4 out of 5 stars
In the wake of the nostalgic journey back to the 80s of Stranger Things, it is no wonder that the director whose work defined the decade would jump at the chance to bring Ready Player One to the big screen. Steven Spielberg (The Post) takes on the task of respecting the beloved icons of days gone by and attempting to connect them with those who cannot remember a time without mobile phones and internet. Based on Ernest Cline’s novel, the tale that bridges the influence of this formidable decade to the modern era proves to be a virtual bridge into reality.
The time is 2045 and the majority of the world’s population spend their time in the virtual existence of the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). Created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg), this digital atmosphere allows people to escape the trials and difficulties of the real world and become whatever they desire to be or achieve anything they want to do.
When Halliday passes away with no living relatives, he introduces the contest of Anorak’s Quest as a means of passing on his legacy and fortune. Through a series of challenges and clues, gunters (egg hunters) need to seek out three keys that lead to the easter egg that leads to control of the OASIS and his fortune. In amongst the slums or the Stacks of Columbus, Ohio, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) has been studying the creator of this ever-growing artificial existence and thinks he has the discovered the path to the elusive egg. With the help of his friends, the troupe of misfits attempt to reach the cherished treasure before the forces of Innovative Online Industries (IOI) and their tyrannical CEO, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).
The most prominent obstacles in getting Ready Player One to theatres was the challenge of the extended timeline, the potential licensing challenges of brands that Cline introduces in the book and making the virtual world of the OASIS as believable as reality. Spielberg creatively condenses the space/time issue to days as opposed to months that allows the whole experience to be accessible to audiences. He and screenwriter Zak Penn manage to strip back the multitude of references to 80s culture to maintain the historical familiarity without incorporating every reference mentioned by the author. They manage to maintain the essence of the story despite being a simpler story than the original.
The elements that provide the answer to the final challenge of the value of the virtual world prove to be one of the strengths of the film. The effects should go down as some of the best visuals on offer in modern cinema, breaking ground without becoming so real that they forget they are not real. The interaction in the OASIS become some of the best aspects of the expedition into the recesses of this world. The well-chosen young cast members fill the roles of the classic Spielberg adventure with Olivia Cooke and T.J. Miller being the standouts of this ensemble. Mark Rylance continues to go from strength to strength with each performance since Bridge of Spies and is wonderfully enhanced by Simon Pegg as his business partner.
Even though Ben Mendelsohn has proven to be a worthy villain over the years, he does prove to be one of the weaknesses that keep this film from achieving perfection. His virtual character manages to outperform his real-life role which tends to be more of a caricature than an imposing adversary. This coupled with a rushed and poorly executed ending does tarnish a brilliant outing by Spielberg.
For all of the fans of the novel, there was measured enthusiasm for the cinematic interpretation of this ground-breaking adventure. The worlds that were mastered by Cline were so dense and true to the nostalgic era they reference, it seemed to be an impossible task to get this story to the big screen. If anyone was able to manage this feat, Steven Spielberg was the right man to take on this overwhelming task. Even though he had to rework the timeline and key elements of the original tale, he tapped into the heart of Wade Watts’ quest and made one of the best films of the year.
Reel Dialogue: Reality is real
One of the appealing elements of the OASIS is the player gets to inhabit a different life than the one that they occupy in the real world. A refreshing aspect of Real Player One was how the journey for the Easter Egg is as much to prove that the real world has as much to offer as the treasure provided at the end of the quest.
As our world moves closer to the virtual world portrayed in the film, something is shocking about appreciating the life that many attempts to escape. Even though everything in this reality is tainted with imperfections, it is when this life is threatened that many begin to appreciate the gift of life, warts and all.
This world was originally created perfect, an oasis that contained no pain, difficulties or death, but it eventually became tainted. Mankind has to live with the sins of the past, but despite this corrupted and imperfect existence, it still needs to be seen as a gift and should be cherished.
Passages to consider in the ‘oasis’ of reality:
Genesis 1-3, Acts 17: 24-28, Romans 8:22-23