In the not terribly distant future, the world’s major cities are all now slums. The one source of hope is a contest set up by the late James Halliday, the creator of the virtual reality world of OASIS, the winner of which will take control of Halliday’s shares and of the OASIS.
Based on the book/co-writer of the film Ernest Cline (more on that someday), Ready Player One is a nostalgic dream, as the OASIS is drenched in references from the last several decades, particularly from the 80’s, the period that Halliday and Cline spent much of their growing years. When Steven Spielberg signed on to direct, it was a perfect match: the man who created some of the most iconic movies of the last several decades directing a movie that takes place almost entirely in an extended pop culture reference. And, for the most part, Spielberg pulls it off, creating a fun world that spends more time referencing and “honoring” the work of others instead of his own (although the T-Rex from Jurassic Park makes a memorable appearance). The story itself that surrounds the references is perfectly sufficient, and allows for interesting set pieces, but one has to wonder if they film could have done more with the dystopian setting of the real world. Although that isn’t really why one would see a movie like Ready Player One, it’s always interesting why a movie (or the book it is based off of, but again, more on that someday) passes over what might be the most interesting part of the universe its set in.
The movie’s biggest issue (outside of what is discussed above) is a lead character that is not nearly as interesting as the characters that surround him. Wade Watts, with his OASIS stand-in Parzival, (Tye Sheridan) is so obviously a stand-in for the book’s author, an uber-nerd whose obsession with pop culture allows him to become successful and win over a girl, but the character just isn’t especially interesting. Sheridan does some okay work, but there just is not a lot for him to do, and when you put him against characters like Samantha Cook (Olivia Cooke, this film’s MVP), and her OASIS stand-in Art3mis, a teenage girl who sees the world around her and understands how it can get worse if the wrong person wins Halliday’s contest and participates in a revolution to handle it, Watts just doesn’t have a lot going for him. Aech, Watts’ best friend in the OASIS, also has some interesting complexities, but the true identity is a bit of a spoiler in the film, so I’ll avoid going into detail. However, the true identity makes the character way more interesting than NerdBoy who can save the day, which makes it all the more frustrating that we are stuck with Watts.
As most of the film takes place in the entirely CGI-world of the OASIS, it is essential that the world be engaging, and the visual effects team does some really solid work here. Although it could never be mistaken for reality, the design is real enough and is attractive enough that you can understand how easy it would be to get lost in it, especially in the dystopia that surrounds our characters in the real world. Watching the CGI characters interact with live action elements also stand out, whether it be Wade’s avatar interacting with the film’s antagonist (Ben Mendohlson) or a brief conversation with Halliday himself (Academy and Tony Award winner Mark Rylance). The film’s most memorable moment is when our heroes enter the world of Stanley Kubrick’s infamous adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining. Although it is difficult to imagine that Kubrick would be in love with the idea of his work being used in this way, the moment the characters walked into this setting, I gasped with how well the characters seemed to mesh with what appeared to be actual footage of the film. What followed were five minutes of horror and fun as the heroes had to sneak through famous segments of the film (blood elevator, the maze, the bathroom in room 237) in order to earn the missing key to Halliday’s prize.
In general, the film accomplishes what it seeks to accomplish, providing a thrill ride drenched in decades of pop culture nostalgia. Although it will not likely end up on any top ten lists for the year, or in Spielberg’s career, this film, in conjunction with the recent release of The Post, shows how talented of a director Spielberg is, as he is so impressively able to balance serious dramatic turns and crowd-pleasing joy rides. We are lucky to have him.
References Ready Player One Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ready_Player_One_(film) Photo Credits Cover Photo https://static.tumblr.com/ouoa1be/C6cp4yc0r/share3.jpg.jpeg Parzival and Art3mis https://tjatthemovies.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/7132d-1522082481855.jpg Captain America https://i.imgur.com/XS5LK.gif?noredirect