Prepare yourself for a truly wild ride with Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Ready Player One. Based on the popular book by Ernest Cline (Cline also co-wrote the screenplay), this fantasy adventure film is a nostalgic trip into the action films of Spielberg’s past and a futuristic romp into the CGI-heavy filmmaking of today.
The story is set in a dystopian United States of America in the year 2045, where overcrowding, pollution, war, and disease have taken a significant toll on the country. A virtual reality game world known as the OASIS provides a welcome escape to people everywhere. In the OASIS, you can be anything and anyone (as long as you’ve got the credits and lives to keep yourself going, just like in any video game).
The OASIS was created by a Bill Gates-type figure named James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, a message is delivered to the world that he has concealed the ultimate “Easter egg” (a hidden message or inside joke) somewhere inside the expansive game and that the user who finds the egg will inherit his fortune and become full owner of the OASIS game world. Not only do gamers everywhere decide to try to locate the Easter egg (OASIS gamers looking for the egg are known as “Gunters,” short for “egg hunters”), a corporation named IOI (Innovative Online Industries), run by CEO Nolan Sorrento (played by Ben Mendelsohn), uses its tremendous resources and aggressively tries to get the egg as well in order to take control of the OASIS and gain a great competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Our hero, Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan), a teenage orphan who lives in a poverty stricken area of Columbus, Ohio and who spends much of his time in the OASIS to get a break from his difficult circumstances, decides to be a Gunter with the hopes of finding the egg and greatly improving his life. Known by the avatar “Parzival” in the game, Wade/Parzival enlists the help of his four main virtual friends in the OASIS, together known as the “High Five”: his best virtual friend “Aech” (we learn more about Aech in the movie), a teenage girl named Samantha, aka”Art3mis” (played by Olivia Cooke), and virtual brothers Toshiro Yoshiaki, aka “Daito” (Win Morisaki), and Akihide Karatsu, aka “Sho” (played by Phillip Zhao).
What follows is a non-stop pop culture extravaganza as these Gunters in the OASIS try to outwit the other gamers and IOI in order to keep advancing in the game to find Halliday’s egg. Anything goes with the gamers’ avatars and you will have a blast spotting all of the different movie, TV, comics, and video game references during the film’s scenes set in the OASIS. For example, more obvious references include Doc Brown’s famous DeLorean from the Back to the Future movies that Wade/Parzival drives during the car racing games and the Iron Giant replica that Aech is building to use in the game based from, well, Brad Bird’s 1999 animated classic The Iron Giant.
Everything from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which is one of my favorite gags in this film) to Gundam is fair game here and used with wild and clever abandon. I’m sure there are plenty of references that I missed but, hopefully, will be picked up through subsequent viewings and from movie fans on the internet (The New York Times prepared an excellent primer here). There are also some great homages to other films as well, including Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and many others.
Steven Spielberg and his team have done an extremely impressive job with storytelling in this very entertaining live action/CGI film. While most of the action takes place inside the computer-generated OASIS, the film still feels like a Spielberg film. He again enlisted his longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and both the live-action and CGI camera work is superb. The great soundtrack by Alan Silvestri is augmented by some fantastic 1980s pop songs which work perfectly in context of the film, too.
Probably what I appreciated most is that Spielberg used his deft and masterful touch in keeping the focus and tone of the film constant, entertaining, and fun, even with the incredible (and potentially overwhelming) amount of CGI present throughout. And the film never loses sight of the important truth that while virtual reality has its place, it’s actual reality that makes life worth living.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars