Ready Player One

ready_player_one_ver2STARS3It has been nearly a decade since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That was the last time Steven Spielberg (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park) actually directed the kind of live-action adventure that made him THE highest-grossing director worldwide.  That alone makes Ready Player One something to be excited about. The production is an adaptation of the popular sci-fi novel of the same name by Ernest Cline. His novel was set in a dystopian future 2044 about a teenaged protagonist that simply wants to solve a 3 part quest in a virtual reality video game.

In Columbus, Ohio, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is from “The Stacks.” The name denotes a decaying trailer park where vehicles are stacked on top of one another so more people can live in the same space.  This is apparently because of overpopulation problems and possibly economic ones as well. Existence is a bummer and so to escape, citizens turn to the OASIS, a hyper-realistic 3D virtual reality video game. The game itself is presented as something of a paradise. People enjoy the OASIS. The real world may be a dystopia, but virtual reality is not. Within the OASIS, you can literally be anyone. For reasons I still don’t understand, Wade chooses to look like a frail teen named Parzival. He’s the expression of an unexceptional anime character. Within the game, he frequently interacts with Aech (Lena Waithe), a huge muscular mechanic, as well as the samurai Daito (Win Morisaki) and ninja Sho (Philip Zhao). Never having met any of these people, Wade only knows them from their chosen avatar.  Their physical appearance in the real world is a mystery…initially.

The OASIS was created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg). Eccentric billionaire Halliday is no longer with us.  However before he died, he announced that he had hidden an Easter egg within the OASIS that would be accessible after three keys were found. Collect the keys and his fortune (and control of the OASIS) is yours. Holy shades of Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory! This mission forms the crux of the story. Everyone wants to win. Wade and his friends want to escape the very mire of their existence. The main antagonist is the evil CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who runs IOI (Innovative Online Industries). Sorrento has rounded up a number of players to find the keys for him. He seeks to take over the OASIS and exploit it to augment his already massive fortune. To be honest, he and Wade ostensibly want the same thing but Sorrento is willing to murder to get what he wants so that’s where the narrative makes it OK to root for Wade and not Sorrento. I’m not sure if Sorrento’s personal style was supposed to recall Assistant Principal Vernon in The Breakfast Club but given the film is all about the pop culture of a certain era, I’ll assume the casting choice was intentional.

It’s a bit ironic that I’ve spent two paragraphs detailing the backstory for a movie in which the plot is so weak. The aforementioned set-up is merely an excuse to present a CGI fest of various challenges. The viewer is invited to stare wide-eyed and slack-jawed as we marvel at the technological curiosity before us. Don’t get me wrong.  This is a visual wonder to behold. Each quest involves obtaining a key. The first may be obtained when our fearless hero must finish a race. We see him drive a replica of the DeLorean from Back to the Future through a Hot Wheels-style course with jumps and loops. It’s seemingly impossible to even finish. King Kong manages to stop him in his tracks. The competition is run more than once. It’s during the revisit where we’re dazzled by some fantastic perspective shots. It’s a dizzying spectacle. It’s here where he meets love interest Art3mis (Olivia Cooke). She laments that her avatar is much more attractive than her real appearance. Then we meet her and she’s actually gorgeous. Oh sure she has a birthmark on her face, but she’s still very pretty. Her despair that he won’t find her beautiful is somewhat annoying.

Screenwriter Ernest Cline co-adapted the screenplay from his own book with Zak Penn. A big part of his novel were pop culture allusions.  Cline has a fondness for very particular things.  The author was born in 1972 and suffice it to say that the closer your birthdate matches his, the more likely you will identify with his points of reference. He occasionally acknowledges more recent things: the spaceship Serenity from the TV show Firefly for example. Though examples from 2000 on are rare. His treasured memories are mostly focused on the late 70s early 80s. His fiction was a love letter to fellow fanboys that obsess over comics (Superman, Batman), music (Saturday Night Fever, Duran Duran) movies (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, The Iron Giant) and video games (cartridges for the Atari 2600) of his childhood.

There’s a hip self-awareness that savvy fans will appreciate. A key element of the Ready Player One novel was specialized geek culture.  However, Steven Spielberg has wisely opened up that narrow focus and cited things that nearly everyone with a casual awareness of mainstream tastes can enjoy.  We’ve seen this done before in the movies. The Cabin in the Woods played with the manipulation of various tropes perhaps even more successfully, but the joy is similar. I won’t spoil the surprise, but the second key concerns an extended walkthrough of a certain movie. This is a departure from what happens in the book but it’s my most favorite setpiece. It practically justifies the entire production.

Ready Player One is a fine film. It’s entertaining enough but it doesn’t have the organic components of Spielberg’s very best work. I get that it’s all about virtual reality and so there’s very little that is tangible about this story. The frenzy keeps the audience at an emotional distance. We observe individuals in action but we never feel like we understand the experience or the intimacy of these people. It’s a technologically manufactured CGI amusement park ride, not an actual narrative motivated by plot and characterization. It’s no masterpiece, but it isn’t a disaster either. I’ll admit the 140-minute runtime can occasionally be exhausting. Yet there should be enough thrills here to satisfy most viewers. I was appeased.

03-29-18

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15 Responses to “Ready Player One”

  1. Got to see this last night and left the theater on a pretty big high, but yeah, wow. That plot was thin!

    Mark Rylance though, sheesh. I love that guy. He was a big part of why I ended up really feeling something in that bedroom in the end. The nostalgia factor was pretty classic Spielberg I thought.

    Like

    • Mark Rylance brought a quiet sincerity to the role.

      I think it’s safe to say Mark Rylance’s career entered a new level when he met Spielberg. They’ve done 3 films in 3 years: Bridge of Spies (2015) for which he won the Academy Award! Also The BFG (2016) & Ready Player One (2018). The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara is up next.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I guess I like mysteries and following the clues along with Wade. The more he learns about Halliday the more Wade learns about himself. This is fleshed out better in the book and the tasks are different and more challenging but I was entertained and waiting to see what was coming next and how they’d get the keys. Glad you had fun with the film. It was a good time at the movies

    Liked by 1 person

    • How to finish first in a video game race isn’t the kind of mystery that captivates my attention.
      You’ve got me curious though. What did Wade learn about Halliday that granted him knowledge about himself?

      Like

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        He learned to not hold back and take the leaps in life. Halliday always regretted not taking the leap with Karen. That’s why the clue is in the Shining where they went on their first date. Wade doesn’t want to make the same mistake with Artemis

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah Wade didn’t make the same mistake. Ok. Shrug. 🤷🏼‍♂️

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      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        I thought it was quite heart warming and sweet. Shrug back at you LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  3. As stated, we both feel the same way.

    Bigger question is, when is the annual summer box office prediction podcast coming? We’re really only three weeks away but I feel an argument can be made that it’ll start next week with Rampage (or sleeper potential with A Quiet Place/Blockers this week).

    Like

    • The release date for Avengers: Infinity War was moved up to April 27th. The podcast will be recorded the week before it comes out. Every year the summer season gets earlier. Remember when summer started in June? 😂 😂 😂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I feel like Robert Zemeckis should have directed this. I love Spielberg (my favorite director) but this was Zemeckis’ ideal story. He’s done the pop culture mash-up before with Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He’s worked with motion capture more (Polar Express, Beowulf). And Alan Silvestri, the film’s composer, is a frequent collaborator with Zemeckis. Spielberg did a decent job, but this was so different from his usual fare that you could tell he was so focused on the complex visuals that the characters suffered (even though character is usually Spielberg’s strength).
    Fun movie, but the plot felt secondary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nailed it. Character development was secondary to the visual spectacle of it all. It was so chaotic. I’m not sure Zemeckis would’ve surpassed what Spielberg accomplished, but you made an excellent case why he could’ve directed this. It’s an interesting “what if”.

      Like

  5. Not the magic I’d hoped for from Stephen, but I enjoyed it. Took a while to get going, but I was involved. 3 1/2 stars

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  6. My thoughts exactly. Parts of our reviews practically match!

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    • I remember when this was unveiled at SXSW back on March 11, 2018, audiences, made up of mostly die-hard fans, were ecstatic.
      It got a standing ovation!

      Less than 3 weeks later its debut at the box office was kind of ho-hum. I was expecting a huge hit. It wasn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

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