And the 80’s references are real.
Ready Player One is the new film from maniacal/genius/extraordinaire director Steven Spielberg which makes a leap towards new ground for the filmmaker but unfortunately falls short due to its classical plot structures and characters.
With a foreword before the start of the film, Spielberg suggests that his new movie is intended to give an outlook of a far but very real potential future for Earth in 2044. The society we are introduced to is one that sets aside reality and focuses instead on creating new worlds through virtual simulation. This is known as the OASIS, which if you really want to know, is an incredibly long acronym that stands for: Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. I know, it’s a mouthful. But the OASIS is the brain child conceived by game developer James Halliday (Mark Rylance), whose death provides players the opportunity to hunt down three Easter Egg keys hidden inside the simulation, which will give them complete ownership of the game. Enter stage right, the young, ambitious, but hopeless dreamer, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan).
As we watch Wade’s efforts to hunt down these three magical keys, which have been masked cleverly with challenges and clues by the games creator, you get the feeling that this movie is just like a game. But just like most games, they lead into classical structures that aren’t much of a surprise for the audience or at least myself. By this, I mean that you’ll know exactly how things will play out.
Even by my synopsis, I’m sure you can gather that the story has set up a new hero, who will rise and overcome all three levels to ultimately defeat the evil boss (Ben Mendelsohn) at the conclusion of the game. Just like any other video game. Which is all fine if you don’t care about a predictable and simple formula, God knows it’s worked so many times for a lot of video games out there, but unlike video games, which can take you on for hours in a playthrough, films must be much shorter than that. So, the factor of predictability plays a larger influence compared to having more time to explore the virtual video game world and not be caught up as much to reaching the end goal of defeating the final boss.
And given that it is following such a classical game-like structure, the film allows for a lot of conveniences to occur. Which, if you watch most of Spielberg’s films, is a trait that he’s been typically renowned for.
He’s a director who likes telling stories that are wrapped up in a nice little box, with all the conflicts and climaxes resolved by the end of the film, so you’re not left wanting anymore. He’s done this for Jurassic Park, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, the list goes on and on. It’s why his films have grossed a stupendous amount of money and are one of the reasons he’s become the most popular directors in film history today. But does this mean he’s a filmmaker that might challenge you to think a little longer after the films over, say like Stanley Kubrick or Terry Gilliam? Probably not. So, when I see silly conveniences and plot devices for the sake of wrapping up an issue later in the plot, it really bugs me.
But given these major issues with the film, I’m still recommending you should go see Ready Player One. Whilst at times it can be slightly inconsistent with the visual look of all the virtually generated characters, (which is somewhat surprising given there was a $175 million-dollar budget), I’m inclined to forgive this given there was an incredible amount of detail to draw upon. None more so with the action sequences, which are one of the largest reasons I’d say that warrants seeing this on the big screen. The opening race sequence, as you may have seen in the trailer, was one of the standouts. But second best, was the finale, which played out like a virtual reality simulation of The Lord of The Rings battle for The Two Towers.
There are some fantastic shot choices in these sequences that allow long takes which really gives you an immersive and dazzling display of action. I can tell that Spielberg would have loved using these types of shots since they would have been so much easier to film compared to his previous films, which have mostly been live action. If you’re a fan of another one of his movies, The Adventures of Tintin, you might know exactly what I mean, as there as some equally nice continuous shot action sequences in that.
What’s interesting is that for a film that’s set 25 years in the future, there’s a large number of references to the 80’s. This will no doubt be one of the other attractions for people to see the film, and just like a large fan of that period, I also enjoyed seeing all the references. This was particularly well executed with Mark Rylance’s performance of the game’s developer, who acts as a quirky and quietly funny Steve Jobs like character. Any scenes with him were a delight and showed the real heart behind the story and those joyous attitudes we have towards playing video games. These are games that are not meant to be about winning or losing, but rather about having fun.
This film is about throwing yourself into a world of imagination and giving yourself completely to experiencing something that’s intended to make you embrace creativity. But having said that, it’s also about making time for the real world, because that’s the only thing that’s truly real. This is another great commentary towards those who might spend too much playing in a world that doesn’t exist, only to neglect the true beauty of the reality around them. Ultimately, it’s about a balance between these two and learning to not only just think as creatively as you can, to never just dream up new and exciting worlds, but to actually live it. It’s with these messages and themes that I really resonated with and combined with the spectacular action sequences that Spielberg masterfully directs, Ready Player One is worth a watch.