Ready Player One


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Ready Player One
"So much to like. Where this film falls down is in not moving beyond the standard quest envelope."

Drat! I so wanted to love Ready Player One. And that's part because this genre appeals to me, part because I hate to be the sour-faced critic. I try to put myself in the audience's seat, which is really the only seat that matters: to react to film the way the average ticket-buyer would and not lose myself in the rabbit hole of critical over-analysis.

I wanted to love it: am disappointed to walk away only liking it.

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The film's premise is straightforward – at least it is if you are someone who has enjoyed the games and virtual reality revolution underway this past decade or so. Computer games have been getting more realistic: while players are increasingly able to move, interact, exist in virtual worlds which, through advanced haptic technology (that's technology that means a virtual touch is felt by your actual body), are near indistinguishable from the real.

At least, from the real if it were inhabited by people of every size, shape and species – from neko (cat people crossover) to mechanoid.

It is 2045. The real world is a mess. Much of the population finds refuge from the daily grind in the virtual world of Oasis. But creator Halliday (Mark Rylance) has died leaving hidden, within his world, three keys and three clues to the ultimate prize: an “Easter egg” which gifts Oasis to the finder and, in the process, makes them the richest person in the entire world.

Ready Player One is therefore a classic quest movie. In theme, if not execution, it echoes another long-ago Spielberg project, The Goonies. Here, though, the goodies - a motley crew of 'gunters' (egg hunters) - must find the egg before the sixers of the evil 101 Corp find it, win the virtual world and turn everything into one all-encompassing marketing opportunity.

It is a race against time and everyone else, that takes place for the most part against the wild, the explosive, the breath-taking backdrop of Oasis. Yet every now and then we are reminded that living a virtual life has real world impacts. Not just when 101 Corp kidnap key players – or organise the execution of their relatives - but also in terms of the family and financial devastation wrought when someone chooses to live most of their life in an unreal place.

The film celebrates nerdery in all its forms: but it also includes a salutary reminder that there is more to life than games. No coincidence, perhaps, that Halliday's in-game character is called Anorak.

As always in these films, the goodies start out distrusting one another, end up bonding into a formidable crew. There's Parzival /real-world Wade (Tye Sheridan) and Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke) and Parzival's long-term friend H/Helen (Lena Waithe). Not forgetting Sho (Philip Zaito) and Daito (Win Morisaki).

Of course there is a will-they-won't-they romance between Wade and Samantha. Do they get to kiss in the final reel? No spoilers, but hey: this is aimed at the young teen market.

Ranged against them is 101 Corp head, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who clearly hates the very idea of the virtual world he is forced to compete for: and stealing every scene through possession of an outrageous skull-bodied avatar and over the top evilness is his hench Bounty Hunter, I-Rok (TJ Miller).

Also there, to distract and then play a key part in the eventual denouement, is Halliday's one-time partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg).

There is a lot to like. The goody-crew provide a diverse antidote to the middle-America-ness of the Goonies. Art3mis continues the recent trend of kick-ass independent female characters. The CGI is great, with the shifting from real to avatar well-handled and believable: though perhaps too many of the big fireworks get let off in the first 20 minutes, leaving a lot of lesser squibs for the ending.

There are plot twists aplenty, untold references to games and a whole clutch of additional easter eggs buried within the film, there for the nerds to find and pick over. There is an entire level to this film accessible only to those familiar with gaming. Expect many post-film conversations wherein 13-year-olds patiently explain this or that plot point to bemused parents.

There is also something bigger going on here – the reason I believe The Goonies is key. The film is loaded with Seventies and Eighties callbacks: from music to style to even the look of Parzival's avatar. Art3mis could so easily be a young Molly Ringwald. And a constant of the film is the idea of going back to the start and, in the process, unpicking mistakes made earlier in a career.

Is there, I wonder, just a smidgen of Spielberg, the ultimate nerd kid, in Halliday: and is the bigger question here Spielberg's early choices?

So much to like. Where this film falls down is in not moving beyond the standard quest envelope. The ending is confused, Sorrento not quite as villainous as I would like and the world of Oasis feels like a 2000's vision of what such a world would look like. For those familiar with gaming and environments such as Second Life, this feels less like 2045 than 2015.

Perhaps that is inevitable. It is enough bringing virtuality to a generation that has never experienced it, let alone imagining the future of unreality. And while available in 3D it does not feel like this adds much.

Many thanks to the independent Broadway Cinema Letchworth, without whom this review would not have been possible.

Reviewed on: 29 Mar 2018
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Ready Player One packshot
When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.
Amazon link

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn

Year: 2018

Runtime: 140 minutes

Country: US


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If you like this, try:

The Goonies