Ready Player One is full of imagination, fun and responsibility, as Steven Spielberg reminds us that it is okay to explore the world around us.
When I was a child, the biggest threats to society were the Cold War, the various arms revolutions around the world, and a whole lotta jelly beans. Gas shortages wracked everyday people along with the rising prices of goods. To combat the threatening oppression were movies that took Big Industry head on; that gave shape and hope that the human condition, that we as a race would be able to work toward a common solution. Projects such as NASA’s space shuttle allowed us to maintain our hope that things would eventually get better. The movies and gaming of that era allowed us to escape, and for a pre-teen with an overactive imagination to continue to hope, to imagine, to create. Thank god for the Atari and my local cinema, and VHS and Cable.
You might be wondering why I’m gushing about things that are reflective and reflexive of my childhood when this is supposed to be a review of the surprise SXSW screening of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. As Mr. Spielberg told excited audience members, “this is not a film. It is a movie.” Everything about the movie reminded me of very happy childhood memories full of imagination, and I’m here to tell naysayers who’ve read Ernest Cline’s novel, which the script is based on, to go into the movie with an open mind, because Ready Player One is the reason movie theaters were built in the first place.
As with a number of the fantasy films that permeated the 1980s and 1990s, Ready Player One is set in a dystopic near-future. The repressed population spends the majority of its time in an interconnected virtual space called the OASIS. When the founder of OASIS dies, his final wish is that whoever finds a hidden treasure first, an “easter egg” in geek culture speak, would be given control over OASIS. The movie stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, and Philip Zhao.
The script by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline explores two distinct worlds, that of OASIS and that of the real world. As big industry continues to crush the smaller people, they find escape within the virtual world, where avatars run the various courses and puzzles. There is a lot of joy and pure fun within the entire film, as the cast and Spielberg wink at us through pop culture references and music. Ready Player One is not a Spielberg gush-fest, but he is responsible for so many of the films that were a part of my childhood, that I didn’t mind.
As Wade Watts/Parzival, Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse) is like a kid in a candy store. It’s obvious throughout the story that he recognizes the importance and responsibility of finding the clues and unlocking the mystery. Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) is a perfect counter-balance as Nolan Sorrento/Sorrento. As the head of the company looking to win at any cost; he probably drank too many Mountain Dews as a kid and never got his way, so as an adult with all the money and resources at his disposal, he thinks he’s entitled to take control of OASIS. Olivia Cooke (TV’s Bates Motel) is scintillating as Sam Cook/Art3mis. She goes from “hard-to-get” to supportive relatively quickly, yet naturally as the story unfolds. Mark Rylance (Dunkirk) is a solid player, and his performance as James Halliday/Anorak is no exception. His gift to acting is that he has a wunderkind nature that the film nurtures and it is wonderful.
Ready Player One, if anything, is overstuffed with references, but it does not detract from the story. The two effects teams that worked on the film over a two-year period have risen to the challenge, and I would be very surprised if they didn’t get nominated for Best Visual Effects Awards by the academy because there is nothing artificial about the virtual world or the real world that the film paints.
Our presentation at the Paramount Theatre in Austin was in 2D, but I would highly recommend audiences to experience this in 3D, and with the biggest screen and the loudest sound you can find. This film will get you as close to experiencing Virtual Reality for a 2 hour and 20-minute period of time as is comfortably possible.
Spielberg has given the world a gift of imagination through his munificence. Ready Player One is that gift that reminds us that it’s okay to escape, to explore the world, while being aware of our responsibility to each other. Are you “Ready Player One”?
Ready Player One is rated PG-13 and opens wide on March 29, 2018