Pop Culture has become an embodiment of hope, enjoyment and inspiration for many searching for new and fascinating ways to expand their lives. The endless list of icons used to symbolize pop culture help us identify the parts of that universe that we can easily connect to and allow us to escape the norms of reality and find elements that can bring pleasure to us like very few things can. These items help individualize us and help set us apart in our tastes and preferences. Many of these icons of pop culture get an opportunity to shine again as part of the loving consortium that’s affectionately known as Ready Player One (Amblin/Village Roadshow/DreamWorks/Warner Bros, Running Time 140 minutes, Directed by Steven Spielberg). But will this movie be something that will inspire their inner nerd or a film that will have audience members saying “game over”.
Based off the best-selling novel of the same name by Ernest Cline (who assisted in writing the screenplay), the film is set in the year 2045 in dystopian Columbus, Ohio which has become the center of the world due to both dramatic world wide events and its closeness with being the center of the new technological universe. It is there we meet Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a self-professed “Gunter” (Easter Egg Hunter) who dreams of winning a magical prize left behind by eccentric game creator extraordinaire James Halliday that will transport him away from slums (known as the “Stacks”) and grant him a life away from the dreary existence he feels he has now. Wade’s predicament is not unlike most of the inhabitants in this world so as an alternative, many of them spend their lives (and money) escaping into a virtual world known as the OASIS.
It is through the OASIS we see much of Spielberg’s creative vision and Ready Player One‘s brilliance as players must pass a series of tests in order to obtain three keys and then ultimately the valued Easter Egg itself (which will grant the winner financial control of the OASIS itself). When the player (and the audience for that matter) is transported into this virtual universe, the possibilities of who you can be and who you can interact with are seemingly endless. From the design and structure of the OASIS itself to the many pop culture fixtures from the past 40+ years that are represented in it, Spielberg goes out of his way to ensure that at least that part of Cline’s novelization pays off and it does so in spades. As Wade’s OASIS avatar Parzival navigates through the universe he’ll encounter seemingly an endless line of pop culture references, characters and icons around every virtual corner. From The A-Team to Wonder Woman, the references just keep coming at the viewer but for the most part (outside of The Shining) are done so in such a creative way that just like the book it never ends up coming across as overkill.
Even though the paths to the three keys are decidedly different than what was portrayed in the book, the first and third key experiences in the film offer a visual delight unlike anything ever represented before on film. To state that it was bedazzling might be an understatement, as it was as close to having my mind blown as possible with only rare moments in the cinema before being comparable to it. Parzival’s quest to achieve victory gains him favor with a select group of friends and a love interest with rival/companion Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) but also enemies in the form of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), a high tech firm led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelesohn) willing to go any lengths and utilize immense resources in order to achieve victory in this ultimate virtual scavenger hunt.
Ready Player One‘s quality as a film seemingly coincides with that of the book even though how they come to their conclusion on the surface varies to a great extent. While the film delights viewers in the OASIS, its time spent out of it is mostly spent on establishing the connection between Wade and Art3mis’ real life counterpart Samantha Cook plus the inner scheming of IOI is mostly filler that brings down the movie with cookie cutter conversations and at times even cornier acting. Add to this a horrible, unfunny turn from TJ Miller as virtual bounty hunter I-Rok and you get an uneven mix of highs and lows which keeps the movie (much like the book) from achieving its fullest potential.
Ready Player One as a film should be viewed as Steven Spielberg’s love letter to all things pop culture as his affection for what makes fandom so great undeniably oozes out of the screen in several moments which will make even the most hardened fan “geek out” with happiness. If you haven’t yet read the book however a suggestion is being made here to go see the film up front because the differences between what was written and ultimately shown on screen could be a little offsetting for those who delve in to the literary option first. But despite its uneven ride, Ready Player One still offers many cinematic moments too good to pass up and references you’ll be looking for throughout that can be recognized regardless of what decade you identify with the most.