Ready Player One Review
A love letter to the nostalgic realm of 80s geekdom made for the modern world
Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One will have you putting down the chocolate eggs this holiday season in search of a very different series of 80s-themed easter eggs.The science fiction book Ready Player One, written by Ernest Cline, was published back in 2011 and tells the story of a dystopian world in which the inhabitants escape to a virtual reality world called the Oasis, a place where you can be whoever or whatever you want. The book was a New York Times best seller and has been published in over 50 countries. Now with director Steven Spielberg at the helm it has been taken from the page and transformed for the big screen. It’s 2045 and the world that we once knew is now a distant memory thanks to overcrowding and pollution. As a result people have exchanged existing in the real world for a far more enjoyable life in a virtual alternative.
The Oasis, as our hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) tells us, is an expansive virtual universe where you can be anything and do anything, providing you have the kit and required credit. For Wade and thousands of others the Oasis is an escape from the harsh and bleak reality of life. Living with his aunt in a futuristic version of a trailer park called the Stacks - a place where the trailers are literally stacked on top of one another - Wade can forget the real world with its unemployment and poverty and become his alternate self Parzival a blue haired, denim vest jacket wearing avatar. But transforming into someone or something else is not the only attraction of the Oasis.
The creator of the Oasis, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who died some years back, not only created a place for people to escape into but he also designed a game within this world which has the ultimate prize: full control over the Oasis. But in order to win you have to complete some pretty tricky challenges each one giving a clue to the next puzzle with the ultimate hope of finding the hidden Easter Egg tucked away somewhere in this vast universe. With everyone trying desperately to find the egg it comes as no surprise to learn that a massive corporation called IOI (Innovative Online Industries) are doing everything they can to find the egg first and turn the Oasis into a money machine. Headed up by the villainous Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) IOI employs a team of super geeks who try to crack the clues academically while hoards of gamers called the Sixers try to compete within the Oasis.
Determined not to let the Oasis fall into the greedy hands of the corporate giant IOI, Wade teams up with four other ‘Gunters’ (egg hunters) to become the High Five in an effort to find the egg first. The High Five is made up of the love interest to Wade/Parzival called Samantha/Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) who has her own personal reasons for preventing IOI from getting the egg; Wade’s best friend in the Oasis Aech (Lena Waithe) - a half machine half man creation and in smaller roles Sho (Philip Zhao) a ninja fighter and Daito (Win Morisaki) a Japanese Samurai warrior. But what starts out as a virtual-world fight between the High Five and IOI soon spills out into the real world lives of our under-dog heroes as they engage in a race to be the first to find the ultimate prize.
There is so much visually crammed into Ready Player One that the images on screen make it both incredibly fun and highly entertaining to watch. The film is packed with an incredible amount of 80s pop culture and nostalgia such as the DeLorean DMC-12 from Back To The Future to Beetlejuice and Batman to name but a few of the more obvious ones. The world of the Oasis was brought to life by Oscar-winning production designer Adam Stockhausen who along with director Steven Spielberg, and of course the rest of the team, manages to create two very distinct worlds using the two main visual effects houses, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Digital Domain. The decision to shoot the real world in Ready Player One on celluloid and the world of the Oasis on digital further marks the distinction between the two along with the extreme difference in colour. The Oasis is a vibrant, neon visual experience bathed in bright colours while the real world where our characters actually exist is bleak and gritty. There are some really stand out set pieces such as an extreme race through New York early on that sees King Kong and a gigantic T-Rex (Jurassic Park style) wreak havoc on the contestants and an amazing scene set within the Overlook Hotel from The Shining.
Ready Player One bursts at the seams with 80s pop culture images and striking visual effects
Without giving too much away and risking spoilers, it’s safe to say that this is a film that warrants more than one viewing to fully appreciate all the detail that could easily be missed first time round. There is a strong 80s vibe to the whole film, despite being set in the future, and this comes from the soundtrack (the opening is Van Halen’s Jump) which punctuates the film nicely as well as through the costuming by Kasia Walicka-Maimone whose wardrobe choices exude 80s chic with a modern twist and also through Rylance’s Halliday who’s love for 80s pop culture is inserted into much of his character and the world of the Oasis. Even though the running time is a fairly solid 2 hours 20 minutes there are a lot of narrative threads woven into this film and at times it does feel as though it skims over them in a desperate rush to get to the next level without exploring all the rooms properly, so to speak. And perhaps because of this crammed narrative, the end of the film does feel anti-climactical whereas it might have worked better split into two films so as to fully flesh out the characters and spend more time within the world of the Oasis.
The casting is pretty solid throughout from the choices for the High Five to the power hungry Nolan Sorrento and his sidekick F'Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen). The film neatly divides the time between the real world characters and the avatars they play but does so in a way that the actual actors always feel present on screen even when in avatar form. The various avatars for each character, both good and bad, embody the features and traits that each of the ‘real’ characters have and after a while the visual difference becomes less noticeable between each world. In general the performances are good throughout with Rylance’s probably being the most memorable as the possible secret and nerdier older brother to Wayne's World's Garth Algar. Simon Pegg also appears in a smaller role as Ogden Morrow, the co-creator of the Oasis with Halliday.
I saw Ready Player One in 2D which was amazing so I can only imagine how much more amazing it would look in 3D. The story line is slightly underdeveloped in places and condensed in others and perhaps would have worked better as two films but, in spite of all that, it was still immensely enjoyable and great fun to watch. (Sadly there was no post-credit sequence, a definite missed trick there!)
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