Release: 6th August 2018
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
The film is set in 2045, with the world on the brink of chaos and collapse. But the people have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that grips the entire world. When an unlikely young hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a reakneck, reality bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger.
The pretense behind Ready Player One is that it is one of pop culture’s biggest icons making a film about the biggest icons of pop culture. Here is a film so meta it is almost part of some quantum reality, were the lines between truth, fiction and imagination are blurred beyond all comprehension. The trouble is, in this melee of self-referential narrative, director Steven Spielberg loses himself to aesthetic over character. For a film so fascinated with the idea of four-dimensional realms, it is littered with two-dimensional beings.
Like oil and water, there are two distinct elements to Ready Player One. The first is all the stuff that makes it fun. There a couple, maybe three, standout moments in the film, but the one that feels most like Spielberg unbridled is the New York chase scene. Set in the Oasis, a virtual reality cross between World of Warcraft and the Sims, the chase is seen once from above and once from below (quite literally), yet both times there is a pulsing thrill and pace that ranks with the T-Rex chase in Jurassic Park, the temple escape in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the FBI onslaught in E.T and the beach landing in Saving Private Ryan. With DeLoreans, super bikes, monsters and a rolling labyrinth of roads and side alleys, it is a scene that establishes an early quality the film never quite manages to replicate. There is also the immaculately reproduced and frankly unsettling Shining sequence. It is a tonal change that comes out of leftfield and keeps attention levels on the up.
Then there is the stuff that makes Ready Player One suck; namely its seemingly unlimited plot holes and listless subjects. Here is a film about the ultimate first world problem; someone wants to put ads in my game. That is it, that is the central threat driving this film. Yes, it has some Willy Wonka knockoff macguffin about winning a small fortune, but money seems to have little draw for Tye Sheridan’s Wade. In fact, the one time he does gets some finances, he proves just how reckless and fiscally irresponsible he could be with limitless funds. It is also an odd driving force for villain at hand Nolan Sorrento. How is it that the CEO of the second largest company in the world even needs to put ads in the Oasis? And if Halliday is dead and Ogden Murrow has long been sacked, then who runs the company? Surely those people would want to protect their interests from some random taking over their company; the digital equivalent of Disney, Apple and the NFL rolled in to one. And how has no one seriously foreseen the unbelievable health hazard of having to physically move in order to interact with your avatar. Surely people would be hurting themselves and others all the time!? And then there is Art3mis’ ‘hideous’ facial disfigurement. [scoff] please!
As an intricate game of I-spy, Ready Player One will keep even the most eagled eye viewer busy. In the first 5 minutes alone, there are references to Batman, Minecraft, Beetlejuice, Hello Kitty, Freddy Kruger, Halo, Star Trek and more. The list is seemingly endless. As a Spielberg movie, it is more War of the Worlds than it is Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This is Spielberg with his brain turned down and his music turned up. Don’t overthink it, and don’t expect too much from a menagerie of cardboard humans, and you’ll have the nostalgic ride of a lifetime. The action scenes are handled wonderfully, and the soundtrack is littered with earworms. But in spite of all its hopeful charm and boundless energy, Ready Player One still presents a baffling and terrifying idea. If Wade can be catfished by 75% of his friendship circle, then Halliday should have spent less time creating easter eggs and more time putting in online child safety parameters.
Film Grade: C+
The bulk of the features here amount to an extended Making Of. Many aspects of the film’s creation are covered, and it is a little overwhelming to see just how much creativity had to go in to pulling the film off. The funniest thing is watching Ernest Cline use signed copies of his book and some form of currency.
Special Features Grade: B
Don’t believe the hype. This is not a great Spielberg movie. It is just a fun one. But if, like James Halliday, you live in your own past, then your eye will never have been so busy.