Synopsis – When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.
My Take – I will be honest, despite the gratuitous criticism directed towards him, I still remain a huge fan of director Steven Spielberg’s work. From the 1970s all the way to the 1990s, director Spielberg has given us some of the most engaging adventure films of all time both by young film fans and old, like Jaws (1974), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), and Jurassic Park (1993), to name a few. While experimenting with different genres, director Spielberg has always managed to handle material that showed that he has always had the required magic touch when it comes to connecting with audiences of all generations. Sure, over the past few years, with the exception of the disappointing The BFG and The Adventures of Tintin, his focus has been on more realistic period dramas and character pieces, which despite being largely solid and well-constructed films, have attracted niche than mainstream audiences. But with this film, director Spielberg jumps back into the mainstream fold by adapting a book (which I haven’t read) that has been making a name for itself since its publication back in 2011. After watching this adaption, I think it’s safe to say that he still hasn’t lost his touch, as the film is nothing short of a sure-fire hit! Mainly as this sci-fi action-adventure seamlessly combines reality and animation into one big, exciting film that throwbacks to not only the golden 80s of cinema, but also popular video games and music of that era, in fact, there are so many references in rapid succession that if you blink, you’d miss a few. With this many pop-cult allusions to count for an equally entertaining film, even the most fervid geek would be pleased.
Based on the 2011 book by author Ernest Cline, the story set in Columbus, Ohio in the year 2045, follows is about Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a timid orphaned young man, who lives with his aunt Alice (Susan Lynch), and in order to hide from the troubles of his trailer home known as the Stacks, spends most of his time inside a virtual reality world known as the OASIS in the form of his alter ego Parzival. The world of OASIS, which was created by James Donovan Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg), is a place where everyone goes to be anyone they want to be and do anything they can’t in the terrible real world. However, when Halliday dies, he leaves behind an announcement informing the creation of an Easter egg inside the OASIS, and whoever manages to find it will receive his entire fortune of half-a-trillion dollars and gain control of his shares in his company. In order to do so, the contestants must pass three missions and collect three magical keys, using their knowledge of Halliday. In order to get himself out of his real life living condition, Wade/ Parzival joins the race along with his VR BFF, Aech (Lena Waithe) along with the feisty and energetic, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), who would stop at nothing to prevent the keys from falling into the hands of OASIS’s rival company, IOI (Innovative Online Industries) and its ruthless leader Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and his army of nerd-consultants and professional game players which includes F’nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen) and bounty hunter i-rOk (T.J. Miller). What follows is two-hours of high-octane game-play and eye-popping 3D (it is good in 3D by the way) that melds a baseline of Avatar with soupçons of Tron, Minority Report and Dan Brown novels, but it’s a blend that works. It’s great to see director Spielberg back in the genre of sci-fi, with some of my favorite films coming from a genre he clearly thrives within. Here, he takes the blockbuster film-making bible to heart and delivers in spades on fun spectacle. The idea of the film is one that would light up the eyes of a director like Spielberg, and I imagine he had a ton of fun with this and they could not have found a better director, someone who knows exactly what this film needed to succeed, and it certainly won me over put my fears to rest as to whether it would be a good film or not. Sure, it won’t be for everyone, but for anyone looking to just have a good time with the film, you can be rest assured too, as this one’s a winner with its vast virtual world and array of pop culture references (including works of his own), and it’s one that he takes full advantage of, delivering a film full of explosive spectacle and pulsating action. Within the OASIS of the film, director Spielberg delivers some of the most visually stunning sequences I’ve seen in a long time, made somewhat more spectacular by the impeccable visual effects on show, handy when a large portion of the film is set within the OASIS. The various planets all have dynamic visuals to bring each one to life, with exciting, pristine villas grounded by the rugged battlefields of volcanoes. The real world of a future dystopian society is nicely created with their settings and with direction meshes well with our heroes’ journey through the cyberspace and as for the characters themselves, the team managed to recreate the various pop culture references in fantastic design but adding its own twist to correlate with the film. The visuals combined with the kinetic energy of the action make for such a feast for the eyes and, even when there’s so much happening on screen, nothing seems to get lost in the background. The heroes have that video game feel, immersing you further into the virtual reality setting as if you were part of the rebellion.
That’s a very hard balance to pull off and this film doesn’t even raise a sweat. In fact, some of the best scenes revolve around the absurd mix of online and real existence. Pretty much every scene in Sorrento’s soulless corporate HQ is a riot because of the seriousness with which they take their involvement in this silly online world, made even more ridiculous by the motions they all make in their VR suits as they react to unseen perils like well-dressed mimes. I also disagree with some reviewers calling the references in the film as leaching off others’ success, something which I deem unfair. If you didn’t get in the first 10 minutes of the film, would probably won’t get it too once the film is over, that this is a film made for geeks and nerds (like myself), and for us this sort of referencing is how they approach the universe. It’d seem odd if there were no open pop culture references in a free-for-all online world. More to the point, the film has a lot to say about online culture and the isolating effect it has on people. The film isn’t all pretty colors and film references, it deals with issues like how real the connections we form online actually are, the ever-decreasing distance between fantasy and reality, the importance of community involvement, and all sorts of identity issues that arise when we can hide behind avatars. The film has a nuanced message about the disintegration of society and everything that’s joyful about real human feelings. As Mark Rylance’s character s James Halliday, founder of the OASIS puts it, “As painful as reality is, it’s the only place you’ll get a good meal”. That’s an insignificant line in the film if you don’t stop and understand what it means. Ponder a bit and it’s clear that we wouldn’t need any form of escapism if we were all living in a perfect world. But reality bites. We know it and that’s why we invented escapism. The films have always been an escape, and despite the lack of any relatable character, the film more than makes up with social commentary that stings. The fact that the film is set in the future but made to look like the past only cements the notion that while the future is blank, the past has many fond memories we can always escape to. Without really trying hard, that’s all this film tries to be and who better than fanboy number-one like director Spielberg to take us back, to the future. Talking about references, the film is rammed to the rafters with throwbacks to classic pop-culture icons of past decades, and particularly the 80’s, while some of these are subliminal, and others are more prominent but very clever, from the Iron Giant, King Kong, Freddy Krueger, Chucky, Mecha-Godzilla, Gundam to the Delorean to glimpses of the Batmobile and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the absolutely perfect Overlook Hotel of The Shining. Until the end, the fast pacing never opens space for a dull moment. Yes, the story has a lot of clichés. Yes, some characters lack development and the real world stakes don’t feel anywhere near realistic. But damn, I was entertained! As without a doubt, director Spielberg‘s world-building skills are outstanding and the OASIS is a virtual place where pop culture references “pop out” on every shot. Overwhelming? Definitely, but you will loved it! Also, the cast here is awesome! Tye Sheridan is bound to launch this young 21-year old actor into super-stardom. Although half of the time, we see him as his avatar Parzival, Sheridan ably carried the whole film on his shoulders in both the action and drama components of his role. Olivia Cooke is excellent as the edgy, heroic nature down, a virtual Wonder Woman who combines brain and skills to deliver the sassy goods to the group. These two have wonderful chemistry together, two leaders who incite a rebellion of imagination, accomplishing it with grace that many young actors fail to deliver. Mark Rylance steals every scene he’s in as the vaguely Wozniakian creator of the game, while Ben Mendelsohn yet again showcases why he should be the go-to-guy for villainous roles in future projects, his turn as Sorrento here being one of the film’s high points. In supporting roles, Lena Waithe, Hannah John-Kamen, T.J. Miller and Simon Pegg are fun to watch. On the whole, ‘Ready Player One‘ is an incredible treasure trove for pop-culture junkies and succeeds purely on being a perfectly fantastic ride.
Directed – Steven Spielberg
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 140 minutes