Steven Spielberg is the master of blockbuster filmmaking, and his latest, Ready Player One, is a clear example of how a big-screen, big-budget popcorn film should be done.
In the year 2045, people have resorted to spending most of their waking hour in a virtual video-game world known as the OASIS – a place where people can be free of inhibition, a place that can encompass their livelihood. Shortly after his passing, OASIS creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) reveals to the world that he’s left an extremely hard-to-find Easter Egg in the game, that will challenge even its most skilled players. The reward to the finder – complete control of the OASIS, as well as access to Halliday’s billions of dollars in personal wealth. The Easter Egg is in fact so hard to find, that corporations with endless funding will stop at nothing to attain it. One such corporation is IOI, led by the villainous Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), and the only thing standing in his way; a young slum-dweller by the name of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) and a small group of fellow OASIS devotees.
Young people rising up against the establishment in a dystopian future setting is nothing new in modern mainstream mediums, and can at times be underwhelming when brought to film. Thankfully, Ernest Cline’s book of the same name makes for some great source material, and through legendary director Steven Spielberg, we are delivered a thoroughly entertaining spectacle film. The film is an obvious labour of love for the director; like giving a kid the keys to the candy store, Spielberg appears to have had a lot of fun making this film, and we the audience get to go along for the ride in the final product. Ready Player One evokes a sense of wonderment from its audience, much like past Spielberg classics such as Jurassic Park (1993) and E.T. (1982). While this film might not go down in cinematic history like its aforementioned predecessors, it could very well become a modern day classic to its younger audiences.
The film spends its time evenly between the real world and the OASIS, with each of the performers delivering their best, be it in person on camera, or in mo-cap in front of a green screen. The computer generated characters and backgrounds look like they were ripped out of a triple-A title video-game, which for some may not seem very impressive considering how far we’ve come with visual effects in film, however this art direction is clearly deliberate, and is one that’s easily warmed to. From that perspective, the visual effects look amazing, and the world building is excellent. Despite whether the effects turn a viewer off or on, they don’t take away from each actor’s performance, all of whom give their digital avatars as much character as their physical, real-world counterparts, with some excellent performances across the board.
Sitting alongside the film’s principal cast of physical and digital characters, is an abundance of 80’s, 90’s and modern day pop-culture icons, featuring movie characters like The Iron Giant, Chucky and King Kong, and characters from video-games like Street Fighter and Battletoads, just to name a small few. The film is chock-full of them, and will put a smile on the face of anyone that grew up over the last thirty-odd years, but also anyone that’s into pop-culture in general. It’s a sneaky way to gain an extra few points from people that might otherwise not be as easily swayed by the film’s themes and story, but an effective one nonetheless, and being part of the source material makes it a required addition.
Ready Player One is blockbuster viewing at its finest, but is also a film with a cautionary tale. The future depicted in the film is not so far-fetched considering the rate that technology is advancing in the modern age. Spielberg himself even mentioned that this future is likely not far from reality, with the film giving an outlook of the dangers that come with obsessing over modern technologies. His advice – moderation is key. Whether or not we’re all stuck in a virtual world, completely detached from reality in another couple of decades remains to be seen, but for the meantime, we can simply enjoy a classic form of escapism, of the cinematic variety.
Before his untimely death, Gene Wilder was approached by director Steven Spielberg, who wanted him to appear in the Ready Player One as OASIS creator James Halliday. Wilder respectfully declined.