Ready Player One (dir. Steven Spielberg, 2018) – The creator of virtual reality world OASIS issues his final challenge after his death – to find his Easter Egg that leads to his fortune.
Pop culture gets a stylistic tribute in Spielberg’s return to form with Ready Player One, a triumph in blockbuster fashion.
A faithful adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One may be comparable to watching paint dry. After all, not many would be thrilled to watch a kid recite every line of Wargames, or play a text adventure ad nauseam in bids to unlock virtual gates. It makes sense then for the film to completely reinvent the novel’s games for the big screen. Who better to helm the director’s job than Steven Spielberg himself?
The de facto virtuoso of cinematic adventures is backed by the original novel’s author Ernest Cline, who works with screenwriter Zak Penn to bring his story to life. The team does well to send main hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) on new challenges designed to excite in the visual form. That is even if practical effects take a back seat to a heavy amount of CG-inspired action.
In Spielberg’s hands, the potential desecration is done with little chance of raising hell in the fan community, who will enjoy spotting more than a few cameos. The epic car race at the beginning alone already features vehicular stars Christine and the DeLorean, or more strikingly, the King Kong and the T-Rex of Jurassic Park fame.
Perhaps the best cinematic reference involves a complete re-creation of The Shining, whose director Stanley Kubrick shares a close friendship with Spielberg. The unexpected deviation into the Overlook Hotel is bound to go over big with cinephiles, and confuse heathens who had never before met the Grady twins.
Throughout the games in the OASIS, Watts may have been the titular Player One. But it is reclusive inventor James Halliday who brings the heart to the film. The underrated Mark Rylance delivers the most poignant moments in his moving performance, as he fully conveys Halliday’s tragic regrets – his inability to find his place in reality and an unintended lost friendship with Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg).
Such heartfelt moments are few. Prominence befalls the OASIS, which meant that real world was never explored to its full potential. We never get to see how virtual reality tech integrates into the dismal conditions of the future dystopia. Beneath the outward aesthetics is as a result, devoid of substance. A shallow view of the gaming culture also features little commentary on the social role of technology and escapism in modernity.
That said, Ready Player One never promises anything more than fun entertainment, and it delivers. A delightful blockbuster is sometimes more than enough for most. In his intent, Spielberg succeeds and presents his finest adventure in a long time. A decade after his lukewarm live-action exploit with Indiana Jones, his welcome return to the adventure genre is no doubt deserving of celebration for all.