A culturally-relevant optic treat from a mind only as imaginative as Spielberg’s, RPO is an expansive, nostalgic, 80’s-glam crowd-pleaser that still has heart. 7.1/10.
From filmmaker Steven Spielberg comes a science fiction action-adventure based on Ernest Cline’s bestselling novel. Set in a bleak future of 2045, people have lost basis in reality but have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe. When founder James Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person who can find a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that draws players from around the world, including an unlikely protagonist named Wade Watts and his clan of gaming-obsessed friends.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
In 1975, Steven Spielberg released the now-classic and game-changing Jaws, a film that crushed the box office so much so that it pretty much coined the term “blockbuster.” Spielberg has made his career and reached iconic director-status off that trademark, with wildly imaginative, sweeping, and expensive events that you, your friend, your friend-of-a-friend, and their friend want to go see as soon as it hits theaters on a hot summer day. Now, over 40 years and 32 films later, Spielberg is still cranking them out with his latest project Ready Player One, and it’s an event to see all-the-same.
Ready Player One does many things beautifully. First, the visuals are stunning to behold. The film is a textbook case on how to artfully use CGI to bring to life virtual worlds (with top-notch cinematography and shot set-ups as well), while still not making it too in-your-face or overwhelming. The action is great like in the racing and final war scenes, but the OASIS is so breathtakingly animated that it truly feels like another dimension and special. It truly captures the childlike wonder and amazement of the limitless possibilities of VR in the future, being able to do whatever, however, and wherever.
The OASIS isn’t all futuristic and esoteric though, as Spielberg still grounds it in nostalgia with all of your childhood’s most beloved pop culture icons like King Kong, Batman, Star Wars, Mario, The Shining, Alien, Space Invaders, The Iron Giant, Godzilla, and too many to count! The sheer magnitude of the pop culture nostalgia and cleverly-worked in easter eggs to the 80’s alone make this a MUST-SEE film, especially for any self-respecting gaming or film fan. Things like the virtual recreation of The Overlook Hotel (with painstakingly accurate snow maze and shower illusion scenes), Godzilla vs. Gunogan, and King Kong vs. The Racers slapped a huge goofy grin on my face that’s still here as I write this review.
RPO isn’t just shallow, empty visuals/soulless actions like many-a-blockbuster in this day-and-age. That’s what elevates Spielberg to such another level directorially: He makes these larger-than-life films on an epic scale, but still makes sure to not lose site of the first priority of moviemaking magic – the storytelling. Interplaying between the massive size and ambitions the OASIS virtual world sets out to encompass, there is a personal story too, with well-defined, imagined, and acted characters like Wade, Sam, and worthy villain Nolan. The script is good too, taking a famous novel and tough-to-cinematicize subject and making in investable and followable even for viewers who haven’t been able to read the book yet (guilty).
Perhaps the most impressive thing Spielberg and his team accomplish in Ready Player One though is the the deeper meaning and message being conveyed and analyzed. We live in an increasingly virtual world where everything is automated and life is easy to escape from. But is this a good thing? Using tricks in the cinematography and camerawork, as well as storytelling cues and writing, RPO tackles this topic by illustrating the duality of the futuristic world set forth by the film. The real world in RPO is cold, bleak, and lifeless, where, as the film so eloquently puts it, “people stopped trying to solve problems (climate change, pollution, overpopulation, technology-overdependence, etc.) and started just trying to outlive them.”
This line and the message it’s conveying are truly important and relevant to our modern times, as well as the future. While moonlighting in the virtual world and its unsullied, endless possibilities for fantasy is a great thing we’ve just begun to tap into, there is an even realer green world right outside our doors that we seem to be not only forgetting about, but letting die as we do nothing, play politics and the blame game, and ignore the problems we’re causing it. This seems fine (to most) for the time being, but years from now, like in the apocalyptic-looking world of RPO, we would likely have huge regret and view the virtual world as a crux and not a fun escape like we do now, and I love how the film tackled this topic along with the action, visuals, and premise.
There are places where Ready Player One gets into trouble though. First, while the script and writing are good overall, there are a good number of clichés and moments that are so commonplace and overdone in cinema that they just make your eyes role. Spielberg should know better, and while his movies always usually have a good measure of heart, it feels RPO got over-slathered in it, and the sweet and smart message of staying in grounded in the real world while enjoying technology gets laid on too strongly for taste. The action sometimes delves into generic blockbuster territory as well, like in the final war scene that feels like it lasts half the movie, and some Marvel-esque tropes like over-jokifying and pandering to young viewers with characters like TJ Miller’s Zandorf who should be badass due to his status and bounty-job but is downgraded to silly comic relief.
Finally, and an admittedly pretty large problem for the film, I did not like the main actor Tye Sheridan very much. It is bizarre because in the OASIS voice-acting scenes, he is fine, but looks almost asleep and like he doesn’t even want to be there in the live-action scenes. Got the same vibe from the trailer and it carried through to the actual film. “Why so serious?” I mean really, you’re in a SPIELBERG film as the main character, a little enthusiasm/excitement would be nice. He warms up somewhat as the film goes on but I can’t help but think that there were better ways that role could’ve been filled.
Overall, Ready Player One is a culturally-relevant and optic treat from a mind only as imaginative as Spielberg’s, achieving an epic scale and nostalgic high while still maintaining heart and storytelling soul. Although it has its faults, Spielberg still shows signs of what made him such an iconic director in Ready Player One, and (if it wasn’t still obvious due to the fact that you’re reading this post), isn’t going anywhere.
Overall Rating: 7.1/10