“Ready Player One” Movie Review


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     Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” is such a richly detailed extravaganza, that there are an abundance of likely reactions and take aways from the various audiences who are sure to consume it in copious amounts as its theatrical run unspools.  Some, who meet the required age and generation, may get a kick out of finding the hundreds of 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s pop culture easter eggs which are literally thrown at you rapid fire for the entire 140 minute running time.  Blink and you’ll miss something.  See the film a second time, and you're bound to discover the obscure ones you may not have caught the first time.  Most will fall into this category, but if you're a kid watching this thing, the near certain result is literally hundreds of classic film call backs zinging right over your head, leaving the core story to hold up entirely on its own.

     Perhaps another way of viewing Spielberg’s creation, based on the book by Ernest Cline, is that of a cautionary tale, where the masses have succumbed to spending the majority of their existence plugged into a virtual reality setting.  A state of being of which our society is already well on their way.  The dystopian setting takes us to the mid 2040s, where instead of seeing people starring into their iPhones, we instead watch as the population gets around with virtual reality glasses glued to their face, as they attempt to put aside their crappy lives in the real world and jack in to the OASIS.  Created by a Jobs like game programmer and life long pop culture fanatic named Halliday (Mark Rylance), the OASIS is a virtual playground which allows users to create an avatar version of themselves and have whatever experience they desire.  It’s so compelling in fact, that people are now basing their individual success as a person on how well they perform during any given day within this “Matrix” like existence.  As we are told early on, one can climb Mount Everest with Batman if he or she so chooses.  The possibilities are limitless.

     Within the billions of participants is Wade (Tye Sheridan), a teen living with his Aunt in a place called “The Stacks”, a lower income neighborhood somewhere in Ohio in which old trailers and motor homes are stacked on top of one another to form buildings that people actually call home.  Of course, none of them seem to care.  As Spielberg’s camera pans along various windows in these structures, we see people standing in the middle of their room, goggles on, and acting out the movements of their avatars within the OASIS.  And Wade is no exception, as he moves level to level under the name Parzival, gathering coins he can use for weapons, suits that enhance the experience for the user, and other gizmos he feels may come in handy later.  

     When news breaks of Halliday’s sudden death, the world is sent into a frenzy as the eccentric creator unveils a contest within his virtual world that will reward the winner with billions of dollars and complete control of the OASIS.  In addition to the many individuals who will obviously attempt to win the prize, IOI (Innovative Online Industries), the company who currently supplies the world with the internet, steps up the competition by employing armies of players who are employed for the sole reason of finding the three keys that will unlock the game for one lucky person.  Their leader, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), leads the charge in an attempt to gain control of the world’s entire online experience and thus becoming the world’s most powerful company.  But when Parzival, using his unmatched knowledge of the movies Halliday loved the most, suddenly breaks through and wins the first of the three keys, Sorrento turns up the heat, both in the virtual world, as well as the real one.

     As was the case in “The Matrix Revolutions”, and the entire trilogy for that matter, the scenes outside of the OASIS are unable to hold up to the ultra cool vibe of the virtual platform and the colorful characters who occupy it.  Within its realm, Parzival teams up with an avatar named Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), and is joined by confidants Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki), as they race against Sorrento’s army to find the final key.  Pumping through the speakers is a swath of 80s hits with everything from New Order to Twisted Sister, each seemingly tuned in at exactly the right time.  And the details are simply amazing.  In one sequence, as Parzival and Art3mis enter a futuristic nightclub looking for the second key, IOI ambushes them, forcing the pair to dig into their arsenal of weapons which for one character includes the M41A Pulse Rifle from “Aliens”.  And every scene is loaded with those kinds of props, cars, and monsters from classics such as “Back to the Future”, “Jurassic Park”, “The Shining”, and many more.  The only question is: Will you find them all?

     But what does all this add up to?  As I stated, the scenes taking place in the real world amount to nothing more than an evil corporation using their tech to locate Wade and his crew before they unlock the OASIS in the virtual world.  The sequences within The Stacks are creatively drawn, but other scenes are shot using drab color palette of blues and greys, similar to the director’s “Minority Report”,  creating a constant feeling of despair, particularly in the third act when the action continuously cuts back and forth from the OASIS.  That said, the action sequences within this colorfully drawn virtual world are at times breathtaking, as the filmmakers have somehow been allowed to gain license to include references to hundreds of movies outside of the library created by Warner Brothers, who produced the film.  

     “Ready Player One” is a return to the kind of crowd pleasing genre Spielberg himself helped create in the 70s and 80s, but this time the result includes a hard edged commentary on the society we live within today.  Instead of being proud of who we are and speaking to each other face to face, we choose to assume a faux identity that effectively spins us into the very best online version of ourselves within social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.  I’m now watching elementary school kids glued to their iPhones as they try to out do their peers in popularity, likes, favorites, streaks, and whatever else they desire, all the name of trying to feel good about themselves and their standing within their peer group, and that’s at age 11!  Even more alarming is if they drop their phone and it breaks, the reaction resembles that of a heroin addict going cold turkey.  It gets worse from there, and we know it, but what are we doing about it?  Perhaps it’s time to step off the bandwagon and begin again spending our time with one another learning, creating, and growing without the benefit of a device or hand set.  It’s likely Halliday knew this, and designed his contest to unearth the one person who would have the guts to stand up to the mainstream and think different.  Knowing all the while that the OASIS in the wrong hands would ultimately mean the end of society and a complete breakdown in the very culture we all helped create.  GRADE: B+