Steven Spielberg. The measuring stick of directors, both current and aspiring, has been celebrated for his mastery behind the camera. At one time or another, someone has watched a Spielberg film. Besides his more adult-themed movies such as Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, and Schindler’s List, the 71-year old has stoked the imagination with The Adventures of Tintin, Jurassic Park, and E.T.
His most recent directorial outing is a successful return to a world of imagination.
(This review is spoiler-free)
Ready Player One is set in a dystopian Columbus, Ohio; the year 2045. An 18-year-old orphan Wade Watts (X-Men Apocalypse’s Tye Sheridan) lives in the Stacks: a bleak ghetto of scaffolding and stacked trailers. Like everyone else in the world, he seeks escape in the OASIS: an immersive virtual-reality world where you can be whoever you want to be. The OASIS’ creator, a brainy, socially-awkward “nerd” (as we would call them today) named James Halliday (Mark Rylance), has left behind a challenge in the wake of his death: Whoever completes a series of challenges wins not only the wealth of his trillion-dollar empire, but complete control of the OASIS.
Using the best-selling novel by Ernest Cline (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Zak Penn) as the groundwork for his world-building, Spielberg used his mastery to create a two realms for the audience to exist in: the glossy, colorful world of the OASIS and the bleakness of reality. This makes it relatable not only for gamers, but all audiences who can relate to the escapism of an art form such as video games or movies in comparison to the mundane of normal life. Right there, Spielberg can have the audience invested in the film along with the story of our hero. But he makes it clear that the OASIS is where you want to be for the entirety of the film – its constant blink-or-you’ll-miss bombardment of pop culture references makes you wish this world actually existed. This fanboy-nirvana where you could be racing in the DeLorean from Back to the Future, running from a T-Rex or dodging the destructive paws of King Kong while songs like Van Halen’s “Jump” cranks through the speakers (Might I add that the soundtrack to this movie is amazing, continuing with movies’ running theme of music from the 60’s to the 80’s to power the film).
Once the quest begins for Watts’ avatar, Parzival, and his avatar friends like Olivia Cooke’s punk, manga-inspired Art3mis, the pop culture references get heavy as you journey from the Atari to a Stephen King-movie nod. I thought that they were a little too much going into the third act, but the action and stakes picked up, thanks to Ben Mendelsohn’s wolfish rival company CEO, Nolan Sorrento, that it doesn’t really bother the viewer (but that’s just me).
I won’t spoil by mentioning the biggest allusion that I noticed from the film as Parzival runs to win Halliday’s game of Easter eggs in a movie full of them. I will say that in a world of adult greed and corruption, childlike innocence always seems to win out. What’s more Spielberg than that?
By the time you reach the last half hour and close with one of Spielberg’s cornier endings that wrapped up everything neatly, it feels like you just finished a marathon party of playing videogames with your friends or watching them play videogames for far too long. Eventually, you feel like you’ve lived through the 80’s in the two hour and twenty minute film. In other words, Ready Player One is a pure Thriller of an escapism, fantasy film that should appeal to all.