Full transparency: I haven’t read the book yet (my TBR list keeps growing), but filmmaker Steven Spielberg brings nostalgia to life in his new science fiction action adventure “Ready Player One“.
Based on Ernest Cline’s bestseller of the same name and set in a dystopian 2045, the world is on the brink of chaos and ruin.
For the people who have managed to survive drought and devastation, salvation can be found in the OASIS – a virtual reality universe created by the quirky, oddball James Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, he pulls a Willy Wonka by leaving his immense fortune and control of the OASIS to the first person to find a series of three keys that will lead to a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the virtual universe. Years after Halliday’s death, not a single key has been found; it’s at this point that we meet an unlikely young hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). He cracks the first key clue and along with his clan of unruly misfits, he is hurled into a reality-bending scavenger hunt through a universe full of pop-culture references and 80’s nostalgia, all while balancing the real-world consequences of his virtual reality choices.
Wasting no time, Spielberg drops you right into the action; the first five minutes a voice-over narration tells you of the worlds current state of affairs. We are quickly introduced to real-world Wade Watts before his virtual avatar Parzival gets behind the wheel…literally. Driving a Back to the Future styled DeLorean, Parzival gets ready to partake in a global race through a city maze that will result in the first key. Here we meet his mechanic hacker best friend Aech (voiced by Lena Waithe) and his love interest, the always cool and collected Art3mis (voiced by Olivia Cooke).
When Parzival finally realizes how to beat the first challenge, the real world corporate entities (ironically trying to figure out how much of the OASIS they can sell to high-bidding advertisers) conspire to buy him out in order to control the OASIS. When he refuses their leader Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) takes matters into his own hands and targets real-world Wade’s family. Realizing the true depth of what is at stake, Parzival must unite a global player posse to dismantle the attempted corruption of their virtual haven.
Regardless of how stunning they are, at 140 minutes and given that this film takes place in a virtual reality, a case can be made for an overload of visuals.
From volcanoes to the frozen tundra of Everest, this virtual reality spans any type of climate or planet someone could think of, and while some may say it’s overwhelming I think it’s best described as “happily relentless”.
The character references are also in abundance – from Chucky to Mechagodzilla, King Kong to Monty Python. There were multiple times where I audibly squealed in delight when a reference I loved appeared on the screen, all while still remaining present with the story. This is because Spielberg’s control of the film’s rhythm and pacing keep Wade’s story from getting lost in the wave of nostalgia flooding your senses.
The dialogue in Ready Player One isn’t dripping with eloquence or full of philosophical interpretations, but the film doesn’t try to be something other than what it is. It’s clear from the beginning that it’s intent is to provide a visually entertaining rollercoaster, dripping to the point of toxicity with nostalgia. His attention to detail makes routine moments, like characters walking through Aech’s garage full of half-built projects or going through their virtual inventory, entertaining and engaging.
On an existential level, some might say that Ready Player One is a horror movie about the impact VR could have in our lives. Call me a romantic of sorts, but I see it as a film about how humans are so digitally connected on a global level, that we now undervalue the human connection right in front of us. However, if Spielberg and Cline were hoping we would spend less time on technology after viewing this movie, they shouldn’t have made the OASIS look so inviting and communal.
In the all-out geekfest, Ready Player One is fun for this generation and the previous. I can honestly say I truly haven’t enjoyed, like “giddy smiles through the whole film” enjoyed, a movie like this in a long time.