Ready Player One - This Geek-gasm Movie Scrapes The Rocks
Dir: Steven Spielberg
Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, Ben Mendelsohn, T J Miller, Lena Waithe, The Iron Giant, King Kong, the Grady Twins, Batman, Clark Kent, Millions Of Others
Ready Player One may well be the best video game movie ever made. It is, however, certainly not one of the best Steven Spielberg movies ever made. Back in the ‘80s, an era so clearly lionised here, when Spielberg was making his early era-defining fantasy-adventure movies, the movies we’ve all grown up on, the man had no idea he was defining pop culture, hell, he was all but inventing it. But nobody called it that way back then. So when Ernest Cline’s novel of increasing immersion in a VR game-based universe, that bore the fingerprints of Mr Spielberg all over it, was deemed to be given the big screen treatment, who should take the helm? Why the man, the inspiration, the creator if you will of all that here was being eulogised. Spielberg was the natural choice.
But is he though? He may have patented this stuff, but that doesn’t make him necessarily the right man to come back and comment on it. (It’s a tough call though – Spielberg acolyte JJ Abrams would make an equally inappropriate choice.) So here we have Spielberg’s take on a piece to seeks to celebrate the culture that Spielberg defined – with the director trying to avoid too many direct references to himself on the grounds of hubris, but still essentially thrusting us all into a world that many assume is/was of his making. Whilst it leads to some spectacular moments, it’s ultimately an unsatisfying combination. (And, being his most “animated” film since Tintin, is equally disappointing.)
Plus, it’s kind of overwhelming, in all the wrong ways.
We are in the future, 2045 to be precise. A deprived world has essentially been anaesthetised by the Oasis, a sprawling VR world that all types use to escape, well, reality. (This is something the film seems to present as a good thing for the most part – at least until a late in the day “message” about “real” being better is slammed home.) When Mark Rylance’s Wonka like inventor offers three golden tickets, sorry, keys to the kingdom, on his deathbed, players compete in a series of game levels, populated by a vast panoply of pop culture references (you can’t really call them “characters”), to win it all. Whilst there is a certain pleasure to see young Wade (a winning Sheridan) climb Everest with Batman, and take on King Kong in a BTTF DeLorean (one of the few direct Spielberg references the director left in), and the Iron Giant show up for the final battle (with his original movements captured note-perfectly), this constantly buzzing background ultimately becomes rather tiresome. We’re sure that some of you out there will love to catch every sight of the A Team van, or some secondary character from some long-forgotten 8-bit game, but the novelty quickly wears off, and this becomes a movie about people hunting for Easter Eggs that is swamped with other Easter Eggs by the dozens. And no, it’s not a clever piece of post modernist symbiosis – it’s from a book where the lead character’s avatar is named “Parzival,” you know, the bloke who went after the Holy Grail. Yes, it’s that subtle!
There is, of course, always something to love and admire in a Spielberg movie – his beautiful technical prowess and complex construction of shots, a brilliant sequence set in The Shining’s Overlook Hotel that sees Spielberg paying tribute to one of his heroes, Stanley Kubrick. But it’s moments like this that also point to the film’s ultimate weakness. Spielberg is far more connected to the filmmaking genius of Kubrick than he is to this mix and match homage to his own back catalogue and cinematic style. Ultimately, Ready Player One lacks heart. And that’s the one thing it needs and you would’ve thought Steven Spielberg would bring to it. Instead he finds himself stuck between a geek and a hard place. If this were all some sort of game, Bridge Of Spies 2 would have been a better move.
Follow us on Twitter @lastwordonearth