Go tell Alexandra Robbins:the geeks have inherited the earth. The year is 2045—just four years before Ryan Gosling gets on it with his A.I. girlfriend in “Blade Runner 2049”; is that an easter egg?—and the world is in shambles. The real world, that is. The economy is at an all-time low, the earth itself sore with telluric problems, barely surviving. And rather than tend to its grave plights, the world plugs itself into another world where there’s none. The geeks should not have inherited the earth.
What terrors have befell earth that had its cities turned into communal playpens, their attention traded to the direction of a video game? What real-world terrors lie ahead still? These are questions that, like its characters jacked to a whole ‘nother realm, don’t bother Steven Spielberg’s film, “Ready Player One”, all that much. In the film, you, your parents, your friends, your neighbors, and your titos and titas are hooked to a virtual Neverland called the Oasis, where it’s sunnier than Philadelphia where it’s already always sunny. Switch genders, descend to the earth as a Gundam mecha, or take a hike…with Batman—you can do literally anything and everything. Why bother about the outside world, when all is possible for you in the Oasis (granted that you have the “credits” to blow)? Why go back to the despairing corners of Wendy’s bedroom when you can hang out with Peter Pan?
The culprit—the innovator and engineer of the all-encompassing virtual world of Oasis the—is James Halliday. Played by Mark Rylance, Halliday dons a ‘do and sports a fashion as distinctly misshapen as his idealism. He has built the Oasis for the purest of reasons but eventually loses it to the haze of corporate fiddlings and opportunism. As one does, he raises a post-mortem middle finger by posthumously mounting an in-game event called Anorak’s Quest, in which players unlock hidden challenges to get to the Oasis’ biggest prize: all of Halliday’s monetary wealth and total control of the Oasis itself. Aptly the unaccountable resolution from a man-child who unwittingly proliferates global apathy by doping people with the revelries of his V.R. fantasia, from an ostensibly enigmatic figure revered for offering people escape, the gateway drug with the false promise of taking you wherever you want by keeping you stuck in the same dreaded rut at which you idly sit.
Of course, there are people who see past this and hold Halliday in Messianic regard. That would be Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a renegade “gunter”—Easter Egg hunters; shut up, it’s a thing!—who obsessively obsesses about Halliday’s obsessions in the hopes of decoding the quest. Staple action items include binge-ing John Hughes movies, reading throughnovels by Halliday’s favorite authors, and cosplaying as a band member of Duran-Duran just for the kick of it.
Halliday’s Zuckerbergian conundrum and Wade’s inherently naive outlook are barely interesting. That’s about as much intrigue Spielberg will milk out of a universe sorely tethered to the idea of escape, which, specific to his film, comes in humanity’s gradual decay to their respective digital copies. It’s doubtful Spielberg wishes to repeat himself on this front after mounting such a beautiful discussion of the matter in his 2001 film, “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence”, and the appeal to the dynamic between Halliday and Wade is anyway more potent than those to their individual characters and the film’s begrudging critique on crashing adrift the film’s Pompeii of all manners of multimedia escape—the ultimate suburbia.
In the film’s most shining moment, the two meet, fittingly inside Halliday’s room where his adolescent self hawks at a console game, and engages in a poignant dialogue. When all is said and done, Halliday leaves Wade in his room. “Thank you for playing my game,” he intones wistfully, echoing such connection of that between a creator and that who has been affected by his work, and indirectly, that of the filmmaker and his viewer. That Spielberg, with a legendary portfolio of cinematic achievements and an earned collective respect, has become a pop culture institution himself, makes the scene all the more poignant and haunting.
Spielberg folds all that into the cluster-pop batter of “Ready Player One,” a precious love letter from a creator about the true and false value of his work, lost in the haze of blockbuster chaos. Each set piece and the next is a hyperstimulation of 80’s nostalgia and prized pop culture in a blink-or-you’ll definitely-miss-it fashion designed to make viewers puke glitter or roll their heads over. The references come in overabundant supply, often very beautiful (thanks are due to Janusz Kamiski’s adept photography; astounding is the Kubrickian reference in the film’s midsection, you’ll want to watch it eyes wide shut), and admirably, almost always matter-of-fact, a stark contrast to the 2011 same-name Ernest Cline novel which stuffs any and all references it can to its mix and has become somewhat of a litmus test to end all litmus tests of true geekdom.
The screenplay, co-written by Zak Penn and Cline himself, is wonky in parts, juggling a handful of different themes while cautiously treading the line between a faithful, crowd-pleasing adaptation and an overcompensating one. Penn and Cline’s best efforts leave the film a weak, bare-boned foundation, and having been set in an alternate reality, the film lacks a much-needed sense of energy. As Nolan Sorrento, the CEO of a malicious corporation called the IOI, Ben Mendelsohn is written off as a one-note tantrum-spitting quitter, and the rest of the cast aren’t able to blossom, chiefly Olivia Cooke, who plays Art3mis, a self-proclaimed “rebel” who downsizes from legitimate heroine to the damsel meant to peck the hero his trophy kiss towards the end. Having all that, Spielberg crafts a flawed but boundlessly wonderous spectacle that no other filmmaker will be able to achieve.
Ready Player One
2018 / Action, Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction / US
Direction: Steven Spielberg Screenplay: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline (from the same-name novel by Ernest Cline) Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, T.J. Miller
When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.
Steven Spielberg folds heart and soul that into the cluster-pop batter of "Ready Player One," a precious love letter from a creator about the true and false value of his work that's unfortunately lost in the haze of blockbuster chaos.