Movie Review: Ready Player One
“Ready Player One”, the latest from the esteemed and equally influential Steven Spielberg, arrived at your local theater this Easter weekend. As the man who invented the blockbuster erects a timely and timeless adventure of prodigious proportion, coalescing around an Easter egg that centers the plot. There is no fixed ideological meaning hidden underneath the surface of the dexterous CGI, rather, Spielberg at the ripe age of 71, manifests a nostalgia trip that reflects the mission of the characters.
As the protagonists wander the decidedly 80’s inspired virtual reality “The Oasis”, the audience basks in the very same world of sentiment, as if every hidden or pronounced reference to the iconic pop culture of the Regan era was an Easter egg in and of itself. The audience is swept back to the future, in youthful vigor I might add, as a Delorean tactically breezes through Manhattan and around the obstacles of King Kong and Godzilla to the rhythmic beats and chorus of Duran Duran, playfully reminding us that we are in no ordinary world.
“Ready Player One” fits the bill of Spielberg adventure. A world of limitless possibility. Where a disarmingly zealous, mystical, and impromptu transmigration of sorts takes place, as the world in which we live is transformed into a magical ageless playground. Of course problems arise — here, we have our capitalist corporate fraudulent business sharks, just as “Jaws” had its own titan of industry (the shrewd business of preying on those who didn’t have a big enough boat). In an attempt at risk, albeit the stakes of death come in the form of losing your coins in The Oasis, the villain takes the shape of an over-acting Ben Mendelsohn who has upraised an army of gamer’s in hopes of finding three hidden keys which unlock half a trillion dollars and the game itself.
A feat formerly thought as impossible, has the world and its heroes on the very same quest. Similar to “E.T.’, the heroes do not wear capes, they do not bask in swagger and machismo, and they’re names certainly are not Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger (although if you look closely enough you may just spot a reference or two of their work). The heroes are kids, bound to youth and wonder, manifesting the once, arguably still, directors apotheosis for art and adolescents. Name another director who can effectively reenact the onslaught of uneasiness of the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining” and the groovy dance floor in “Saturday Night Fever” just a few minutes apart.
The Oasis itself was invented by the brain underneath the disordered hair of Halliday, played excellently by Mark Rylance, whose physique faintly resembles “Back to the Future’s” Doc Brown, although Halliday is far more comprehensive and human. A group of nameless teens who live in the stacks (which is essentially trailer homes stacked upon each other) in 2045 Columbus, Ohio, escape the hardships of every day life since “life is a bummer.” They strive for the modern American dream, winning the lottery. Although here, instead of scratching a card at your local convenience store, you endeavor on a fanciful underdog “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” adventure, where creamy syrup rivers are replaced with the sweet taste of nostalgia.
At the top of the leaderboard is the everyday teen Wade Watts, whose sobriquet Parzival would have us believe he is a passionate activist for German literature. On the contrary, Watts comes off as an equally curious and bland hero, whose self indulgent alternate reality ‘Final Fantasy’ avatar is the only thing remarkable about the character as a whole. The same can be said for his buddies. The love interest sports the username Artemis, whose alternate self is a rumination of 80’s punk rock, and then there’s Ache, Watt’s best friend, an Orc with a sense of humor. The three of which embark on an excellently bogus adventure, that takes us to the period in which Spielberg transformed, and why? “Because Bill and Ted did it”!
Somewhere amidst the overlong two hour and twenty minute extravaganza is a plot, which unfortunately is where the movie falls flat. How can the plot be the movie’s downfall? Well the clues can be found throughout the film’s references to the director himself. Take the logo that opens the picture, as the Amblin Entertainment appears, the silhouette of the infamous E.T. bike flying over the moon appears as well. The feelings of pleasant bittersweet emotion are triggered, as we faintly recount the childlike awe experienced when we first viewed such an immersive sight. Yet “Ready Player One” comes off as more of show then tell.
The camera wistfully captures the action from all angles, as cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, long time partner of Spielberg, hearkens visual bliss, yet the emotional and dramatic charge is alarmingly sparse. In fact, where E.T.’s characters basked in youth and relatable qualities, such a concept seems foreign if not alienated by Watts and his colleagues who share no charisma or chemistry. Once in the real world, they act just as awkward as today’s gamer stereotypes, which seems ironic.
The branded slogan is “the only thing real is reality”, which is really, the least real part about the whole thing. Nonetheless, when push comes to shove, I found myself time and time again captivated by the unforgiving spot-on music of Van Halen and the exciting popcorn-action that features Ernest Cline’s fun callbacks to pop culture’s most memorable era. And although Spielberg’s adaptation of the bestselling novel may take the liberty of erasing the drama and insert even more 80’s memorabilia, if you take a leap of faith and jump (as Van Halen’s opening song suggests), you may not find yourself mystically soaring over the moon, but you may just experience an Easter egg hunt as entertaining as the ones you had as a kid.