Ernest Cline’s novel, Ready Player One, is a nostalgia-ridden tome specifically focused on ’80s pop culture, perhaps best described as a fanboy’s dream. It’s a pretty simple tale that’s more concerned with dropping ’80s references than the story, but whatever you might think about the novel, , sprinkle some Steven Spielberg magic and what you get is an awesome joyride of a movie.
Ready Player One tells the story of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teen who stays with his deadbeat aunt and her boyfriend. All he has to look forward to is logging on to the Oasis, a VR world where you can be anything you want. Oasis was created by the eccentric ubergeek James Halliday, who, upon his death, announced a quest with which the winner will be the new owner of Oasis – also the hottest product on the market. The key to solving the quest? Getting a handle on the ’80s, which Halliday loved so much. Wade dreams of solving the puzzles Halliday left behind, but to do so he must fend off the mega-corporation IOI and their CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and team up with a motley crew: Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sato (Philip Zhao).
EASTER EGGS, EASTER EGGS, EVERYWHERE
The adventure hops between the real world and Oasis, as the race for the keys for Oasis spill out into the real world. While this leads us into some rather exciting moments in the real world, it’s our time in Oasis where the show really shines. There, Spielberg – unrestrained by physics – get to put on a massive GFX show that’s part love letter to 80s film making, and part a lesson in how to film a beautiful, coherent chaos.
The Oasis is where we have races between the DeLorean from Back To The Future and Shotaro Kaneda’s bike from Akira. It’s where we see Sanrio characters show up alongside the Iron Giant and Goro from Mortal Kombat. It’s a delightful smorgasbord that is psychedelic but never overwhelms. There’s just so much to see, you’ll have fun just pointing out the Easter eggs to each other. (But maybe try not to distract the rest of the cinema.)
You know, a movie filled with Easter eggs released on Easter weekend … that’s pretty apt.
WE BUILT OASIS ON ROCK AND ROLL
Then there’s the music. It’s filled with some of the best hits of the 80s, with New Order’s Blue Monday during a club scene a particularly good stand-out. It’s a pity that some slightly more obscure songs didn’t make the cut – Rush’s 2112 album played a pretty big role in the novel, and in the movie … you get to see a poster for it.
Beyond the DeLorean, Spielberg purposefully doesn’t reference his own work, despite featuring quite a bit in the novel. It’s not a bad choice, lest he seem to be self-indulgent, and in return he pays tribute to some of the other pop-culture creations of that era. Especially wonderful? Spielberg taking a step into Stanley Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel. It’s such a treat for movie fans – even for me, who couldn’t sleep for three nights after watching The Ring. If I watch a behind-the-scenes bit for Ready Player One, this is the bit I want to know more about.
THE PLOT … WELL … YEAH.
With all the cool action, wonderful music and fun visuals, well, Ready Player One isn’t perfect. It’s the connecting tissue that’s a little weak. There’s a simple, straightforward plot with no real surprises, and the romance feels like it’s from an 80s movie.
Sheridan isn’t quite convincing as Wade Watts, but is better once he’s voicing Watts’ animated avatar, Parzival. The other cast members don’t quite stand out either, though Mendelsohn is always watchable as the angry middle-manager with aspirations who’s constantly outsmarted. That said, T J Miller (ex-Silicon Valley) gets some good laughs as i-R0k, and the movie does have many good comedic moments especially during the climax.
The Oasis is a place of escape for many – especially those less well-off in the real world like Wade. The movie could have gone full-on Black Mirror and touched on the dangers on how a VR world can be the opiate for the masses. It doesn’t quite go there (other than a small bit at the end), so if you’re looking for any social commentary Netflix is a better bet. Because, in the end, Ready Player One is all about having fun while celebrating the ’80s.
I WAS BORN READY
Ready Player One has wears its joy on its sleeve as it celebrates fandom and pop culture. A lot of it is thanks to Spielberg’s deft hand in bringing us through the story with enough happening that it never gets boring. You probably won’t want to watch it again for the story alone, but Spielberg and VFX artists ILM have stuffed the movie with so many Easter eggs that it’ll easily top Wreck-It Ralph.
Your mileage will vary – a lot of it depends on whether you’re a child of the 80s, or if you’re well-versed enough in that era to get all the nods and winks. The movie isn’t as reference-heavy as the book, and has swapped some references for others. Still, it’s a good thing that they’ve managed to tread the line between fun references that everybody can catch, and cool references that rewards an in-depth knowledge.
The Ready Player One novel was something you could only truly grok if you were a child of the 80s. It’s good popcorn fun, and it does reassure us geeks that maybe all that pointless trivia will be worth something someday, beyond winning pub quizzes. That’s why I enjoyed the novel the first time I read it – it felt like I was “player one”.
But now, with the movie? All of us can be.