
Futures on the big screen. They were intrigued by my Iron Giant
poster hanging in the guest room of my house and saw that. I've had
them on a steady Spielberg diet pretty much since the very first time
their parents let me take them to the movies.
On top of that, the oldest has been
getting really into video games lately. I've walked him through some
Destiny quests and more recently have been playing a goodly amount of
Overwatch with him.
So, they were ready for Ready Player
There was one glaring omission from
their cinematic education, a movie pretty adult even for these little
monsters. Of course I'm talking about The Shining.
Here's the deal. The older one's great
with horror movies. Rocco watches them the way I did at his age. Open
enough to be creeped out, but focused more on how fun and awesome
they are. He flipped out for It last year and I've had the absolute
pleasure of introducing him to stuff like An American Werewolf In
London and The Sixth Sense.
The younger one, Max, isn't so hot on
horror movies. He loves big smash-em-ups and giant monsters and
stuff, but it's tone that gets to him more than gore or something. He
was there when we watched The Sixth Sense and I heard from his father
a few days later that he had nightmares about “the boy with the
So I typically save the scary stuff for
when it's just me and Rocco, but I knew the second key quest wasn't
going to land for them if they didn't see The Shining first... plus I
honestly didn't want their first impressions of that film to be from
the glimpses we got in Ready Player One.
So I sat them both down on my couch
yesterday, told them to buckle in because we were going to watch The
Shining. They asked why we had to watch this movie. I said “I'll
tell you after we watch Ready Player One.”
Max was nervous. He only knew of the
movie by title and DVD cover. Rocco seemed down, if not super
enthused especially when I reassured them it's not “jump scare”
scary. I said it's mostly a lot of people talking and that's true.
I remember watching The Shining when I
was about their age and I remember being engrossed in it, but that
was before the Internet changed attention spans forever. Could a
movie as talky and deliberate of The Shining work for today's youth?
The answer is, as always, it depends on
the kid. Rocco was in it the whole way through, but Max needed an
escape. In that sense it worked a charm because the tone was getting
to him. He wasn't antsy so much as he couldn't handle the tension so
about halfway through I let him play Splatoon 2 on the Switch while
Rocco and I stayed focused on the movie.
That said I'd look over at Max from
time to time and he'd be watching the movie, the game still in his
hands, going unplayed. I think he just needed the ability to check
out for a minute if things got intense.
It was amazing to me to see how quickly
they grasped the geek minutiae. The carpet pattern, the bloody
elevator visions, the twins, Room 237, the hedge maze, redrum (they
figured that one out much quicker than I did. “That's murder
backwards,” Rocco exclaimed waaaaay before the mirror shot
All those things they commented on. And, being
young boys, they of course still snickered at a character being named
“Dick,” but boy did they love Scatman Crothers. They kept saying
over and over again how awesome he was, so you know they're wired
right in the head.
There were two moments I was worried
about. I knew they could handle the deeper horror at play, that of a
parent turning against their child. Jack Nicholson is cartoony enough
and their real life dad is good enough that I didn't think any of
that would get to them. But there were two things I wasn't sure
about. One was the use of the “N word” in reference to Dick
Hallorann and the other was the naked lady in the bathtub, which is
pretty important they see because the whole point of watching The
Shining at this moment was to give them a context for the sequence in
Ready Player One.
For the racial slur I was a little
curious if they would know it and what it meant or if that would have
be an uncomfortable conversation. When Grady utters the “N word”
in the bathroom with Jack Torrance both boys instantly said “He's
racist.” So they knew it and knew it was bad and that using it
means you're a bad person. Phew.
As far as the nudity, I gave them a
little warning as Jack entered Room 237. “There's some nakedness
coming up, so prepare yourselves.” They're at an age where I'm sure
there's some curiosity digging in, but right now they're still
embarrassed about sexuality, so they self-censored, looking all over
the room and not at the TV while the naked lady gets out of the tub,
stealing an occasional glance to see if the movie's moved away from
the naked lady.
When the big reveal happens next and
the pretty naked lady becomes the creepy decomposing old lady ghost
they were totally engrossed. I don't think they registered her body
as something to be embarrassed about witnessing, which is
interesting. Instead they were focused on the horror on display, with
Rocco even commenting about how good the makeup was.
Funnily enough the nudity to get the
biggest reaction was Hallorann's giant-afro'd goddess portraits. It
painted a completely different picture of the kind old dude they
loved at the beginning of the movie and they're so of a different
time and place that they thought they were the funniest things
they've ever seen.
When Hallorann met his fate they seemed
a little upset... less that he died, but more that he went all that
way just to get hacked up in the Overlook's lobby, which is a
reaction I love because today everything is so streamlined and
truncated that it really is shocking to see something where a guy
spends 25 minutes of a movie trying to get somewhere and then almost
instantly drops dead.
We'll see if I hear any reports on
nightmares from their parents but I don't think The Shining scarred
them permanently. They were still curious why today of all days we
watched this movie, but they figured it out soon enough.
Going into Ready Player One they knew
next to nothing. I told them it was kind of like Willy Wonka with
video games and made by Steven Spielberg, the guy behind a ton of
stuff I've showed them like Jaws, the Indiana Joneses, Jurassic Park,
ET, etc, but they hadn't seen a trailer or poster or anything.
They were so into the movie from the
get-go, just like I thought they'd be. The constant barrage of
references had them always excitedly pointing out stuff. Rocco went
especially nuts when he saw Tracer from Overwatch because that's his
favorite character to play.
The whole movie played like
gangbusters, the I was anxiously awaiting The Shining section. When
they realized what was about to happen they both went “Whoa!”
Which is exactly what I did when I saw the movie for the first time.
They laughed at Aech talking to the creepy twins, they shook their
heads “no” when Aech goes into Room 237, pointed at the July 4th, 1921 photo. They were in on the reference in a way they absolutely
would not have been just a few hours before and it absolutely grabbed
I could see their engagement go from
passive to damn near interactive. In that moment they were
collaborators with Spielberg. He was talking directly to them and you
could see it on their faces.
That is movie magic right there and
I'll never forget it.
I liked it so much that I had to share
it with you guys. I felt compelled to write about this experience,
which was so emotional and powerful to me that it refused to be kept
bottled inside. I have no idea if anyone will give a shit, but it
meant a lot to me. Plus it was an excuse to talk about Kubrick and