Ready Player One (2018)
Ready Player One (2018)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 2 hrs. 20 min.

Release Date: March 29th, 2018 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Steven Spielberg Actors: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Hannah John-Kamen, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki

 


 

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n the year 2025, revolutionary game designer James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and his business partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) launch OASIS, a virtual reality world where the only limitations are one’s imagination. The simulated adventure becomes an escape for millions from the harsh realities of an over-crowded, polluted, and bleak daily existence. When Halliday passes away, he bequeathes the entirety of OASIS to anyone who can find a meticulously-hidden, golden “easter egg” within the game. Rival technology company IOI, led by the ruthless Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), becomes determined to seize control, employing thousands of people to scour the game’s landscapes for clues.

Hopeful common citizens intent on claiming the half-a-trillion dollar prize, nicknamed “Gunters,” also inhabit the numerous worlds of OASIS, competing for coins, upgrades, and the chance at finding one of three keys that will allow its possessor to unlock the egg’s location. One such Gunter, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), known by his in-game handle Parzival, wishes to secure the money to extricate himself from his dreary home in the slum-like “stacks” of heavily overpopulated Columbus, Ohio. When Wade uses his comprehensive knowledge of Halliday to complete the first seemingly-unbeatable challenge and obtain a key, his significant accomplishment attracts the attention of renowned Gunter Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), as well as Sorrento and his infamous bounty hunter i-R0k (T.J. Miller). As IOI steadily hunts Wade in both the virtual and real worlds, Parzival must band together with his friends Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), Daito (Win Morisaki), and Art3mis to find the treasure and save OASIS from those who wish to destroy it.

“Reality’s a bummer.” Like “The Matrix” if designed by Willy Wonka, but with willing participants, the world of “Ready Player One” shows a dystopian future, where relief from hardships can be found primarily in virtual reality. Those with pressure-sensitive gear and omni-directional treadmills have more fun, of course, as demonstrated by a series of early examples in which people merely exercise, while Wade can move around considerably more; it seems as if the vast majority of civilians would be constantly running into their surroundings, what with their limited spaces of play. It’s also strange that players must fix broken acquisitions themselves, instead of simply resetting them. In one scene, Aech spends a few minutes “repairing” a damaged motorcycle in the OASIS, which is then shrunk down and placed into a digital toolbox of items (within the hidden controls of the user – virtual reality within the virtual reality). During a later sequence, in which Wade and Samantha dance, their limbs don’t actually gyrate around in the real world, meaning that many of their actions can be entirely simulated. A significant amount of the population could then be assumed to be bedridden, immobile blobs, since even the act of walking could be simulated, requiring no motions at all. This ties into the idea that everyone’s avatars are probably the complete opposite of their real world counterparts; appearances and genders (and even species) are fantasies (leading to jokes reminiscent of those in “Surrogates,” which stymied its own suspension of disbelief by calling attention to that likelihood). Here, even mature-themed avatars are referenced, though it’s with a single, jokey line.

Nevertheless, while the video game preoccupation is adequately and thoroughly visualized, the real world has plenty of missing details. How do people make money? Or pay rent? Or buy food? There doesn’t appear to be a government, or specific internet service providers, or even a police force or military. Hacking is still a common capability, but its implications are predominantly dismissed. And since poverty and financial disparity are still rampant, surely the ultra rich have taken control of commodities like servers and internet connections. But the majority of the film takes place inside OASIS, hoping that audiences will ignore what goes on in the real world – outside the immediate struggles of the main protagonists and antagonists.

Despite astounding visuals that routinely contribute to some expansive, exasperating battles, the meat of the story is little more than a band of rebels combating a greedy corporation; good versus evil. In typical Spielberg fashion, there’s also plenty of humor (T.J. Miller gets all the best lines and easily delivers on the laughs), light romance, nonstop chases, and puzzle-solving. What this film will be foremost noted for, however, is its inclusion of pop culture ideas and entities from the ‘80s (where are all the pop culture components from the 2020s and 2030s?), which are essentially innumerable. Everything from Chucky to King Kong is tossed into this picture, a bit like “Wreck-It Ralph” or the “Toy Story” movies, dedicating a few seconds of screentime to countless famous franchises. Curiously, one of the most elaborate sequences involves recreations from “The Shining” (a rather severe movie), which feels unfitting amidst the lighter elements of “The Iron Giant” and “Back to the Future.” In fact, it’s likely that contemporary viewers won’t be familiar with Kubrick’s work, especially if they catch the references to properties like “Minecraft” and “Overwatch.”

Spielberg is clearly focused on action and adventure, but he does manage to hint at the ways in which “Ready Player One” warns of future problems – or current problems that will increase in detriment. Time-sapping social media, invasions of privacy, exhaustive data collection, intrusive surveillance, corporate abuses of power, and the enslavement of the lower classes (amusingly shown here with “loyalty centers” that house prisoners in tiny cubicles, forced to do hard labor in OASIS) are all sci-fi notions that aren’t terribly futuristic. The director also wishes to convey, perhaps to the disappointment of diehard video game fans, that immersive forms of entertainment necessitate breaks – so that people can go out and find a girlfriend.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10