Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Zak Penn & Ernest Cline
Technology is growing at an unbelievable pace, which is leading us into a future none of us could have predicted. What does it all mean? How will this affect the way we live our lives, the way we interact with others? Already, the social media boom has changed the way we form and maintain relationships. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook and Instagram make it easy to connect with old friends and family, those who might live across the country or across the globe. Meanwhile, the internet has brought people together with similar interests in ways people just a century ago would have never imagined. You’re reading this review, aren’t you, even though you may not know me personally? And yet, all this enhanced connectivity comes with not only great trepidation, as our everyday, human, real relationships and interactions may suffer (as we sit on the couch, or at dinner, with our significant other or friends, each buried in our own world on our smartphones), but also great responsibility, as we have just this week seen with the controversy surrounding Facebook and its distribution of personal data.
I’ve never read Ernest Cline’s novel, Ready Player One, but that did not stop me from being excited to enter into his world, as interpreted, and perhaps visually enhanced, by legendary film director Steven Spielberg. Flash forward to 2045 in Columbus, Ohio (everyone went wild about this in my Columbus theater – why do people get excited when films are set in their hometowns, especially dystopian ones?) and Columbus is the center of both technology and overgrowth. James Halliday (Mark Rylance) changed the technological landscape when he developed a virtual reality gaming platform called the “Oasis”, where people from all walks of life can explore new lands, use their imagination, and become the person they desire to be, while also escaping the harsh realities of real life. But when Halliday passes, he reveals an “easter egg” within the Oasis, and anyone who finds it, will inherit control of this important and powerful game. This sets off a race between Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and the IOI company, who have greedy intentions, and a few basic gamers (Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke) looking to win the game to preserve the world they love.
This film is a pop culture extravaganza, jam packed with every video game and movie reference you can think of from Atari to Batman to Back to the Future, King Kong, etc. I can sense that a lot of the appeal for this film will come from nostalgia alone, which is at once a brilliant stroke and a crutch on which the film stands. However, Spielberg is able to use these references to his advantage, despite them making the film seem far less original than the stunning visual effects and creative world building might suggest. And really, what makes Ready Player One a surprising achievement is in its ability to have fun. I’m not a serious gamer, but I grew up on video games still and anyone with a sense for adventure (wink) will get a kick out of how Spielberg is able to format the film as a video game with different levels and various levels of achievement. Of course, the plot takes place 90% within the Oasis itself, which means the film itself represents 90% video game to begin with.
In short, this film doesn’t have a lot of substance to it, leaning on the visual spectacle that it accomplishes with flying colors. The plot is rather straight forward: super important thing that stands for much more than the bad guy that wants it appreciates, so the little guys that do understand what it means to people battle him to get it instead, etc. etc. insert romantic love interest and life lesson. It’s not groundbreaking in that respect, but that part also doesn’t ruin the movie either. The whole, “the journey is the destination” message is, like my favorite, but I also get how standard and cheesy that is too. The whole, disconnect every once in a while and appreciate reality bit too, the same thing. No, no, no, those things are nice, but don’t come to Ready Player One for that, come for the sheer fun and incredible spectacle, because this film has both in droves.
Ready Player One shows once again what Spielberg is capable of from a simple entertainment value perspective. I am sure there will be plenty of critics who will dismiss this as complete fluff, emotionally inept. I don’t completely disagree with that, but what Spielberg has crafted is a hell of a crowd-pleasing ride, and what are the movies if not an Oasis, a place to retreat from reality to see the unbelievable, be someone different, live vicariously through our heroes who vanquish our villains? That’s what Ready Player One is all about, and it’s a smashing success in that realm. The cast, outside a fantastic turn from Mark Rylance as the game creator Halliday, is forgettable, but the film is decidedly not, whichever side you land on.