Directed by Steven Spielberg, Ready Player One is based off Ernest Cline’s pop culture, heavy novel. It’s a sci-fi adventure set in the year 2045, when the world has been gripped by an energy crisis. People escape the real world by venturing into the Oasis, a virtual world where you can go anywhere, be anything, and go as far as the limits of your imagination.
Our main character, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), finds himself exploring the Oasis and discovering creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), left behind his fortune to whomever could win a three part challenge. A scavenger hunt occurs after Wade ends up conquering the first challenge. He and his friends find themselves in peril as they try to save the Oasis in the process.
Ready Player One could merely be a nostalgic road-trip of sorts, but, thankfully, Spielberg has managed to tone down some of the over the top geek tendencies of Ernest Cline’s novel. The pop-culture references feel well integrated into the plot, and not overbearing. It’s cool to see The Iron Giant (The Iron Giant, 1999) fighting, and Wade dressed-up as Buckaroo Banzai. The highlight for me, was The Shining (1980) reenactment scene in which the main characters literally went through a warped version of the Overlook Hotel. That was fantastic to watch. If anything, the sheer number of characters who show-up for cameos is immense, and some of them, I’m pretty sure, I missed on my first viewing. The visual effects are also a highlight. While they look very unreal, and video-game like, especially the designs for the avatars, given what the Oasis is meant to be, a virtual world, it fits.
The characters aren’t the most fleshed out, and some of them could be arguably more interesting, but there is a pretty clear, consistent crew that feels like it is right out of some 80’s films. In particular, the scavenger hunt aspect of the plot reminded me a lot of The Goonies (1985), which I dug. In some ways, I found the lead girl, Samantha (Olivia Cooke), a revolutionary leader, more interesting than the protagonist, Wade Watts. Although, Watts probably fits that 80’s hero mold better. However, one of the other highlights of the film was Ben Mendelsohn, as the film’s main antagonist Sorrento, the CEO of Innovative Online Industries, Mendelsohn, as usual, is chewing up scenery left and right and he has a lot of fun moments in the film. Meanwhile, Mark Rylance was hilarious in the role as the creator, James Halliday. At points, it seemed like he was doing his own thing, and couldn’t care less about anything. Also, Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Star Trek), shows up to bring some wit, as The Curator of the Oasis.
The 80’s nostalgia is high in the film, and this is evident in the soundtrack, too. Everything from Van Halen’s Jump (which opens the film), to Take Me On by A-Ha, to We’re Not Gonna TakeIt by Twisted Sister get thrown constantly in the mix. It’s a clear love-letter to the past, and the score, (not by John Williams, who was unavailable while working on The Last Jedi), but by Alan Silvestri. With its emotionally stirring themes, and traditional 80’s orchestral feel, as well as, it’s references to Silvestri’s own Back to The Future (1985), and other musical film scores, such as, King Kong (1933) and Godzilla (1954). It’s the perfect complement to this nostalgic-filled adventure.
Spielberg’s direction is key here, too. There are a lot of his trademark close-up shots, and the way he frames images and makes this film. This also shows why he is so far above so many directors working in the blockbuster field right now. Spielberg regulars, Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and Editor Michael Kahn, once again, do a remarkable job, especially when it comes to the editing. The film’s whimsical tone, at points, could only come from an old-pro like “The Berg” (Spielberg). It’s great.
The film has some sluggish scenes, at points, and there are plot-hole problems, as to be expected from this type of sci-fi film, but overall, I found Ready Player One to be a very fun time. Of course, you could accuse it of being an overblown referencing of geek culture, and at points, it does feel like that, but it’s not overwhelming, and I think a regular moviegoer could enjoy the film just fine. It’s a fun sci-fi adventure, and if you ask me, it doesn’t need to be much more.
Playing in Hanover at the Nugget Theaters: Monday through Thursday 3:55 and 6:40 pm, Friday at 3:55, 6:40, and 9:15 pm, Saturday and Sunday at 1:10, 3:55, 6:40, and 9:15 pm