Should I Watch..? 'Ready Player One'
What's the big deal?
Ready Player One is a sci-fi adventure film released in 2018 and is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline. Directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg, the film is set in the near future where people spend much of their time in an online virtual world called the OASIS. When the creator of the OASIS James Halliday dies, a young man and his group of friends endeavour to solve the mystery left behind by Halliday before a corporate army of gamers led by business rival Nolan Sorrento. The film stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, TJ Miller, Simon Pegg and Mark Rylance. The movie is notable for containing an extreme number of pop-culture references from video games, movies, anime, toys, music, comics and TV shows from the Seventies right up to the present day. While some critics noticed some significant changes to the book's plot, the film received a generally warm response from critics. Audiences loved the film which would go on to earn in excess of $582 million worldwide as well as an Oscar nomination for its visual effects.
What's it about?
In 2045, society is blighted by poverty and mass unemployment so most people turn to an online virtual world to escape called the OASIS. Developed by James Halliday and Ogden Morrow, the OASIS allows people to partake in whatever they most desire: be it high-speed racing, violent confrontations on an epic scale or simply to shut out the outside world. When Halliday dies, a video is released of his avatar Anorak explaining that there are three keys hidden within the OASIS that will unlock an Easter Egg. This will grant the winner total ownership of the OASIS itself as well as a portion of Halliday's wealth, estimated to be trillions. The contest attracts a number of players known as Gunters (Egg Hunters) as well as the interest of Nolan Sorrento, CEO of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), who wishes to own OASIS for himself.
After five years of searching, no-one has made any progress including Wade Watts who goes online as the avatar Parzival, an orphaned living in the squalid 'stacks' of Columbus, Ohio. Together with his hulking mechanic friend Aech (pronounced as the letter H), they spend their days trying to complete a seemingly impossible race to get to the first key. But after a chance meeting with legendary figure Art3mis, Parzival is inspired to revisit an online archive of Halliday's memories in order to find clues. And after he stumbles across what might be a possible clue to help win the race, it brings about consequences for everyone both online and the real world...
Wade Watts / Parzival
Samantha Cook / Art3mis
Helen Harris / Aech
James Halliday / Anorak the All-Knowing
Zhou / Sho
Toshiro / Daito
Zak Penn & Ernest Cline*
Release Date (UK)
28th March, 2018
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Academy Award Nominations
Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
It's easy to forget that Spielberg has an enviable lineage when it comes to producing blockbusters with mass appeal, given his other fondness for more serious and historical fare. But Ready Player One is a return to form and one that, probably, only Spielberg could actually pull off. The sheer volume of references to all things pop-culture going back to the 1970s is staggering so acquiring all the licences would have taken years and many dollars. But not only that, the film is a relentless and pacy adventure for the 21st century - a boundary-hopping journey through a cyber-space that doesn't feel too fantastic but still fantastic enough to peak our interest. Geeks and nerds like myself will undoubtedly be in a permanent state of excitement at trying to find all the secrets and cameos from everything from Back To The Future and The Shining to RoboCop and A Nightmare On Elm Street. This is the film that Wreck-It-Ralph wanted to be.
Spielberg manages to keep the film's pace running at a break-neck speed so anyone hoping to catch every reference in the film will have to watch it several times. The narrative might feel a little derivative but Mendelsohn has a knack for playing baddies that are much more dangerous than they might appear. As the fresh-faced heroes of the picture, Sheridan and Cooke do a decent enough job (I wasn't familiar with either if I'm honest) but I was far more interesting in Waithe's role and character online - both seemed more compelling than the rather bland leads. The same can also be said of the real-world outside of OASIS - I wanted to know more about the world these people were escaping from, spending their days in converted shipping containers and virtually gaming their lives away.
Technically and visually, the film is a tour de force with long CG scenes seamlessly integrating with live-action at the drop of a hat. OASIS looks like a virtual playground with every possible whim (at least, if you're a gamer) catered for and populating it with characters from real and imagined sources makes it feel all the more believable - look at the online multiplayer games of today and it's not hard to imagine this movie becoming more than just speculative fiction. I especially enjoyed the sequence involving our characters playing their way through a digital recreation of The Shining which looks as though they've not only digitally recreated the sets but also featured CG characters alongside and interacting with the filmed characters. It's a fantastic achievement and once again underscores just how much movie magic Spielberg is able to conjure.
- Spielberg was conscious of not including too many references to his own films, given how many of Spielberg's more iconic films were from the Eighties - the basis for many of the film's pop culture references. Only the T-Rex from Jurassic Park and the alien ships from his adaptation of War Of The Worlds feature in the film as a result.
- Blade Runner was an integral part of the source novel which did not appear in the film adaptation. Pat of the reason for their absence in Ready Player One was because Blade Runner 2049 was in production the same time. Instead, Spielberg secured the rights to The Shining as a homage to his friendship with Stanley Kubrick.
- Although it's never revealed in the film, OASIS is an acronym for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation.
- One of the many references in the film was for Last Action Hero, one of the first screenplays written by co-writer Zak Penn. Cline himself insisted that it be in the film without Penn's knowledge, who only learned of it after the first trailer was released.
What's not to like?
What's really clever about the film is that it's about a group obsessively searching for references and easter eggs in a film that challenges you to obsessively search for such things within it. And while that may satisfy some, I need a bit more from my movie-going experience. There are times when the film feels a little lazy in terms of its narrative - the second key, for example, seems to be acquired far too easily while the first key is almost insulting to suggest that nobody had tried that tactic in five years - frankly, I've seen people do that on Mario Kart after a few minutes. And despite the stakes and risks taken, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of tension. I was under no doubt how the film would end and frankly, the scariest thing about the movie were the scenes set within The Shining and I personally attribute that to Kubrick's nightmarish vision brought to life than anything The Bearded One did.
Like I said before, I wasn't particularly engaged by either Sheridan or Cooke who have the majority of screen-time. But their roles are affected by being underwritten, like many of the supporting cast who mysteriously turn up in a van halfway through and apparently all already know each other despite anonymity within OASIS being very important. I can handle underwritten characters but the film feels overwritten at other times - the group's activities at IOI headquarters is scarcely believable and seems overcomplicated, much like the film's climax. But I admit that I'm being a bit harsh on this film due to Spielberg's stratospheric standards and reputation. He is a film-maker like no other besides his good friend George Lucas, who is able to take his audience on such a wild and inventive ride that you can forgive the odd niggle here and there. It's been a while since Spielberg delivered such a crowd-pleasing adventure such as this and it's nice to see that he can still pull off something ambitious and enjoyable as this.
Should I watch it?
Ready Player One should be essential watching for anyone who grew up in the Eighties and Nineties. It's an action-packed, nostalgic adventure that provides audiences with the same sort of escapism that OASIS provides the film's characters. While it skimps on making too much in the way of social commentary, the film should be heralded as yet another classic film from Steven Spielberg that delights, excites and occasionally frights. See it with like-minded people and enjoy a few hours discussing the greatness of The Iron Giant.
Great For: nostalgia fans, gamers, anyone who has watched The Shining
Not So Great For: younger viewers (surprising amount of swearing, I found), non-gamers, parents afraid of what their kids are up to online
What else should I watch?
Few films, if any, will be as tempting to watch for reference nerds as Ready Player One which offers up such a veritable buffet of pop-culture that will satisfy such viewers for years to come. But such shameless name-dropping (or product placement, depending on your point of view) is becoming the norm in Hollywood and especially with video games. I've already mentioned Wreck-It-Ralph which has a handful of cameos from video game baddies like Bowser and Zangief from Street Fighter II. Another such film was Pixels which borrowed many of its influences from 8-bit classics like Galaga and Pac-Man although it still kept Adam Sandler in the cast so don't get your hopes up. A far more successful blend of references was The Lego Movie which is much better than it had any right to be.
Ever since the release of Duel in 1971, Spielberg has been busy creating some of the most successful movies in history as well as some of the most beloved characters. From Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark to the titular ET The Extra-Terrestrial, Spielberg's movies have often proved to be perfectly crafted pieces of escapist cinema that have thrilled and entertaining audiences for decades. His next film, scheduled for release next year, is a new adaptation of West Side Story based on the Broadway play.
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© 2019 Benjamin Cox