Movies · News

Greetings, Starfighter: Ernest Cline’s Next Love Letter to the ’80s Is A Go

‘Armada’ will double down on the video game-tinged nerd nostalgia. Expect a DeLorean to cameo.
The Last Starfighter Game
By  · Published on April 4th, 2018

‘Armada’ will double down on the video game-tinged nerd nostalgia. Expect a DeLorean to cameo.

Author Ernest Cline had a hell of a weekend. Ready Player One, which he co-scripted based on his first novel, was number one at the box office, with a worldwide haul of $186 million. The book itself is back up to number four on the New York Times Best Sellers list and the audiobook is currently sitting at number one. Oh, and Cline’s birthday was Sunday.

Well, get out your favorite Rush album, because Cline’s other ’80s nostalgia project, Armada, an adaptation of his second novel, has found some development traction. According to Deadline, screenwriter Dan Mazeau (Wrath of the Titans) has been tapped to deliver the next draft of the script, which Cline previously worked on himself.

Mazeau seems like a solid choice to put pen to paper for the screen version of Cline’s novel. His background includes work on lore-heavy projects ranging from the Black List script Section 6 about the origins of MI6 to a Johnny Quest movie, DC’s The Flash, and of course the Clash of the Titans sequel. Cline’s approach to ’80s trivia is so referential it practically becomes mythology or lore. So, Mazeau will be on a familiar terrain.

The debut of Ready Player One makes it easy to see why Universal Pictures is putting Armada into development. However, they’ve had their hands on the property for quite a while. The initial sale of the project was a hell of a hustle for Cline back in 2012. His book “Ready Player One” was a smash hit and studios were eager for the film rights. On the heels of that success, Cline pitched a 20-page treatment to both film world and book world. Universal snapped up the cinematic rights for mid-seven figures while Crown paid out the same again for the novel.

Still, Cline shared that success wasn’t without its challenges in an interview back in February with The Hollywood Reporter:

“I see why oftentimes screenwriters and novelists don’t intersect. Once you finish the story to your satisfaction, you kind of put it out into the world and you want to move on from it. And I think if I’d come back to ‘Armada’ later,  even a year later, like I did with ‘Ready Player One,’ it would’ve been easier. But just going straight back to back, was really challenging.”

For all that, Cline clearly has a sweet spot when it comes to creative content. Armada” is also heavy into nerd culture from the ’80s and ’90s. So, when it comes to sussing out whether or not the next film will be for you, the question is did you dig Ready Player One? The film is clearly popular at the box office, but it’s not exactly a critical darling. FSR’s own chief critic Rob Hunter was wholly dissatisfied with the movie due to the lackluster presentation of nostalgic elements amidst an overly simple message.

Whether it struck you similarly or not, I’d estimate your reaction to that movie will be a pretty solid guide to whether you should be excited about Armada. The novel is effectively a love-letter to another Universal Pictures film, 1984’s The Last Starfighter. In that sense, I suppose it inverts the perspective from Ready Player One. There, real-world altering events occur within a video game. In “Armada”, success in a video game leads to world-altering events on a global scale.

The book follows Zach Lightman, a video game enthusiast who spots a real-life UFO that looks like one from his favorite video game. Fearing he’s losing his mind, he seeks comfort in some of his late father’s old things and discovers Dad had a conspiracy theory that pop culture films and games from the ’80s were somehow linked to the military-industrial complex by a sinister plot.

Is Zach losing himself in his fantastical games, or is there something terrible happening? It’s all a massive cover for a secret organization. Their mission? Trawl the general public for the right set of skills to help defend the earth against alien invasion.

The novel wasn’t as well-received as his first. The storytelling doesn’t tread new ground. However, Cline maintains his ability to paint a picture in your mind. It’s possible the cinematic Armada will shine brighter than the book. We’ll get a better idea of that once they attach a director to the project.

And if you thought Cline’s hustle had peaked, check again. Deadline also revealed he’s got another top-secret book and movie project he’s working on with Random House and Farah Films, which also produced Ready Player One and is working on Armada. There’s not too much else there, but you’d be safe to assume there’ll be at least one Rush poster in the background.

Related Topics:

Writer for Film School Rejects. He currently lives in Virginia, where he is very proud of his three kids, wife, and projector. Co-Dork on the In The Mouth of Dorkness podcast.