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Ready Player One Review: Steven Spielberg Movie Reminds You Why He's Pop Culture's Most Invoked Deity

Planning to watch Ready Player One? Read our review first.

Shantanu David |

Updated:May 4, 2018, 1:33 PM IST
Ready Player One Review: Steven Spielberg Movie Reminds You Why He's Pop Culture's Most Invoked Deity
Image courtesy: YouTube
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Steven Spielberg

It’s often repeated Oscar trivia that Steven Spielberg has been thanked at the Academy Awards even more times than God (the white peoples’ one), and while there are many, many reasons for this, explaining all those reasons would take more time, skilled words and nuanced film analyses than you would be comfortable with, or I would be capable of (for now). Don’t worry though; there’s an easier way to explain why exactly Spielberg is Hollywood divinity: GO WATCH READY PLAYER ONE!

Sorry for shouting, but seriously, you guys. Just go. Watch it. Like now. After you’ve finished reading this little homily, of course.

Taking a cue from another seminal work of fiction, let’s begin at the beginning. Ready Player One is based, of course, on the book by the same name, author Ernest Cline’s encyclopedic paean to geek, now pop, culture, encompassing the myriad imaginings, games, novels, comic and cartoons that have come to define our cultural zeitgeist, from the 80s onwards.

Set in 2045, it is the story of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), your typical economically-disadvantaged teenage geek archetype, living in Columbus, Ohio – “the world’s fastest growing city.” The world of the future is, quelle surprise, pretty crappy: over-crowded and under-resourced, it’s mainly controlled by conglomerates, with everyone looking for a means to escape the futuristic ghetto they’ve come to create and inhabit together. That means is the OASIS, a wholly-immersive virtual reality universe, “where the only limit of possibilities is your imagination,” with practically every person on the planet logged in and playing/living.

OASIS creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance), dead five years since, had announced that somewhere within the almost infinite confines of the game, he has hidden an Easter Egg, which is also his last will and testament, and whichever player finds it will get his entire fortune as well as complete control over OASIS itself, thereby becoming the richest AND most powerful person in the world. Obviously, Wade thinks that player is going to be him; just as obviously, so does every other person in the world.

As does IOI, OASIS’s chief competitor and second largest company in the world, and its ruthless CEO, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who are determined to take over Halliday’s creation for their own nefarious purposes (read: money and influence). IOI also operates as a debtor’s prison and makes its inmates, called Sixers due to their six-digit ID codes, into worker-players and funnels them into OASIS to find Halliday’s Easter Egg. However, that’s not the only Easter Egg in the movie.

Spielberg weaves a cinematic tapestry of all the things we grew up with, bringing together all the characters that cavorted through the screens of video games, TV shows and movies, and the pages of story books and graphic novels into one atavistic experience. There’s a gorgeous recreation of The Shining in one sequence (Spielberg had been good friends with Stanley Kubrick) interspersed among other cross-overs beyond our wildest imaginings. Mortal Kombat, DC and Marvel superheroes and supervillains, Dungeons and Dragons players, King Kong, Duck Hunter, Contra shooters and HALO supersoldiers, Freddy Kreuger and Jason Voorhees, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Looney Toons, Gundam, Ninja Robots, Chucky from Child’s Play, Mecha-Godzilla, frigging Napoleon Bonaparte riding a mechanical scorpion, all and sundry occupy the screen at some and or several points; The Iron Giant is a plot device.

Spielberg teleports us back to our childhood and adolescence, with all the joys and terrors, discoveries and mistakes, anguishes and hopes, longings and lessons, on a cinematic joyride that will have the most ill-used and grizzled of adult men and women giggling and squeaking like little kids with a whole bright future in front of them. The soundtrack helps, with a playlist of all the big-hair glam rock of the '80s a la Scissor Sisters, Duran Duran and George Michael, every note striking a childhood chord.

That’s not to say Ready Player One is entirely glitch-free. While nostalgia is served up on a smorgasbord and the sounds and visuals are stunning, the sheer volume of spectacle leaves little space for things like character development and motivations. Because the OASIS is so all-engrossing, the movie fails to explore the life non-digital, and the world outside which, as mentioned before, seems to be falling apart. That sense of urgency due to society’s disintegration which drove the characters in the book is missing from the movie, meaning you’re more invested in the sim-verse than in its inhabitants.

On the other hand, the movie provides an incredible immersive experience into the OASIS (and our shared zeitgeist), which in the book – no matter how well described – was intangible at best. And Spielberg, the man who formed and informed so many of our popular culture aesthetics and templates, is undoubtedly the ideal helm for such an undertaking. And THAT is why, in a man-made universe, Steven Spielberg is god.

Rating - 4.5/5

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