Written By: Nick Poulimenakos
An important thing to note: never base an opinion on a film solely on its trailers. When Ready Player One debuted its first trailer online, fans were quick to assume that the feature, directed by Steven Spielberg, was nothing more than a full-blown mashup of pop culture and nostalgia, comparable to a random YouTube mash-up of the biggest moments in entertainment. At its core, the film is exactly that and arguably in the hands of any other filmmaker, it would not have worked. But Spielberg brings that classic spectacle feel from his past blockbuster films and crafted a charming albeit cluttered story that is not only one of the most fun films of the year, it is a statement that Spielberg truly is a master of the blockbuster genre.
Based on Ernest Cline’s bestseller of the same name, Ready Player One is set in 2045, with the world on the edge of chaos and collapse. But the people of earth have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday. When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that grips the entire world. This catches the eye of unlikely hero, Wade Watts who, upon joining in on the adventure, is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger.
Similarly to the book, Ready Player One has a heavy dose of pop culture nostalgia. Never before has a film been so stuffed with references to anything and everything pop-culture-related. Within its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Ready Player One manages to showcase cameos from a variety of different mediums. One particularly great scene involved Wade — or, rather, his avatar, Parzival, as he climbs into the wing-doored DeLorean DMC-12 from Back to the Future and races through a rundown cityscape in a high-speed chase to the sound of Joan Jett’s I Hate Myself for Loving You, while he’s hunted by King Kong and the T. Rex from Jurassic Park. Everywhere you look in this film, there is at least one cameo or reference to point out including the batmobile, Freddy Kruger and The Iron Giant. However, with so many different references, the film can become overwhelming and tiring. At a certain point you may question, “was that really needed?” In truth, most of the references are well used and warranted but it would be a lie to say that every cameo was needed or useful to forward the plot along.
A common trope among adaptations of famous novels is that the film never lives up the standard set by its source material. However, for an incredibly dense novel like Ernest Cline’s 2013 best-seller, Cline and co-writer Zak Penn have crafted a narrative that superbly condenses the novel’s intricate and layered plot into a more clear and concise screenplay. While still omitting certain aspects that novel fans will surely gripe about, both writers aimed to integrate the right elements of the book that gave it its identity. The OASIS is an immersive world and one where people can escape to in an attempt to leave behind their real world problems. But Penn and Cline have showcased a potential future; one where VR is so advanced that it has become a metaphor for how people are currently when online.
Above all else, Ready Player One is a visually dazzling feature that exhibits Spielberg’s ability to evolve and adapt to the evolution of filmmaking technology that has cemented its place in film production. The bombastic battle sequences are phenomenally executed as Spielberg’s eye for camerawork is stronger than ever. The sound design during the big set-pieces in the OASIS immerse you in the captivating moments being seen on screen. You will feel entranced as all of your fictional childhood heroes grace the screen in a stunning, grandiloquent fight scene that feels second-to-none.
Nostalgia and visuals aside, one aspect where Ready Player One greatly succeeds in is its main cast led by Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts, a.k.a. Parzival. Sheridan brings a strong sense of mortality and naivety to the role, in contrast to his more selfish persona in the source material. Sheridan makes for a great protagonist as you quickly begin to empathize with his situation as well as his distinct but relatable personality. In a breakout performance, Olivia Cooke stars as Art3mis, one of Wade’s accomplices on his journey. She truly is the heart of the story by way of showing our main hero what it means to fight for what you believe in. Ben Mendelsohn once again takes on the role of the villain as he plays Nolan Sorrento, the sinister head of operations for IOI (Innovative Online Industries). Mendelsohn chews up the screen whenever he is seen and successfully conveys the mustache-twirling, corrupt business magnate that is Nolan Sorrento. Finally, there’s the creator of the OASIS himself, James Halliday, played by a Spielberg regular, Mark Rylance. In his limited screen time, Rylance delivers a memorable performance as the eccentric but misunderstood billionaire whose charm will quickly win you over if you had reservations about Rylance’s zany portrayal in the trailer.
Unfortunately, one aspect that the film squanders is its presentation of the supporting cast, mainly Wade Watts’ group of heroes, sans Art3mis. The film goes to great lengths to flesh out our two lead heroes but opts to not grow and develop the other three members, Aech, Daito and Shoto. Their connection with Wade never felt as strong as it was in the novel despite Spielberg being quite strong at presenting strong friendships in his past films.
Originally, Spielberg announced that John Williams would compose the score for the film, but this would not come to fruition as Williams chose to instead score Spielberg’s latest drama, The Post. In his place, Back to the Future and Avengers: Infinity War composer Alan Silvestri was brought on to craft the music. Silvestri’s score balances classic cues from past blockbuster features with original compositions as he perfectly recognizes the particular pop culture era he’s largely sampling here. Any movie fan will tell you that hearing Silvestri bring his Back to the Future twinkle back to the silver screen brought on a massive smile and Ready Player One’s score is action-packed, emotionally driven and all kinds of fun.
All in all, Ready Player One was an absolute blast of a time at the theatre. Spielberg has directed an incredibly fun and action-packed film that explores various aspects of pop culture through a mesmerizing visual lens. Underdeveloped characters and a few weak plot points aside, this is a film that deserves to be viewed in theatre and proves that Spielberg has not lost his touch on the blockbuster genre. Ready Player One is a film set in everyone’s dream fantasy world because reality has become such a daunting experience. Yet, the movie leaves you hopeful about embracing the real world and evading the escapism. Plus, who would not want to see The Iron Giant on the big screen once again?
Nick’s Rating – 8/10
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