Review: “Ready Player One”

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).

Wade/”Parzival” and Samantha/”Art3mis” in the OASIS virtual reality game in READY PLAYER ONE. (Image ©️Warner Bros.)

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.

A virtual reality racing game in the OASIS in READY PLAYER ONE. (Image ©️Warner Bros.)

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

As an added bonus, here’s the exclusive IMAX poster for the film by artist Orlando Arocena.

(Image ©️ Warner Bros.)

75 Years of “Casablanca”

Welcome to my new movie blog. I thought it would be appropriate for the first entry in my blog to honor my all-time favorite movie, Warner Bros.’ classic Casablanca (1942) which recently celebrated its 75th birthday.

From the “Casablanca” Facebook page (©️Warner Bros. and Turner Entertainment)

Casablanca is in the national filmgoing consciousness, whether one realizes it or not. The number of quotable quotes from the film alone make it probably one of the, well, most quoted films ever (just a sample: “Here’s looking at you, kid,” “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” “Round up the usual suspects,” and the often misquoted line “Play it, Sam”). But it’s the film’s themes of duty, honor, self-sacrifice and finding love within a world gone mad that keep me coming back for more.

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” (©️ Warner Bros. and Turner Entertainment)

Although Casablanca took home three Academy Awards in 1943 for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, according to an article on TCM.com, “Casablanca did not truly strike a resounding chord with American culture until about 20 years after its 1942 release. In the 1960s, a few years after Humphrey Bogart’s death in 1957, a movie theater called The Brattle [which still shows classic films; I’ve added it to my bucket list] in Cambridge, Massachusetts started reviving Casablanca for three weeks every year, drawing enthusiastic and increasingly larger crowds. Eventually, fans started showing up wearing trench coats and snap-brim hats like Bogie. These fans would even recite dialogue with the film…”

“We’ll always have Paris.” (©️ Warner Bros. and Turner Entertainment)

Now, Casablanca is available on Blu-ray and on most every Digital HD platform. It is also a staple on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), playing on the cable movie network next in March 2018 (check TCM.com/schedule for the latest information). If you haven’t ever seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while, I highly recommend taking the time to watch this wonderful, romantic, perfect film.