‘Ready Player One’: a celebration of Steven Spielberg’s pop culture
For over a decade now, Steven Spielberg’s cinema has taken a turn for the more historical, with releases such as War Horse, Lincoln, and The Post — all of which are solid movies, but ones that are safer than previous, more ground-breaking work from the director (think: Jaws, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Jurassic Park). And so when news broke out that Spielberg was adapting Ernest Cline’s fantasy-adventure Young Adult novel Ready Player One, I was, for the first time in quite a while, interested in seeing the outcome of Spielberg’s hand. And the result did not disappoint.
Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, and Ben Mendelsohn, and Mark Rylance, Ready Player One fashions a futuristic, alternate virtual world called OASIS where imagination runs free. Before his demise, the creator of OASIS leaves behind a video in which he explains the rules of a competition with a grand prize beyond every user’s wildest dreams: ownership of the OASIS.
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Blending CGI, animation, and live-action with tremendously visceral camerawork, Ready Player One takes its viewer on a virtual journey to the past — specifically to the pop culture era of the last millenium, featuring the most celebrated musical hits, video games, movies, and books. In a truly spellbinding turn, Spielberg bridges the gap between the past he seems so connected to and the present moment, resulting in an infectiously thrilling ride filled with crowd-pleasing moments that at once appeal to the more seasoned pop culture enthusiasts and entertain a new generation of moviegoers (and pop culture consumers).
That being said, too much of a good thing can make it go stale (let’s be honest, that bit about The Shining was a bit much), and the main storyline — basic as it is — gets lost in the glitz and glam of the production scale, leaving very little room for character development. For the film’s 140 minute run, we come to know very little about Wade Watts (Sheridan), Samantha (Cooke), or antagonist Nolan Sorrento (Mendelsohn), leaving us with unfulfilling, flat, two-dimensional characters (and that painfully shallow and forced dialogue isn’t doing anyone any favours). The focus is geared towards the visual extravagance of the OASIS at the expense of the characters driving the plot.
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In fact, much of the world-building has to do with the OASIS and not the outside world the OASIS was presumably designed to escape. Given the futuristic setting of the film, we see and understand very little about 2045’s Columbus, Ohio, and what exactly it is Wade and his gang are escaping from (and eventually resolving to return to) beyond go-to genre-specific subplots. If the intent of the film is to cast a light on “realness” of reality and how that trumps the virtual, then its inability to fully cross the barrier goes back to the fact that the film itself seems much more absorbed by the OASIS than the world outside it.
Though not fully addressed or explored, Ready Player One features a suite of interesting themes, an endlessly fascinating world, and impeccable work in CGI. It might not be the best narrative film Spielberg has made in recent memory, nor will you leave it with any emotional investment in these characters, but it is certainly his most ambitious technical effort in a while. And if not for that, then it’s worth a watch for the RX-78-2 Gundam.