A few months ago I was made aware of a new book that was described to me as a mix of the best parts of Ready Player One and the filmography of one of the most interesting directors to ever make interesting movies, Stanley Kubrick. I loved both Ready Player One (it's fun for what it is) and pretty much all of Kubrick's movies, so I thought I'd give it a try. It turns out that I did not like this new book (Kubrick's Game). Not one bit. It was very difficult for me to accept this, since the entire plot is all about a compelling puzzle game with secret clues hidden in the details of Kubrick's provocative movies, and I love puzzles, games, Kubrick, and movies. How could this amazing mixture possibly be bad? The answer to that is "it be bad because of sloppy writing, shitty characterizations, and really insipid 'clues' that think they were written by Robert van Gulik. And if you don't know who Robert van Gulik is then please do yourself a favor and seek out his Judge Dee books. THAT is some good clue-y shit.
After finishing up Kubrick's Game I just chalked this craptacular tome up to "Meh, I just wasted a weekend reading a shitty book," but then just a few days ago I went on Amazon and started reading all the reviews that were filling up the Customer Review Section. Everybody was raving about this novel, claiming it was "absolutely brilliant," "a thrilling page-turner, thrilled [not my spelling mistake] with mystery and puzzles designed by a cinematic genius," and that it was "VERY well thought out." I must disagree with all those sentiments, and their actual usage in these gushing appraisals made me feel that I had to set the record straight here.
First of all, let me post for you a quick synopsis of Kubrick's Game so that you can get a feel for my review to come:
Fifteen years after his death in March 1999, Stanley Kubrick has apparently arranged a hand-selected announcement that his films are far more than they appear to be. A bunch of film schools and shit got enigmatic (that means "it thinks it's clever, but it's really just kind of retarded," right?) packages in the mail from the late, great Kubrick himself. These parcels contain clues to a game set up by the director using his own decades-spanning filmography, with hints that are strung together with patchy guesswork and brain teasers seemingly constructed by below-average-IQ toddlers.
Speaking of "below-average-IQ toddlers," our main cast of protagonists stumbles blindly through these clues and somehow figures shit out in a race against bad men who also want the prize! What is the prize? Nobody fucking knows, but these bad men want it because Kubrick's last video message to the game players is that "It's amazing. It's a great prize. I've seen some pretty good prizes in my life, but my prize is the best. It will grab your crotch and shit your pants for you!" Then the heroes somehow figure all this crap out, don't get arrested for all the breaking and entering and other illegal stuff that they do, and they get the prize! And it's just a little bit of money. The end.
You should be able to see the terribly overused cliches and plot devices that this story is steeped in in my (already more interesting than the actual book) quick narrative description above. Just know that reading that synopsis was a thousand times less painful than actually completing the full text of the novel itself. Other than having Cupcake's family in town for a visit that weekend, I cannot for the life of me tell you why I actually bothered to finish this piece of "wannabe-turned-into-a-major-motion-picture" garbage.
In fact, I'm not even going to bother wasting any more time with this review. I'm not about to take all of the notes that I typed out while reading the book and organize them in any real way (other than chronologically). If the broken plot points and terrible writing style of the author of Kubrick's Game (one Derek Taylor Kent) were good enough for actual publication, then my broken thoughts and ideas on just how crappy the novel is should be good enough for this "review." Enjoy!
My Thoughts on Kubrick's Game
The lead character, Shawn, is a film student on the spectrum whose main comedy beats comes from the fact that he’s not good at socializing. The individual “Hands” in Boston Legal is a much more well-rounded version of this type of character (whom the audience actually feels some sympathy for). Shawn just makes me cringe… Not at his "disability" (which really isn’t that bad, seeing as Shawn's autism is only established with him not being able to hold "normal" conversations with people... I guess that means that I was autistic as fuck in high school), but at the fact that he’s so one dimensional almost hurts.
Shawn’s best friend, Wilson, is the snappy, outgoing, African American, grown-up child-star who everything in this story has to be explained to, just in case the reader isn’t as familiar with film and Kubrick’s movies as they need to be in order for this novel to make any sort of sense. It’s actually frustrating when EVERY LAST MOVIE HINT, or ANY CLUE, or ANY DISCUSSION ABOUT MOVIES AT ALL results in Wilson saying, “Say whaaaaaaat? Explain. I am in film school too, but I am an idiot. I don't get ANY of these movie references."
As for Shawn and Wilson, all I could picture whenever they were together on the page was Abed and Troy from TV's Community. Which if they ever made a movie of this novel and got those two to star, I would see it 8 times in theaters and then buy it on Blu-Ray. That would be the only way to salvage this thing and actually make it AMAZING.
Sami is the hawt Indian (for wider SJW approval) love interest of Shawn. She’s just as knowledgeable of every aspect of making movies and shit as Shawn, but you know, HOT. And she’s got a vagina and tits. I am willing to bet money that Abed and Troy will be fighting for her before the story is over.
Mascara (Mascaro really, but I picture this turd wearing buckets of mascara now) is the film teacher at UCLA (where the main cast goes to school), who used to be an Italian director of no renown. His films never made a profit, but he doesn’t care, since he’s from a wealthy family (AKA La Familia Mafioso). He’s the one who first understood that the package from Kubrick himself was really an elaborate scavenger hunt. He’s overly friendly to Shawn/Abed, and very creepy, and very evidently the big bad from the moment he appears. He speaks in an overly dramatic fashion and often throws in Italian phrases for shits and giggles (like an Italian weeaboo), and aggravated groans from me.
At one point, a clue is found wherein Peter Seller’s character in Lolita is asked if he is the person known as Quilty. He responds “I’m Spartacus!” Referencing Kubrick’s previous movie, Spartacus. The handyman Shawn realizes it’s the important clue they’re looking for (because Kubrick NEVER did anything as a joke, and he MUST have put that reference to a previous movie in there for a reason) and off they go to looking into this Spartacus connection… But then later in the book, Sami brings up that the letters and numbers “CRM-114” show up in a lot of Kubrick’s works, but Shawn insists she’s crazy in thinking that this can be a clue, because Kubrick OBVIOUSLY only put that code in there to simply reference his other films as a joke. What?!
At another point, our "street smart" Wilson (who is neither from the street, nor smart... Discuss) tells Shawn that he will get him to lose his virginity by his 21st birthday, hinting that he will provide Sami to him on a silver platter. I was confused… Was I reading a puzzle mystery or the script to a remake of Porky’s?
We’re told early on that Abed has only ever cried to physical pain, and never as an emotional response. This was so ham-fistedly entered into the text that I swore that I knew that the final scene in this story would consist of him bawling like a baby, totally beating his autism, just like science describes!
In order to get a secret Kubrick 3-minute movie reel back from a museum curator (who rightly understands its importance to history and won't give it back to the three stupid kids who brought it to him to watch on his film projector), our three geniuses physically attack and potentially MURDER the poor old man with a guard’s heavy-duty flashlight. Guys, the game ain’t worth a man’s LIFE! It was hard to respect these fuckers after that.
But it doesn’t matter because the curator is really on Abed and co.’s side, so he ain’t butthurt over the possible concussion or brain damage. But he still really, really works for people who want Kubrick’s prize for nefarious reasons… So he lets the kids go… But tells them that they’re still in danger… But NO explanation is given as for why anybody is willing to kidnap and torture college kids for whatever Kubrick’s prize might be. Abed, and we the readers, are just told to roll with it.
Abed gets cryptic texts from somebody else playing the game. Another film school team that apparently got the same package that Abed's school got. These mysterious texts offer Abed a slight clue (that’s really not all that helpful) to the first leg of the race, then Mr. Spectrum pretty much divulges where the next hidden clue is to be found when he figures out the nameless texter's crew is stuck, because warrgarbble!… I was having very little success rooting for anybody at this point, and I was only 1/4th of the way through this book.
There are such HUGE stretches in guesswork in order to make a certain clue tie in to its supposed answer. At one point they find an acronym for CRM (in the much used text and numbers CRM-114 in a lot of Kubrick’s works) in a children’s poem. They find it in the poem's reference to “curious music.” “See!” the borderline retarded characters exclaim. “The curious music that I hear! CuRious Music! See! There’s the CRM! Just like in all of Kubrick’s movies!!!” Whut? Really? That’s stretching things more than the DaVinci Code ever did. And CRM apparently also appears in the “CReation of adaM”. That.... That's not how acronyms work. I think somebody sucks at puzzle writing, but thinks that they’re a genius. *COUGH* Derek Taylor Kent *COUGH*
There are logic holes large enough to throw a 13-foot black monolith through throughout this thing. For example, at one clue location on the back lot of a movie studio they find a large set-lighting lamp. This lamp has a paper tag hanging on it (that's apparently been hanging from it for at least 15 years in this famous building on a film set, unused the whole time that it's just been sitting there, waiting for puzzle-seekers to find it) that tells them how far away the lamp has to be from something in order to "light up" that something. The characters automatically assume they need to take it outside the structure that they're in and point the light back at the building they just came out of, but with a sort of "bullseye" pinpoint light-blocking card in front of the powerful light bulb in order to direct them where to look next... The problem is that this large lamp is placed a certain distance from the edifice that they're aiming it at, and that the light is made to swivel, and the kids are simply haphazardly aiming it at this building and assuming that the pinpoint light beam they made is illuminating directly where they need to find the next hint. Unsurprisingly they get it right the first time, but that's only due to terrible writing, not a strong plot detail. There are tons of instances like this that just made me scratch my head, where if I saw this in a movie with my own eyes, it would play out soooo stupidly.
Oh, and this light beam (that magically directed them to the right place when it could have been aimed off by just a fraction of an inch causing a difference of 50 feet in any direction) leads them to a hidden chessboard under a hollowed-out stair. So... Kubrick, who had a HUGE beef with Universal Studios with how they butchered his Spartacus movie, somehow snuck onto their back-lot, planted this magic light, took apart a 5-foot stone step, hollowed it out, and placed a chessboard in there before secretly replacing the step? So, in this universe, Stanley Kubrick was a wizard?
The author does seem to understand that his logic is flawed here, and he throws a toss-away line out that says something like "Well maaaaaybe the studio didn't want to piss off Kubrick any more after butchering the fuck out of his movie, so they gave him full access to this Spartacus Roman Senate building, and they let him destroy the step and leave this lamp with these cryptic instructions on it for 15 years after his death. Makes sense, when you think about it." Does it? Does it really?
Things like this took me out of the storytelling almost every other page. I tried to get back into it, over and over again, but then something so logically unsound or just plain silly would happen and make me roll my eyes and tell myself "It's just a book... A really silly, dumb book." Honestly, when leaps in logic in this thing make a Dan Brown mystery look like one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's best Sherlock stories, well, that's just sad.
Relationships are not Mr. Kent’s strong suit either. You see, poor Abed is infatuated with pretty Indian girl Sami. But he can’t read social context in talking to people, so he’s afraid he’ll goof shit up if he tells her how he feels. He pines for her for a while, but his buddy Troy then straight up tells Abed that he totally talked to Sami, and she’s weirded out by Abed, and that she is terrified he’ll ruin the friendship by telling her that he likes her. Troy points out that she is seriously freaked out by all the crazy attention Abed gives her, so Abed leaves it be and finds that another Kubrick’s Game player likes him for some reason (honestly, this kid is a wet noodle of a character. I have no idea why anybody likes him at all). So he goes out with this new girl and tells her that while he enjoys her company, if Sami ever reciprocates his feelings he’ll dump new girl and start going out with Sami. He wants to know if the new girl would be okay with that, because apparently autism means being stupid as fuck in this universe.
ANYWAY, Abed then tells Sami exactly what he said to the new girl (about him being in love with Sami, which is a topic that he had NEVER approached with Sami before), and Sami doesn’t bat an eye. Instead she kisses Abed to show him there’s no spark between them… What. The. Fuck. She’s supposedly creeped out beyond belief about his intentions toward her (as Troy stated), but then she kisses the self-proclaimed 20-year-old virgin in order to what? Get him to leave her alone? This 20 year-old mental case has shown to be infatuated with her, and she thought kissing him would get him to back off? He does back off, of course, because Mr. Kent doesn’t know how to write complex relationships in a believable manner, but what the hell?!
And as for Shawn telling the new girl that he still loves Sami, we’ve seen Shawn figure out social cues in much more dire situations. He’s able to tell when people are potentially lying for their own nefarious reasons when even Wilson and Sami wouldn’t have thought to think certain threats were lies. But he can't tell that it's a bad thing to explain to the girl who just said she wanted to go out with him that he'll dump her if his first choice becomes available. Surrrrrrrrrrrre.
At one point the group of retards have to break into Malcolm McDowell’s house to steal the 2001 soundtrack record that Kubrick gave to the man in his will. Malcolm catches the film students in his study red handed, but he doesn’t call the cops because they show him their school IDs, and he’s like, “Oh, they really ARE film students and not thieves. Okay. Here, let’s go listen to this album together.” What the fuck? Not even "Hollywood Good Guy" Tom Hanks would be that understanding.
The biggest "what the fuck" of this entire story though is the fact that Kubrick had apparently been planning for this “game” since his earliest movies back in the 1960s, and yet his final clues weren’t planted until Eyes Wide Shut came out in 1999, and then he died at the fairly young age of 70 pretty much out of the blue. Are you telling me that he luckily finished up his last clues two weeks before he croaked? How are people so sure that he didn’t plan to place more clues in his next proposed film, AI (which Steven Spielberg made in his stead)? Or in a future movie? His death was glorious timing in the course of this tale.
Oh man... Mr. Kent even loses track of where his characters are just a page or two before. In one instance, Troy tells Sami to stay out in a hallway while he and Abed investigate something in a dark theater. Then Troy and Abed get trapped in the theater (as we knew they would), and after the doors are slammed shut behind them and they’re confronted by the bad guys, Sami is with them and calls the bad guys bastards. No explanation as to how she got there, and no mention of surprise that she is there. This kind of thing happens a whoooole lot in this book. It’s very distracting. It always makes me think that I missed something, and I have to go back and reread a page or two in order to see that nope, I’m good, but the author isn’t.
Abed and Troy and hawt girl are then confronted by the real big bad (in a scene shittily and stupidly taken straight from Eyes Wide Shut), the members of the Secret Order of the Oath. We find out that even though they’re “secret”, and they hold an “oath” to that secret, they are indeed very talkative when it comes to explaining shit to a bunch of stupid, autistic film students. They’re worse than your typical James Bond villain. In fact they’re even worse than Dr. Evil. This thing HAS to be a comedy. “The Secret Order of the Oath”? Really? I’m beginning to think that the real Abed from TV wrote this thing. “I’m not very good at naming things,” he once said in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Community episode.
And apparently Mr. Kent doesn’t believe in the Bro Code. Early on, Abed tells Troy that he’s totally into Sami, and asks his very popular and semi-famous friend to not pursue her, since Troy can have any girl he wants. Troy then IMMEDIATELY turns his target to Sami, and then bangs her in secret for a month before coming out and confessing his sin to Abed. And he never really apologizes, he just sticks it to Abed like, "Yeah, I did it. What of it?" Dick move, Troy. The whole way this story element is written, Mr. Kent seems to be backing up Troy’s douchie move, like he’s overcompensating for a similar incident that he himself was involved in with a love triangle at some point in his past. One where he screwed over a friend who was hopelessly in love with a girl that he didn’t even notice until his less popular friend pointed her out to him.
One of the key clues in the tale has to do with a changed music cue in Eyes Wide Shut. The elaborate game is set up so that Abed has to ask Steven Spielberg about the new music put into the movie AFTER Kubrick’s death because the studio couldn’t get the rights for the music Kubrick put in during the last cut of the movie he made right before he died…. Which means that Kubrick KNEW that the music choice wouldn’t be used and that he would mysteriously and quickly die within two weeks, and that he also knew that Spielberg would know all this and have a copy of the original music choice to show Abed. What the fuck?
Meeting Malcolm McDowell, becoming buddies with Steven Spielberg… This is even bigger nerd wish fulfillment than the ending of Ready Player One.
The final piece of the puzzle has to do with watching a bunch of sequences of film (with specific music set to it), and then dreaming up the answer. I shit you not. It doesn’t even play as intellectual in the book itself, it sounds just as stupid in the text as it does here with me explaining it to you. At this point I can't even.
So, the big finale is a dream sequence where Abed runs around from one Kubrick movie to another, escaping both real life and Kubrick-film threats for like a half a dozen pages. It’s excruciating. Then Abed meets up with Stanley Kubrick himself for a heart-to-heart (in his head). I groaned. It’s like a mix of the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (in Kings Cross station with Dumbledore), and the end of Ready Player One after the big battle and the day is won, and the main kid gets to meet the computer simulated Willy Wonka. Only really, really shitty and lame. There was no emotion or awe in Mr. Kent’s finale. It’s just wish fulfillment, and IT'S ALL IN ABED'S HEAD. “I wish I could meet Stanley Kubrick and play chess with him and have him tell me I’m a special flower who’ll one day be as great as he was!” Wow.
Aaaaaaand I called it. Abed broke down and cried in the end when he got the prize, which, surprise surprise, was not as world-shattering as everyone expected it to be, but was just some cash to make his own movie. Not even all that much money. It was like Mr. Kent had this "great idea" for a scavenger hunt having to do with Stanley Kubrick movies, but just kept putting off the prize until he was finished writing everything else. Then he got to the point where Abed found the prize and was like, "Shit! Fuck!.... Fuck it, I'll just give him some Benjamins."
Oh, and was I the only one who was kind of repulsed that the big bad guy, Mascara, was straight up murdered by some of Kubrick's old associates? Poisoned even! And they were all laughing about it! Are there no police in this universe? With everything he did to Abed and company he'd get at least 10-15 years in jail if they cared to try and get him arrested. But I guess that would take too much time. Better to just rub him out.
And That's It
So, to wrap things up: I hated this book; I found the story lame; I found the "clues" ridiculously stretched to make them match the author's intent, instead of the opposite; I found the characters to be horribly one-dimensionally boring (and that's insulting to that first dimension) and 500 dimensions stupid; and the ending... Oh god, that ending... I don't know how far up his own ass Mr. Kent found that closing clue and finale, but it was stanky and dumb. It bore no resemblance to anything in the real world, and even felt extremely out of place in this fictionalized Kubrick universe. May God have mercy on Mr. Kent's soul.
"Here's a great book you'll love," snickered the Rossman. "No, seriously, it won't hurt your brain just to read it."
I then used the Rossman's copy of Kubrick's Game as toilet paper after a bad batch of guacamole at El Tijuana Mama a few weeks ago. I told him that the book was okay, but that the albino orgy scene came from out of nowhere and then just outlived its welcome. He seemed a bit confused, and then walked away sadly.
There is no albino orgy scene — as far as I know — in this thing. Hell, I never even read it, obviously. I've just taken for granted that anything the Rossman gives to me unsolicited is either garbage or will cause me pain.
Okay, I'm not really dead, I was just enjoying my retirement in total secrecy so that people would stop asking me crap about what 2001: A Space Odyssey meant. Nobody has ever gotten me to break my silence in over 15 years, except for this supposed author, Mr. Derek Taylor Kent.
My GOD, man. They were just movies. Movies are meant to entertain us. Maybe make us think a little bit. I will admit that I was indeed on some heavy narcotics during a few of my films (notably the ones from 1962 through to 1999), but that just made them more memorable. There is no deep meaning behind my movies.
I know that your response, Mr. Derek Taylor Kent, will be, "But alas, Mr. Kubrick (and it is not pronounced "Kyu-brick," my dear fellow. Don't be absurd!), I was only paying homage to you and trying to expand your web of influence to the greater world!"
No, you were not. You were writing a book in which your mentally disabled protagonist shows that only people with mental disabilities can decipher my films properly. And then you write me into your actual book through a drug-induced fever dream? Yes... I'd say you've shown how much of a fan of my work you truly are. Any artist would love to have people fawn over their filmography or portfolio in such a manner.
I have indeed read this book (how could I not have?), and it has made me want to remove my life from the mortal coil, but this time for real. There is no point to living if this is what my fans make of my work.