Ready Player One Review

Ready Player One

When it comes to Spielberg movies, I usually experience a healthy amount of trepidation these days.

Is this the Spielberg who made Jaws and the early Indiana Jones movies? Or is this the Spielberg who made Hook and The Lost World?

With Spielberg poised to direct the Man in the Hat for a fifth instalment next year, it’s fair to say his latest blockbuster offering will be scrutinised for evidence that he’s still got the directorial chops.

Based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One hits cinemas this week.

Welcome to Ohio, 2045. It’s dystopian, but in a diluted sort of way; reality is grim but most people use video games as a means for escape.

Not unlike the present day really.

Specifically, gamers escape to a cyber-world known as the Oasis, which is spread across various virtual environments and, through their avatars, gamers can essentially be whoever they want to be.

The Oasis, we learn through a lengthy and much needed voiceover, was designed by a socially awkward genius named James Halliday (Mark Rylance).

Before Halliday died, he created a secret game within the Oasis whereby three keys need to be found, leading to the location of a secret Easter Egg. Whoever finds the egg, wins trillions of dollars and ownership of the Oasis.

This virtual treasure hunt has spawned legions of egg hunters, also known as ‘Gunters’. Introvert Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is one such gunter, who goes by the avatar name Parzival. Along with fellow gunters H, Daito, Shoto and mysterious newcomer Artemis, collectively known as the High Five, Wade is determined to win the game and get the prize.

Standing in the High Five’s way, and desperate to win control of the Oasis, is Innovative Online Industries, run by ruthless suit Nolan Sorrento (the effortlessly sinister Ben Mendelsohn). Sorrento purely sees the Oasis as a valuable economic resource, waiting to be tapped.

Sorrento and his team vy with the High Five for ultimate control of the Oasis, but who will win?

If this sounds like typical Spielberg material, it’s because it is, and even more than you might think. Spielberg’s movies were referenced in Cline’s original novel so it feels pretty meta for him to be the one who adapts this for the big screen.

Incidentally, Spielberg wasn’t keen on inserting references to his own movies but the digital artists are rumoured to have sneaked in one or two.

For a film which, for most of its screen time, is based in a cyber world, you could forgive it for being ridiculously heavy on special effects. Yet, however cutting edge the special effects are, they usually come at the price of audience engagement. After all, it’s difficult to invest emotion when the characters battling onscreen are completely cgi.

Spielberg is usually a dab hand at weaving humanity through such visually flashy scenarios, which is why so much rests on the ‘real world’ scenes and the performances of Sheridan, Mendelsohn and Olivia Cooke. Fortunately all are strong, along with some expectedly reliable support from Rylance and Simon Pegg.

The script by Cline and Zak Penn just about keeps the dense plot navigable, helped considerably by the use of explanatory voiceovers.

Substance does take a backseat to style, and it’s difficult to discern what the film’s message is. A posthumous quote from Halliday posits that there’s nothing more real than reality. Halliday may deliver the line with a knowing smile, but what the hell does it mean? And is the film endorsing escapism through video games?

The movie does not provide answers to these questions. What it does provide is visual razzle dazzle and a cinematic experience which rises above being the loud, elongated collage of eighties and nineties pop culture it could otherwise have been.

Overall, this is not as engaging as Spielberg’s other blockbusters but is still entertaining, and the abundance of cultural references alone may merit repeat viewings.

Conor Brennan

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March 2018
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