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. (from IMDB)
We live in an interesting time where pop culture is such a significant part of our lives. With the intensity of our day to day lives consisting of stressful relationships, work, or schooling, it's all too tempting to want to plug in and checkout of our routines. Ready Player One is an acclaimed 2011 novel written by Ernest Cline which tells the story of a virtual reality world that much of humanity escapes into in an attempt to find a billion-dollar prize the game creator hid within the system. Truth be told, I did start reading the book sometime last year, but abandoned it not too far into it after strong profanity and blasphemy suddenly became pervasive. I'd heard Steven Spielberg was adapting it for the big screen and I'd been told that the story was right up my alley (Heck, the very first page of the book quotes my favorite film of all time, Ghostbusters). Despite the fact that I decided to jump ship on the novel, I was excited about the film -- especially with Spielberg at the helm. The end result is a delightful, albeit somewhat shallow, trip down memory lane that shamelessly immerses itself in the pop culture world so many of us have come to enjoy.
Spielberg has delivered so many memorable films in our lifetime. From Jaws and E.T. to four Indiana Jones films and two Jurassic Park films--not to mention a plethora of other films he's produced (including Back to the Future)--chances are you love something Steven's put his hands to. Ready Player One acts as sort of a celebration of it all, while also drawing attention to how our immersion in technology has created such a disconnect from each other and the real world. In the movie, it's literally strapping on eyewear and disappearing into a virtual world; in our present day society, it's mostly our inability to look up from our smart phones. But while Ready Player One does have something to say about technology in the real world, it's mostly just a visual spectacle -- and one that isn't limited solely to the video game world or fantasy genre (although it's these fan groups who will appreciate the film most for sure).
The story of the Ready Player One movie follows the exploits of a teenager named Wade Watts who escapes to the OASIS in a desperate attempt to find the creator's prize to improve his quality of living. In the OASIS, players hide behind avatars and screen names, and Wade has adopted the name Parzival with a bit of a Marty McFly look--even down to driving the Delorean from the Back to the Future films (and there are some really great Easter eggs from those movies in this one as well). To try to win the OASIS's challenges, Wade (as Parzival) has to study the life of its creator, Halliday, as well as things he loved -- like 80's pop culture. Along the way, we meet Parzival's online buddies, including Aech, Sho and Daito, as well as his online hero(ine), Art3mis. Although Parzival and his fellow players have been on the hunt for Halliday's prize for five years now, things heat up pretty quickly once we're introduced to them, and it turns into one wild ride.
Spielberg is no stranger to exciting popcorn movie fare, and Ready Player One is pure entertainment. That alone is as much a strength as it is a weakness. If you're looking for deep, rich characters, Ready Player One actually falls short in that department, but the very nature of the film represents pure escapism. The villain, Sorrento, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is kind of your typical evil business man -- very much like the original Tron film. It's part of what makes Ready Player One complettely feel like a movie lifted out of the 80s. When composer Alan Silvestri isn't cheekily throwing in nods to arguably the best score of his career, Back to the Future, the songs in the film are pop hits right out of the 1980s. And those pop culture references I mentioned? There's everything from Batman to Atari to Halo and Battletoads to Hello Kitty, MadBalls, Gundam and King Kong. It's fun to pick things out like an issue of Highlights. It's so thoughtfully crafted, and so delightfully engineered to recapture a sense of youth, that it's tough to fault it for keeping things relatively surface level.
The content, unfortunately, is a mix of what you'd expect from an 80s movie--when the ratings seemed a little looser--and an edgier PG-13 film. For example, one sequence takes the characters into a virtual recreation of the movie The Shining. I have no idea if it's in the book, but it ended up being a pretty unexpectedly intense sequence (Couldn't it have been something less horror in nature?). One scene has a character finding themselves in a bathroom where a nude woman pulls back a shower curtain and slowly rises out of the tub. During that scene, we see most of her bare shoulders and cleavage (without total topless nudity), and then her entire bare back (not her butt) as she walks out. But then the beautiful woman turns into an old, decomposing hag, and lunges at the screen. We then see quick shots of this zombified, old, nude woman running around, chasing characters through a few scenes with an ax. It's surprising and quite gross. A little bit later, we see a ballroom of ghostly zombie dancers (kind of like from Disney World's Haunted Mansion ride), as well as a sequence where the elevators open up and a river of blood washes characters down a hotel hallway. There's one other gruesome moment where a large avatar corners Parzival and an alien from Alien bursts through its chest and proceeds to chew up the front of the character, until it falls away revealing another person underneath. It's meant to be funny and shocking at the same time. There isn't much else in the sexual content arena, however, we briefly see a woman dancing (clothed) by a pole while wearing her OASIS goggles, and Art3mis runs her hands over Parzival in the OASIS and we see the sensation ride up Wade's suit in the real world, starting around his crotch. Sadly, there's quite a bit of language, including at least 1 "F" word, roughly 14 uses of the "S" word, and occasional blasphemy. I suppose content like this isn't unusual these days, but I was kind of hoping Spielberg may have mellowed out by now when it comes to the kind of content he puts in his films geared toward wider audiences.
Just a glance at the content written above goes to show how unusual and often surprising Ready Player One can be as a film, but there's enough of the "Spielberg magic" to make the movie worthwhile. There are some great action sequences, although the whirling camera work at times - especially the car race early on -- can be dizzying and overwhelming. Even the finale battle is so chaotic, fast-paced, and overstuffed with Easter eggs that it's just full-on sensory overload. But in a way, it's part of the fun of the film, too. The climactic finale has a bit of that idealistic, almost Goonies-esque feel that feels dated and maybe too idealistic, however, it fits the vibe and approach of the film so well.
Ready Player One won't be everything fans of the book hope to see, and it will certainly not be every movie-goer's cup of tea, but it's otherwise a fun, imaginative, and highly entertaining sci-fi romp. And even if you haven't picked up a video game controller since Atari was the king of the gaming world, you're still likely to find enough to relate to, if not love, about Ready Player One. (However, due to its edgy content, it makes it tough to give it a full-on recommendation.)- John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/30/18)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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