READY PLAYER ONE Review: Devotes an Astonishing Amount of Time to Goot Doot

AUSTIN — Fresh out of the premiere of the much-awaited geekstravaganza, fan reaction is mixed over director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ready Player One. Based on Ernie Cline’s novel about an orphan boy’s quest to win the keys to a virtual reality kingdom, the film was equally packed with references to 80’s pop culture. Eagle eyes in the audience would be able to spot callbacks to Batman, the Ninja Turtles, Gundam Wing and more.

However, there is one relic of the 1980s who makes an overlong appearance in RPO that has left viewers perplexed and dismayed. I speak, of course, of Goot Doot, a stuffed anteater who comes to life when the children say “What the fuck is this thing, some sort of Goot Doot.”

Image from the film (Columbia Pictures, 1983)

Made famous in the 1983 film The Big Chill, Goot Doot was always regarded as an unremarkable addition to the cast, even though, when he is accidentally brought to life by Glenn Close and Kevin Kline, he’s responsible for giving the main characters the “Big Chill” of the film’s title. He’s never spoken of again (nor is the puppetry of Goot Doot even mentioned in the credits) and the world did likewise — banishing Goot Doot to the dustbin of forgotten film history. No fan art exists, no cosplay, no merch for this misbegotten pile of fabric and thread.

All that is clearly set to change with Spielberg’s obsessive revival of the character. Within seconds of Ready Player One’s opening narration, Wade Owen Watts (a just-okay Tye Sheridan) speaks breathlessly about the virtual reality playground known as OASIS:

It goes on. Anyway, there was a slight murmur of confusion amongst the guests of the SXSW premiere, as moviegoers tried to remember who Goot Doot was and what significance he would have over this story. One person was overheard to be whispering “I fully do not understand what Goot Doot is.”

Scene from Ready Player One (Warner Bros., 2018)

Their cause for concern was validated moments later, as the entire film stopped cold to play a flashing image of the anteater for three minutes straight, as an offscreen voice clearly belonging to Steven Spielberg screamed:

Someone in the theater yelled “WHAT THE FUCK IS GOOT DOOT” but Steven Spielberg’s voice was much louder. And then we were off to the races: Wade and his crew of friends, Aech, Art3mis and more, all racing and jumping and charging about trying to find Goot Doot (and then what? Save the world? Tear him apart for secrets? Were the two leads supposed to fall in love with Goot Doot? It remained unclear). There was a brief thing about Chucky and the Ninja Turtles. At this point, the crowd was far too upset and bewildered to care. One adult male was carried out of the theater on a stretcher, totally inconsolable.

[WARNING: The next paragraph contains SPOILERS for the ending of the film Ready Player One. If you want to go in cold, please skip ahead to the next paragraph; otherwise, read on at your own risk.]

There’s a sequence late in the film where Art3mis, who has since changed her avatar to Gootis McDootis, wanders into a Where’s Waldo-esque splash page, only instead of finding Waldo, she’s meant to find Goot Doot. “He’s hear, I can smell him, he can smell me, I can smell him, he can smell me,” she chants to herself as she draws ever nearer to the stuffed plaything. The tension sort of mounts, I guess (Jen Yamato, the critic seated next to me, grumbled “This Goot Doot guy better fucking deliver”), and then Gootis finds Goot Doot. That’s it, the stuffed anteater doesn’t come to life or say anything. Wade Watts is extremely distraught over this news, and speaks into camera, “She did it. She found him before me. Girls rule and boys drool. I will find a new way to please Goot Doot, so help me God,” and the sun sets behind him, in an admittedly beautiful shot from cinematographer Janusz Kamiński. The resulting credits tease a sequel, Ready Player Two, and then Goot Doot falls into frame, knocking the Two and spinning it until it resolves, having changed into the word Doot. So I suppose the sequel is called Ready Player Doot.

[End SPOILERS.]

When the film finally finished three hours later, Spielberg was ordered onstage to explain what he had done. The auditorium’s gentle weeping fell into a hushed silence as the spotlight swiveled around trying to find the elusive director. Eventually, it settled on a stuffed toy anteater onstage, to the disdain of virtually everyone present. Spielberg’s voice came in over the PA, daring the audience to “Believe in the magic of Goot Doot, the only dog who can inhale our nightmares,” as a riot broke out and tore the screen to pieces.

For fans of the book, Ready Player One may well leave you feeling satisfied yet hungry for more. But audiences who were already on the fence about this nostalgia trip will probably have their feelings confirmed.

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