When I graduated from high school, on the verge of attending film school, my uncle gave me two DVDs: A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. At that point in my life, I was familiar with Stanley Kubrick’s work, but had yet to really delve into his filmography. Luckily, from there, I’ve corrected that error and continue to count Kubrick as one of my favorite filmmakers.
If you call yourself a film buff, then you’ve probably made your way through Stanley Kubrick’s filmography at least once, maybe even twice. You probably could rattle off your top 3 Kubrick movies (For me, it’s A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Dr. Strangelove). You probably even have an interpretation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. For UCLA film student, Shawn, Kubrick’s films are life, and eventually, could mean his death.
Kubrick’s Game, the first adult novel from Derek Taylor Kent, takes the best aspects of National Treasure, The Da Vinci Code, and Ernest Cline’s first two geek-centric novels (Ready Player One and Armada), and slaps it against a backdrop of film school seriousness and the elusiveness of arguably the greatest mind the film world has ever seen. What the reader gets is a fun, thrilling adventure through the masterworks of Kubrick that may even educate.
The novel revolves around Shawn, an undergraduate film student at UCLA who has a keen eye for the technical aspect of filmmaking, but has trouble with the most basic aspect of human interactions, like nuance and social cues. Because of his social inadequacy, Shawn has chosen to dive fully into the work of Stanley Kubrick as a way to distract himself from his own shortcomings. Shawn is obsessed, to the point where he challenges his film studies professor on day one of the classes, over the pronunciation of the director’s name and whether or not Kubrick could have possibly made a mistake in continuity in his film Lolita. Luckily, this sort of intensity is just what Shawn needs to solve the puzzle left by the famous auteur.
You see, a special package has just arrived, addressed to Professor Mascaro, Shawn’s film professor. The package includes the first clue in a film-centric scavenger hunt that promises to unveil one of the biggest secrets in recent history; and it just so happens to be created by the late Stanley Kubrick himself! Teaming up with Wilson, a former child star and the closest thing Shawn can call a friend, and Samira, Shawn’s teacher’s assistant/crush, Shawn works to unravel the secrets Kubrick has built into his films. The three students aren’t the only ones out to solve the game, though. Similar packages were sent to all the major film schools, and even worse, this game may have angered a more nefarious group of people. People who may prefer to keep Kubrick’s secrets hidden.
Kubrick’s Game has drawn comparisons to Ready Player One, the pop culture puzzle-adventure novel from Ernest Cline, and it’s easy to seethe comparison. The main characters share similar characteristics and the puzzles that revolve around knowledge of pop culture are both exciting and informative in their own right. Kubrick’s Game doesn’t seem to get bogged down in the reference aspect of its game as much as Ready Player One or, more severely, Armada, Cline’s second novel. All references seem to lead somewhere and play a valuable role in the mystery.
One of the strongest aspects of this novel is just how much research went into this to create a puzzle and mystery that feels legitimate. Author David Taylor Kent pulled from a lot of reference points, from nearly every Kubrick film to biographies to even Room 237, the documentary that examines a number of conspiracy theories surrounding The Shining. Because of this, the amount of detail you get out of this novel concerning Kubrick could fill an introductory film class curriculum. Even if you’re a Kubrick fanatic, you may come away with learning something that you never knew before. It may even make you want to watch Eyes Wide Shut, which is a weird thing to say.
The heart of this book is Shawn, his growth, and his ability to face the demons he’s ignored in favor of devouring everything film related. He admits he probably is on the autism spectrum, but he uses it as an excuse to not try, even as his friend Wilson tries to walk him through the nuances of college socialization. This struggle forces Shawn even further into the game, as he starts to see winning the game as a way to justify the countless hours he’s spent watching movies and picking them apart to a maddening degree. Along for the ride is Wilson and Sami, both of which are nice additions to the plot. They add to the overall dynamic of Shawn’s life and each offer their own strength in the competition.
Overall, I couldn’t help but enjoy this book and any film fan should have a good time with Kubrick’s Game. Derek Taylor Kent does a great job of creating a crowd-pleasing mystery that never forgets to enjoy itself. It’s a fun trip through Kubrick’s filmography, written by an author that obviously has a love for film and did his homework.
Kubrick’s Game will be released on September 26th. Pre-order it HERE.
RATING: 7 out of 10