Review: Ready Player One


This is the time
This is the place
So we look for the future
But there’s not much love to go round
Tell me why, this a land of confusion.

– Genesis (not Sega)

Sorry if I’m disturbing your daily ritual of deep contemplation about the immortal words of Socrates (pronounced So-crates) who said, “I drank what?”, but there are some things you should know about about Ready Player One. It’s from Steven Spielberg, the man that made a Pretty Woman a Tinkerbell, finished a Stanley Kubrick project, and even directed the pilot episode of television’s famous beige raincoat-wearing, cigar-chomping homicide detective. If you understand those references and deep cuts of Spielberg’s resume then consider that a primer as he takes Ernest Cline’s novel, which should have included scratch and sniff cards for the amount of buttered popcorn and cotton candy found on each page, to make a dazzling adventure movie with more Easter eggs than you’re likely to find in your backyard.

The year is 2045. A myriad of problems in the real world has pushed a majority of the population to put their lives on pause and venture to the OASIS, a virtual reality where you are only limited by your imagination. The virtual sandbox was the creation of James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogdon Murrow (Simon Pegg). Not unlike the soma tablets of Huxley’s Brave New World – or the entertainment we consume on the daily – the OASIS is a means to simulate happiness, escapism. As our protagonist Wade Watts (Tye Sherdian) declares, “People come to the OASIS for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.”

At first, Wade comes across as a neo maxie zoom dweebie. He doesn’t wear bunny slippers or use liquid nitrogen to swipe food and coffee from vending machines, and probably couldn’t build a ceramic elephant in shop class, but he could probably major in Game Boy if he knows how to bullshit. Wade lives in The Stacks, a trailer-park community in Columbus, Ohio. The rectangular homes are stacked on each other like giant roach motels or if someone was looking to play a game of Jenga. He spends his days in an abandoned van venturing to the OASIS. All Wade needs to make it through the day is some Doritos and his virtual headset and he’s fine.

In the virtual society Wade becomes Parzival, a gaming avatar that looks strikingly like Jon Bon Jovi. For the past five years, Parzival has been on a quest to find Halliday’s Easter Egg. At the time of Halliday’s death in 2040 his final video was a contest announcement where the first person to find the egg would get complete ownership of the OASIS. Unfortunately, the gaming Willy Wonka didn’t leave the clues in plain sight for every brain, athlete, basket case, princess, and criminal to find. This contest is heavy (and not in a gravitational way).

Enter Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). The once-schlumpy intern for Halliday and Murrow at Gregarious Games, Nolan is the acting CEO for Innovative Online Industries (IOI), a tech conglomerate that is using vast resources in the search for three keys inside the OASIS. That doesn’t seem fair. Then again, Halliday didn’t believe in rules. I wouldn’t put it past Nolan to have tried the Contra Code or typing in the name JUSTIN BAILEY to see what would happen. My guess is nothing. Nolan doesn’t look to be a Game Genie. More like someone who raided Barry Manilow’s wardrobe.

The operatives at IOI are known as Sixers, working as a team to find the egg. Parzival is a loner in his search. He does have friends within the OASIS that are Gunthers (egg hunters) too. Diato and Sho work in tandem in their quest. Parzival’s best friend Aech is a towering hulk of man who works as a virtual mechanic to collect coins to increase his abilities and weapons cache. And then there’s Art3mis, one of the famous Gunthers and with whom Parzival has an infatuation. (I can’t decide if it is a “Take on Me” infatuation or “Take My Breath Away” infatuation.)

When Parzival finds the first of three keys he poses as possible threat to Nolan Sorrento and his hopes to take over and make the OASIS a pay-to-play platform. If Parzival is going to reach the end he’s going to have to ditch the loner status and tag up with Aech and others. Or else it will be “Game over, man!” for everyone jacked into the virtual world.

Okay, so Ready Player One doesn’t reach the heights Spielberg achieved early in his career with Jaws, E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial, or the Indiana Jones franchise before he “nuked the fridge.” It is, however, his best spectacle movie since 2002’s Minority Report. No one but Spielberg could have taken Ernest Cline’s literary creation and make it work to the degree it does. Novel purists will complain, while moviegoers unfamiliar with the source material will remain unscathed.

The judicious decisions that Spielberg and Cline (who co-wrote the script with Zak Penn) make creates a different story while maintaining the novel’s spirit. For instance, instead of Parzival walking through the entirety of the 1983 release WarGames starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy, he and his friends venture into a movie that was hated by its creator. No spoilers, but it is the scene everyone should talk about with others. Once they see it, of course.

In the end, RPO is cinematic junk food. You’re not watching it for the acting. You’re watching it for the moments that beguile your optic nerve. Zero gravity dancing to the Bee Gees, racing a DeLorean while evading King Kong, and playing Atari while the fate of virtual-kind hangs in the balance. Like I stated earlier, this is heavy.

Catching the pop culture references is all dependent on your age or familiarity. Watch it once for the Easter eggs. Watch it again for the adventure. Its message about the effect of escapism and why reality doesn’t always bite is of note but not at all profound.

As slacker par excellence Ferris Buller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Ernest Cline and Zak Penn (based on the novel by Ernest Cline)
Notable Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg
Running Time: 140 Minutes

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