READY PLAYER ONE (USA / 12A / 140 mins)
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg.
THE PLOT: Columbus, Ohio, 2044. In a dystopian future, many people such as Wade (Tye Sheridan) live in The Stacks, a collection of trailers stacked high. He escapes humdrum reality by tapping into the virtual reality world of The Oasis where his avatar is known as Parzival. Designed by the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance), The Oasis allows users to live out alternate lives in a world infused with pop culture from Halliday’s formative years in the 1980s. Before he switched the off button, Halliday hid an easter egg inside the game, which promises the winner untold fortunes and control of The Oasis. Wade does some deep exploration to find the three keys which will unlock the easter egg. He also has to contend with a growing interest in rival gamer Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and devious company man Nolan (Ben Mendelsohn), who wants control of The Oasis for his own nefarious ends…
THE VERDICT: Given that his own films as director, writer and producer have becoming enduring popular culture icons, Steven Spielberg was the ideal fit for an adaptation of ‘Ready Player One’. It’s an ideal marriage of director with material that speaks to his greatest strengths – an astute storyteller, a childlike sense of wonder about the world and a master craftsman whose films look and sound spectacular. If anyone knows what cinema is really about, then it’s Spielberg.
It’s based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, adapted here by Cline himself and Zak Penn. It posits a world which is heavily influenced by virtual reality, with everyone escaping into a different world which is more than just a videogame or an escape. It’s a place where world-building is taken to the next level, all originated in the mind of creator Halliday. The idea of Halliday infusing his love of 1980s popular culture into his own creation is at the heart of this story. This is an important factor in the film’s undeniable success.
Given that a large part of the film takes place in the computer-generated Oasis, there was a danger that it might look like the most expensive videogame ever produced, with the gamepad in Spielberg’s hands. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. Amid all the explosions, car chases and spot-the-pop-culture references (The Glaive from ‘Krull’, the incantation from ‘Excalibur’, a trio of horror boogeymen and many more) and fantastical characters in The Oasis, there’s a very human heart beating. There’s plenty of fantasy, but it’s rooted firmly in reality. As a result, the regular switching between Columbus and The Oasis is seamless, as are the live action performances and excellent voice work in the digital realm.
The film is a visual feast, with one stand-out sequence involving our Oasis-bound heroes diving into a well-known and respected horror film to find a key. The loving attention to detail here is remarkable and is all the more poignant considering that the director of this film was a close friend of Spielberg’s. It may initially seem like a long film at 140 minutes, but it flies by and enticingly wants you to stay for more. Like the Road Dahl story that it’s inspired by, ‘Ready Player One’ is pure imagination. Released just in time for Easter, this is one easter egg that you’ll want to dig into and discover its many, delightful treasures.
RATING: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor