You have to appreciate the work ethic of Steven Spielberg even if you are not a fan of his movies. Ready Player One was a mammoth undertaking for him. The production from start to finish took over three years and featured more that 1100 separate effects shots. In fact, the effects work took so long that the director had time to shoot, edit and release The Post during the post production phase. To produce one quality film is impressive, to produce two is just ridiculous.
Ready Player One is a geek dream. Set in the near future it shows a world where a lot of shit has gone down and there is very little for the population to look forward to. To escape the grim realities of real life, there is The Oasis. It is an online virtual world where users can be whatever they want to become. They can choose their avatar to suit their mood and interact with whoever they choose. The possibilities are endless. The creator of The Oasis has just passed away and in true gaming style has left a quest behind. For whoever can find the Easter eggs and complete the three challenges will take possession of The Oasis to do with as they please. This leads to a race between a rag tag bunch of gamers and an evil corporation to get to the ultimate prize first.
The film is divided into two distinct sections. One is the real world setting. The other is the virtual world. The latter is the most interesting of the two. It is a constructed world that is full, perhaps too full, of pop culture references. It is more than just games though as there are nods to movie, music and culture from the 1980s onwards. In this world, we follow the main character of Parzival (Ty Sheridan) as he pursues the ultimate prize of The Oasis itself. His online name is well chosen as it is drawn from an Arthurian legend about a man who was seeking the holy grail. This is, in effect, the main thread of the story and, in a nice side note, is even indirectly referenced when, as a power up, he receives the holy hand grenade (as carried by brother Maynard! Python fans).
Ready Player One will benefit repeat viewings for the visuals alone even if the actual story doesn’t bear up to multiple visits. There is much to enjoy in the way that the virtual worlds have been crafted. The first main quest is a perfect example of this. As well as being a hugely entertaining race / chase sequence there are nods to Godzilla, Jurassic Park, Akira, Back To The Future and about two dozen other pop culture artefacts. Instead of detracting from the main story-line, they add another level to it. It is common to the rest of the time in The Oasis. The pacing is such that the audience is kept totally engaged.
It is in the ‘real’ world elements that the film doesn’t quite hit the mark. It follows familiar Spielberg themes with friendship and family involved but does not possess the same impact as the VR sections. It has nothing to do with the lack of spectacle but is the absence of characterisation and background. The high rise ghetto of Wade’s hometown of Columbus is supposed to represent how the world has turned out. As it transpires this is only the poorest areas and doesn’t represent everywhere as is implied at the start of the film. Outside of Wade (Parzival in The Oasis), Samantha / Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Helen / Aich (Lena Waithe) and Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) there are no other characters that are given any real back story and screen time. Even with an actor such as Mendelsohn as the primary antagonist there is little for him to work with and Sorrento comes across as a rather two dimensional and pretty predictable baddie.
If you are willing to just roll with it and accept minor flaws then Ready Player One is a great film experience. This is one of the rare cases where the use of 3D is welcome. The VR sequences are given an extra degree of depth with the technique. As with Avatar it is all about the immersive elements rather than the stuff flying out of the screen that adds to the experience.