Ready Player One, 2018.
Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, T.J. Miller, Lena Waithe, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Ineson, Mckenna Grace, Win Morisaki, and Philip Zhao.
When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.
To everyone who once doubted (myself included) Steven Allan Spielberg, shame on you! Spielberg is clearly a bigger geek than all of us, and no one could adapt a book that is little more than a list of pop-culture references than the man who gave us Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in the same year. At the world premiere of his newest project, Ready Player One, the legendary director told a thousand fans that he “This is not a film that we’ve made, this is – I promise you – a movie.” Meaning this is not meant to be a The Post, but a return to the days when the man invented the blockbuster.
Based on the Ernest Cline book with the same title, we travel forward in time to 2045 in a more realistic version of The Matrix. James Halliday (Mark Rylance proving he can make any role better), who is the Steve Jobs of the future, has created OASIS, a digital world everyone on Earth spends most of the time on. A place where you can ski down the pyramids, gamble in a casino the size of a planet, and climb Mount Everest with Batman – all while you hide yourself behind an avatar and a username (so, like 2018 but with better graphics).
Since everyone in the OASIS uses an avatar, people can dress up as their favourite characters from Batman and Harley Quinn, to the TMNT, to Master Chief. So many CGI characters could have been an issue, but since this is a digital world, the characters don’t need to be realistic, they need to look like a videogame. This means that human characters have big eyes and very angular faces, and they make sense in the film. Spielberg isn’t a newcomer when it comes to using iconography and visual effects in his films, and this one has an innovative way to go from the OASIS to the real world.
We follow the same “Big Kid” Spielberg loves to make films about. Tye Sheridan plays Wade Owen Watts (really?) a.k.a Parzival, a young dreamer who tries to escape his trivial life and broken family – see what I mean? – via an escapist adventure. What is that adventure? The hunt for a digital easter-egg in the OASIS hidden by Halliday before he died, that gives whomever finds the egg control over the OASIS and therefore the world. That’s right, folks! We’ve got a sci-fi version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, only made for $200 million.
Spielberg has said he wanted to put the story in the front and rear windows, and the nostalgia and pop-culture in the peripherals. Deadpool, King Kong and a chase down the halls of the Overlook hotel are just eye-candy for the film’s tragic story of a boy who spent too much time indoors and whose biggest regret is not kissing a girl. Spielberg meant for Ready Player One to be a warning tale of the dangers of focusing on the past, but instead it ends up glorifying toxic fandom and entitlement by making the protagonist a hero just because he can memorize pop-culture trivia. Even worse is the treatment of its female protagonist Art3mis, who is nothing more than a wide-eye dream girl for Wade, birth mark included so he can tell her he’s the only man in the world who can look past that and consider her beautiful.
Even then, it is hard to heavily criticize Ready Player One when you’re having so much fun in the theatre. You feel in each scene that 71-year-old Spielberg made this movie for his inner 12-year-old by playing with the huge sandbox he helped created in the 80s. While the movie lacks all subtlety and avoids exploring the dark side of the movie’s world, we do get to see Gundam and The Iron Giant fight Mechagodzilla while Twister Sisters’ “We’re Not Gonna Take It” blasts out from the speakers. Janusz Kaminski (Spielberg’s regular cinematographer since 1993) shoots with a weightless camera that resembles a videogame, and Spielberg proves to be the best at blocking an action scene. We also get the same energetic adventure sound from 80s action movies in the form of Alan Silvestri’s fantastical score, which includes a little easter-egg to his own score for Back to the Future.
Ready Player One doesn’t offer memorable characters or an Oscar-worthy script, but Spielberg knows you won’t care about all that while you see the geekiest movie he’s ever made. A movie that has as much substance as the popcorn you’ll eat while seeing this movie, but that showcases Spielberg has the craftmanship to give you pure entertainment and glee in an adventure film like no other. When the man is 71, can you blame him for trying to have a bit of fun in-between making political dramas?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Rafael Motamayor is a journalist and movie geek based in Norway. You can follow him on Twitter.