Ready Player One (2018)
Dir: Steven Spielberg
I think the timing was just about right for someone to make a VR-set movie that works with the modern realities of the increasingly popular technology. When Steven Spielberg stepped up to be that ‘someone’ I knew this had the chance to be really enjoyable, but is it more than just that?
In the relatively near future people are largely taking to a VR world called ‘The Oasis’ as an escape from their difficult and mundane lives. When the designer of the virtual world dies, he leaves a Willy Wonka-esque prize to be won by whoever can follow the deeply personal and 80’s culture-rooted clues. One young man (Tye Sheridan) and his online friends find themselves in their avatar forms embroiled in a fraught battle against a tech firm to win.
Steven Spielberg was probably the best director anyone could have picked to take this project on. His profile and the respect people have for him was bound to open doors to get the rights for characters and IPs that otherwise might have been near-impossible to secure. However, while he was the right person for the job, I’m not fully convinced this will particularly stand out in the context of his extensive and varied filmography.
Laden with pop culture references, especially from films and TV that the character Halliday (Mark Rylance) loved, but that I also greatly appreciated. I think it would take a fair few viewings before you could be confident that you had spotted everything there was to find, I don’t really think you could ever get every single one, especially as there are scenes with literally hundreds of characters on screen at one point, though that’s where home viewing will come in handy and scenes can be paused and rewound. Yes, people do that.
Some references I particularly appreciated included the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch from Monty Python, the Iron Giant and I’m pretty sure I spotted a Firefly which I particularly got a kick out of. There’s definitely something thrilling about easter-egg spotting and part of the joy of the film comes from that, so the level to which you appreciate those little nods and appearances may well influence how much you enjoy your overall experience of watching this and may have increasing or diminishing returns on subsequent viewings.
There have been VR films and cringe-inducing TV episodes in the past, I specifically remember one in ‘Mad About You’ with Christie Brinkley, though so many of these take the technology to points that are not within feasible reach of current reality, if at all. This film is brilliant in that it seems completely possible, a lot of the VR-enabling tech looks very similar to things I could buy right now (if I had the cash). This helps to suspend disbelief on that key component of the film, so then we can get better immersed in the story. It’s an easter egg hunt an adventure in different settings, at times a literal race, others a riddle to solve, with little cultural elements and personal ties to the game’s creator.
One of the levels takes the movie into horror territory as it’s set within the world of a particularly iconic horror movie. This was creepier than I ever expected and might be too much for younger viewers (or even older ones as my friend found out when he took his mum). On the most part though it’s a very family-firnedly and targeted movie, where the fun and action will keep the kids entertained while the parents reminisce over the references to their own youth.
I really enjoyed the movie and think I’ll enjoy seeing it again even on a smaller screen at home. I believe there’s plenty to get out of repeat viewings on just the avenue of reference spotting alone but I also want to delve a little deeper into the details of the plot and characters to see what more I can appreciate in those when I see it again. There are definite holes, though it moves along at such a good pace they can be easily overlooked. I’m not certain if it has a load of depth in terms of the social issues this world is build upon, but I do think it will be interesting to see how well it ages over the next few years as the central technology continues to develop.
Oscar-nominated for the most obvious aspect, the detailed and extensive Visual Effects, I think this film has a pretty good chance of winning. A great adventure for anyone who fancies a bit of 80s nostalgia blended with futuristic sci-fi, this is one of Spielberg’s films that will probably end up a regular fixture on holiday television.