Steven Spielberg’s new film “Ready Player One” is an exhilarating eye candy stuffed with various goodies to enjoy and appreciate. Although this is not something as sublime as Spielberg’s great blockbuster films such as “Jaws” (1975) and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), it is still quite entertaining nonetheless as bouncing from one spirited visual moment to another, and I was enthralled by that process as appreciating Spielberg’s undeniable mastery of special effects and storytelling. While it goes overboard for its digital fun around the expected climactic finale, the movie never loses its jubilant sense of entertainment at least, and I eventually came out of the screening room with lots of excitement and satisfaction.
Based on the SF novel of the same by Ernest Cline, who adapted his novel with Zak Penn, the movie is mainly about the adventure of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an adolescent orphan boy living with his aunt in a poor trailer neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. It is 2045, and the world has become your average dystopia due to overpopulation and many other unspecified social/geopolitical problems during last two decades. Rather than coping with the daunting hardships in their daily life, many people choose to spend most of their time in virtual reality (VR), and the opening scene of the movie amusingly shows us many of Wade’s neighbors occupying themselves in VR as Wade climbs down along a stack of trailers, which is just one of many stacks in his neighborhood.
Within an auto junkyard near his residence, Wade has his own private place for VR experience. In a vast VR world called the OASIS, he is represented by an avatar named Parzival, and we get some glimpses into this seemingly boundless fantasy world as he shows and tells us about some of its most exciting places. While freely roaming here and there in the OASIS, he and many other VR users always have more fun and excitement everyday, and that certainly feels better than their mundane and depressing real world out there.
The OASIS was originally owned by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a brilliant programmer/entrepreneur who co-created it with his friend/partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) many years ago. Shortly before he died in 2040, Halliday hid three keys somewhere in the OASIS and then announced in public that whoever wins in the quest for these keys will receive the sole ownership of the OASIS. That surely made many VR users eagerly search for any possible clue which may led to these keys, but nothing significant has been found yet during next five years, and they accordingly become less enthusiastic as time goes by.
However, Wade still does not give up the hope of finding a clue someday. As your typical nerdy geek, he has accustomed himself to the numerous details in Halliday’s life and career, and that is how he accidentally comes upon a small but crucial clue to the first key of the quest. As soon as he is announced as the first one to acquire the first key, he instantly becomes far more famous and popular than before, and he also draws the attention of Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), a well-known VR user to whom he has recently been attracted.
While Wade simply wins the quest, Art3mis turns out to be far more serious than him. Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), Halliday’s former employee who is currently the CEO of a competing company named Innovative Online Industries (IOI), has been trying to win the quest by any means necessary, and Art3mis and several other rebellious VR users have tried to outsmart Sorrento and his countless employees, many of whom have been his miserable VR slaves as bound by their financial debts to his company (Isn’t it amusing that the movie seemingly delivers anti-corporate messages while apparently being a big corporate product?).
As Wade inevitably gets involved into the conflict between IOI and the rebellion group, the movie keeps things rolling through a series of exciting sequences which are packed with many notable cultural references from the 1970-90s. I will not spoil your fun here in this review, but I guess I can tell you that there is a direct reference to “Back to the Future” (1985), and I must confess that I chuckled a lot when the movie tries something quite surprising through a certain classic horror film from the 1980s. The production design by Adam Stockhausen, who won an Oscar for Spielberg’s previous film “Lincoln” (2012), is bountiful in styles and details, and the score by Alan Silvestri, who worked here instead of Spielberg’s usual collaborator John Williams, is also very good while holding its own place among a number of period pop songs from the 1980s.
However, the movie feels a bit superficial in terms of story and characters while also being a little too long. Wade is rather bland compared to relatively more colorful characters surrounding him, and it is a shame that the movie does not delve enough into the existing difference between the OASIS and the real world, though it generates some amusement from how Wade’s fellow VR users actually look in the real world. In case of the finale sequence, it is surely overpowering as pouring lots of different elements onto the screen, but it also feels numbing at times with excessive CGIs, and we accordingly become less involved in what is being at stake for the characters in the film.
Nevertheless, in many aspects, “Ready Play One” is a commendable blockbuster film a lot better than many other ones out there, and I observed its world and details with curiosity and excitement. Along with “The Post” (2017), the movie demonstrates to us Spielberg’s immense talent and skill, and it is certainly nice to see again that he still can thrill and excite us as he did many times before. He simply wants us to be entertained, and we gladly go along with that as he dexterously pulls strings as usual.