By midlandsmovies, Aug 5 2018 07:00AM
Ready Player One (2018) Dir. Steven Spielberg
Co-written by Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand) and the novel’s author Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is a new film struggling hard to condense the pop-culture complexity of the book into a 2-hour action blockbuster from Steven Spielberg.
In 2045, the world’s decimated population is immersed in the OASIS – a virtual reality world where ‘anything goes’ – and whose creator James "Anorak" Halliday (Spielberg stalwart Mark Rylance) runs a contest to challenge players to uncover three hidden keys in the game to win full ownership of the pixelated world. A corporation run by Nolan Sorrento (the perennially evil Ben Mendelsohn) is out to use an army of players to find these treasures whilst teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) and his online friends try to get there first.
The beginning is everything I feared from the trailer. Figuratively and literally, the film’s opening is like watching a friend play a computer game – full of CGI, uncanny valley avatars and obvious pop culture references. The cool quirkiness of a Zombieland-esque voiceover filling in the backstory helps flesh the story out but the images are akin to the visual hell of Speed Racer (which is also referenced in the film itself). Its backwards in its introduction with a very quick ‘real-world’ segment before the likeable Sheridan has his amiable acting ditched for an elf-like cartoon avatar.
Ben Mendehlson is having some fun as he overacts his way through a very 80s inspired villain and whilst there are echoes of both Tron films, the quirky Mark Rylance as the OASIS’s creator channels South Park’s Matt Stone, Garth from Wayne’s World and (obviously) Steve Jobs in an eclectic performance.
The film sees Sheridan’s virtual character Parzival team up with Lena Waithe’s virtual mechanic Aech, Philip Zhao’s Sho, Win Morisaki’s Daito and Olivia Cooke’s feisty Art3mis as the "High Five", an informal group jumping from the game challenges to a virtual archive. The archive contains video clips reconstructing Halliday's life which provides clues to the game’s construction, history and to the concealed prizes too.
These historical sections are great and the scenes give a more human aspect to a film filled with so much spinning camera which, as a non-video game player, demonstrated how unattuned to this aesthetic I am. The film is so kinetic I struggled to focus on the action as the camera zipped from one millisecond shot to the next.
It’s not all bad however. I did find myself warming up to the (many) Back to the Future nods – from snippets of score, a ‘Zemeckis cube’ and the DeLorean itself. A section where the gang ‘visit’ The Shining is very good. Like Back to the Future 2, the characters actually go back into the movie in a phenomenal sequence that recreates the iconic hotel and visuals from Kubrick’s film flawlessly.
Whilst the tone varies between Wreck It Ralph and his own Minority Report, Spielberg becomes guilty of the teal/orange ending at the film’s finale making it look like every other blockbuster. The Michael Bay-ness of a huge CGI battle which although looks the business, uses stupidly quick editing and a constantly spinning camera that will give all but die-hard video game fans a migraine.
So I really just wished Ready Player One slowed down so I could savour the characters, story and action. It would really benefit from it as a movie but, again, feels like a real-life game delivering a style to satisfy gamers’ short attention spans.
But that leaves us the question as to who is the film for in the end? Whilst the style reflects modern gaming (MMRPGs and Metal Gear Solid aesthetics) the film references are pure 80s so what’s the audience here? At 38, I recognised most allusions to the trivia of the past but some will be aimed at kids who wouldn’t have a clue about Mad Balls, Chucky and Mecha Godzilla.
Fans of the book may find joy in seeing all their childhood pop-culture dreams come to life but the film feels a mish-mash of wildly varying tones and styles. The actors do the best they can with the material but by spending so long in the OASIS, the computer-generated ‘sprites’ left me cold without the human attachment so badly needed. A fun ride at times for sure, Ready Player One is an entertaining and sometimes dazzling blockbuster for the family. But bring your headache pills for the unfortunate messy action and endless trivia nods which are both at the expense of real character arcs.
Midlands Movies Mike