READY PLAYER ONE
Family-friendly dystopian sci-fi romp set in the year 2045, starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg, directed by Steven Spielberg.
King Kong, Godzilla, The Iron Giant, Ferris Bueller, The Breakfast Club, the Atari 2600 games console, Saturday Night Fever, The Shining, Back To The Future, Duran Duran, Van Halen, New Order, Talking Heads, Blondie .. off the top of my head, these are just some of the pop culture references that crop up in the new Steven Spielberg adventure that can best be described as a popcorn movie.
Given that he himself has been behind some of the greatest pop culture of the last fifty years, it seems fitting that the director pays homage to both his peers and his influences in what feels like a love letter to innocence, to fun and to .. well, play itself.
Video games have been outselling Hollywood for a number of years now and pretty much everyone I know plays them, whether they care to admit it or not. You don’t have to wear a VR-headset or own an XBox to be a gamer : that Candy Crush thing on your phone ? Well, that makes you a gamer, too.
Extrapolate that familiarity with all things virtual thirty-odd years into the future and what have you got ? A world not disimilar to the one in Ready Player One, I’d imagine.
Remember when we were promised we’d be commuting by jetpack and have a robot-maid to do the housework ? Well, Spielberg’s vision of America in 2045 isn’t as polished and shiny as the 1950s predictions of the future I’m afraid. It’s grim and sees most of the population escaping reality through gaming, specifically into Oasis, a virtual world where you can be whatever you want to be ..
The story centres on Wade Watts (his father named him to sound like a super-hero’s alter ego) who’s just another eighteen year old born and bred in Columbus, Ohio, where he lives in a kind of vertical trailer park called The Stacks.
While nobody can seemingly afford a house or a car, everyone has access to technology and escapism is pretty much the only past-time anyone cares about anymore.
The game the plot revolves around is not so much a game at all as a virtual world called The Oasis where your avatar can be anything you can imagine and where you ramp up experience points and gain access to better prizes like clothing, vehicles, weapons, etc depending on how you want to play. There’s a real world element to it all as well, given you can trade in credits for actual upgrades to the tech you’re using while you also feel the impact of injuries for real as well if you’re playing the game the hard way.
Oasis itself was the brainchild of a Steve Jobs style character called Halliday (Rylance) who’s like a cross between Garth from Wayne’s World and Willy Wonka. Clueless with everyday life – and especially love – he is nonetheless something of a genius and has secreted three keys somewhere in his virtual universe, rewarding anyone finding them with a chance to take control of the game itself and become the new owner of Oasis.
If you’ve played adventure games, you can probably guess the rest of the plot : step by step, our hero enlists the help of some online friends and sets off on a quest to find those keys, wherever they may lie, deep within the game world.
Admittedly, there’s not much to the story itself : good vs evil, boy meets girl (online), boy battles evil with a little help from his friends, blah, blah, blah, but then you could dissect most movies, books and plays that way if you boil them all down to their constituent parts.
It’s the way they’re put together that makes them stand and fall and for family movies that can typically be harder than for anything else. You need to keep the children engaged, the teenagers from playing with their phones and the adults from nodding off. Hence the diversions of the pop culture references from the last forty years, the flashing lights, the cool action sequences, the riddles, the snappy editing .. it’s a real balancing act and one that Spielberg pulls off with aplomb.
It’s not War and Peace, heck it’s not even The Hobbit, but it’s damn good fun and the kind of film you really could watch a few times and still see new things you missed on the first few viewings. If anything, it’s been released too early as it would’ve been the perfect summer movie for when the kids are getting bored and it’s raining outside.
If you fell in love with films like Batteries Not Included, Gremlins or The Goonies as a youngster and feel like your own children are missing out on similar experiences in the age of YouTube and Netflix, drag them to the cinema and make them watch it.
They’ll thank you for it and you’ll enjoy it yourself.