Ready Player One review
Its greatest strength maybe it’s greatest weakness
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD
Steven Spielberg has changed. Where once he produced blockbuster movies that tore up the box office, he now seems to favour the smaller, but no less excellent films such as Bridge of Spies, or the Post. When he has ventured towards the bigger budget tent pole movie, they have tended to be “big” movies but with a more personal core. On the surface Minority Report appears to be a futuristic pre crime movie, but it’s really a story about loss and how we deal with it. War of the Worlds even although you wouldn’t know it from it’s advertising, is actually a story of survival from the point of view of a single dysfunctional family. This is not the Spielberg of the 80s and early 90s. He’s changed, he’s matured and so have his films.
So it was surprising when he chose Ready Player One as his next movie. It seemed like something he would have picked (if it was available) in the 90s.
The book it’s based on is a piece of pop culture legend. It’s set in the dystopian world of 2044 where the rich are very rich and the poor are very poor. The only thing they share in common is the Oasis. A virtual world where you can make you’re dreams a reality. It’s free to use but items, clothes and paraphernalia used in the Oasis cost real money. The Oasis has become so all encompassing people borrow money from coperations such as the menacing IOI. When you get in to debt they don’t send the bailiffs round, they instead force you to work in the virtual world until you’re debt is paid off. The Oasis creator James Halliday is played by the excellent Mark Rylance who clearly had better intentions for the world than a simple pay to play virtual world. Unfortunately he passed away five years before the film is set, but not before leaving the ultimate Easter egg hunt trail. Whoever can work out where he has left 3 virtual keys will become majority share holder of the Oasis and will have absolute control. Think of it as a mixture between Willy Wonka and the Matrix.
The Oasis is brought to life with great technical skill and invention. Literally anything is possible in it. Ever wanted to see a T-Rex and Kong interrupt a race that includes the A Team trunk and the car from Mad Max? Tick. Ever wanted to see a Ninja Turtle fight next to a Battle Toad ? Tick. It’s a beautiful world that you would want to get lost in.
The virtual keys are hidden in the mind and memories of the deceased Halliday which are stored in the virtual world, for any budding treasure hunter to investigate. Our hero Parzival finds the first key and the story expands on from there as the chase is on to beat IOI to the keys and save the Oasis from advertising Armegeddon.
Now here is where the films greatest strength lies, but also possibly it’s greatest weakness. It’s heavy with references. Dripping with them in fact. Almost every frame of the movie is full of references to Halliday’s childhood during the 80s and 90s. At times it’s almost like spot the reference as Mecha Godzilla fights a Gundam, or Chucky from child’s play goes knife crazy on some of the bad guys. For someone like me who grew up in that decade it’s pretty much the ultimate nerd heaven. I look forward to getting to watch it at home and trying to pick out as many references as possible. But I wondered as I was watching it how the casual movie fan would react. A lot of the references could be considered to be pretty obscure and may go straight over many people’s heads.
I was giggling like a kid when someone brought out the glaive from Krull to use on one of the badly guys. But what does that mean to someone who’s not down with nerddom? Luckily I had someone with me who had zero interest in anything like that. I was honestly worried she may be bored sitting through this movie. I should have known better. Spielberg manages to make it about more than just, spot the reference. At the core of the movie is the idea of companionship and how we relate to each other, even in this day and age when we can put on a visor and escape the world. Friendship is important, family is important, Love is essential. These things bond us whether in the real or the virtual world. All these themes come through strong and will keep even the most ignorant to pop culture engaged.
A stunning looking movie that also excels on more than its virtual good looks.