Exhilarating action and homage to homages are the most engaging aspects of Ready Player One that exemplifies Steven Speilberg's signature charm, even if its visuals are more memorable than its messages.
Written By: Nigel Asipa
It seems Ernest Cline believes the 80’s to be the greatest decade of them all. Perhaps much of the success of video games, film and television is owed to that era. Cline is the author of the New York Times bestseller ‘Ready Player One’ who describes it as the ‘geekiest book ever made’. Warner Bros. was quick to claim the screen rights for the book in an auction where it was sold for around six figures, not long after Random House scored a publishing deal with Cline and Steven Spielberg signed on to direct the adaptation in March 2015. He described the novel as “the greatest flashforward and flashback at the same time”, and it would make sense someone such as him would helm such a project. He’s someone who makes movies for everyone and the love for both the past and present continue that streak.
Columbus, Ohio, 2045. Global warming and overpopulation have caused great concern socially and economically. Much of the environment’s integrity declined, and it’s future that’s becoming more certain for us in the real world by the year. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is a naive, shy recluse who lives life behind his VR headset. Him and much of the world escape from the crummy world of theirs to the ‘OASIS’ (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation); where you can be someone and do pretty much anything. Think of it as The Matrix, except you’re more fashionable and more offers are on the table.
Since it’s inception (another film about fantasy and reality), people have vied to capture the three keys scattered in the hardest to reach places across the Oasis. Concocted by its creator and much-beloved hero James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the mission is to collect the three keys to find the easter egg. Doing so will entitle the winner full ownership of the company as well as half a trillion dollars. Five years since the death of Halliday, no one has been able to find it since.
Wade isn’t exactly famous, a loner in fact. In typical Spielbergian fashion, our protagonist is without a proper family as Wade’s parents passed away many years ago. Instead, he tolerates his Aunt Alice (Susan Lynch) and her boyfriend Rick (Ralph Ineson) in the slums of Ohio. His only real friend is a renowned mechanic and top-tier gamer Aech (Lena Waite from Master Of None fame).
Wade knows Halliday better than most and visits the gregarious archives to study Halliday’s past to give him the edge over his competitors. No one has even passed the first race, and it takes a bit of digging before Wade takes a shortcut of sorts that assure him victory. He’s unselfish enough to assist Aech, and fellow player Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), a well known, skilled player who’s reason to acquire the keys has more heroic depth than Wade’s or as his avatar is known as ‘Parcival’.
Her purpose is to ensure that IOI (Innovative Online Industries) doesn’t get ahead and take control of the OASIS as the consequences would prove dire for everyone less fortunate. Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) is the corporate shark that runs IOI, and he doesn’t intend on playing fair with the others, the Sixers are his army of enslaved players that do his bidding to find the prize but so far to no avail. As Wade’s popularity and caliber rise so does Sorrento’s interest in him, and things get a little dirty.
Many directors were approached to helm the project, from Christopher Nolan to Robert Zemeckis. Speilberg signed to direct in March 2015 and since then worked on Bridge Of Spies, The BFG and The Post. Hardly any of them lit the box office on fire so this is probably the commercial comeback he could use right now. Spielberg was mentioned in the novel unsurprisingly. Projects he didn’t direct like Back To The Future and The Goonies, were backed by his production company Amblin Entertainment, and both are very much in people’s hearts, appreciating the era more. Rather than make it seem self-congratulatory, Spielberg decided to remove any references of his work and some may scratch their heads as to why the likes of Indiana Jones and E.T. aren’t to be found in the film.
Still, there’s much to see that’ll have you and your buddies/family in the theatre competing with one another to see how many references and homages you can spot before the film’s end. The film’s plot is quite thin and dead straightforward and the characters are hardly memorable. If you watch enough movies, you’ll notice the plotting to be pretty familiar, but the visuals and who’s who of pop culture are the real sell here. From Lara Croft to Freddy Krueger, from Duke Nukem to Tron, Ready Player One has something for everyone. Also, If you wondered where the Iron Giant went, wonder no longer.
T.J. Miller provides much of the comedic grace as Sorrento’s ally I-R0k while Lena Waithe matches him beat for beat. Sheridan gives just the right amount of underdog quality and hero bravado without making him too nerdy. You’d root for him anyway because well…his avatar drives a DeLorean time machine. Speaking of which, the nostalgia thrills can also be attributed to Alan Silvestri’s score that seems almost influenced from his own work from Back To The Future. The action sequences while thrilling and provide a few phew! moments can prove nauseating at times. Because there’s so much littered on screen, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on, and the overload of references make it at times tiring, even with the 3D treatment.
As seen in previous Spielberg fare like Minority Report, Fantasy Sci-Fi is something he does well. Liked the OASIS, he transports you to a world to be bedazzled by. Easter Eggs, homages or references have a constant; they all are identifiable by people with a keen eye for the properties these hint towards. It’s a wink-wink to those who are attentive enough to notice these references that expand the world of the film itself. There’s a cool movie within a movie sequence that’s pretty damn fun that for many would hardly be an easter egg at all. Even if you had little to no base knowledge of it’s many, many references, it’s gratifyingly uplifting and excitable which is owed to Speilberg’s grip of modern audience’s thirst for escapism.