2 ½ Stars.
If you saw Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” and were either on stimulus over-load or scratching your head thinking you must have entered the wrong theater, you are probably not alone. This is not the Spielberg of old – and so what?
The movie takes place in Columbus, Ohio in 2045 – a city unrecognizable in its shantytown ugliness and precarious construction. Think: trailers on stilts piled on top of each other in some sort of tenuous arrangement. Seriously, are there no engineers left? Well, it is after the “bandwidth riots” and reality really sucks. So, everyone is tuned in on a headset to a virtual world known as the Oasis which was conjured up by a now-deceased genius called Halliday (Mark Rylance).
Halliday left a game – or series of games – in which the ultimate prize is command of the Oasis. While anyone can enter the game, in seven years no one has solved the puzzle – which requires the winning of three magical keys by playing a variety of games pulled from various video games. The ultimate win leads to a glowing egg. Okay, it sounds really stupid. But wait.
In this virtual world everyone has an avatar, including the deceased Halliday (okay, he is dead, so it is a hologram). Our hero, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), is a teen orphan living with his aunt (Susan Lynch) and a variety of her male abusers/losers. No wonder that Wade has to hide out in a secret place under a pile of junk and assume the avatar ID of Parzival. It’s not a good idea to use your real name as Wade eventually finds out. His love interest is a sexy girl avatar named Art3mis (sic) (Olivia Cooke).
Plotting against the couple – and everyone else in the film – is the evil Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who leads a high-tech corporation with Mafia-like tactics who has its eye on the prize so it can rule the Oasis. Sorrento is a scary figure but he is one of those guys who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know so he is constantly over-ruling his more able assistant (Ronke Adekoluejo).
Well, we know where this is heading. But along the way we are treated with a variety of nostalgic references created by Halliday who was taken with pop culture of the 1980’s: “Back to the Future,” “Batman,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “Starwars,” “Alien”, as well as Duran Duran, Van Halen, the Bee Gees, and Michael Jackson and, yes, Tab – the old no-cal beverage. And the list goes on and on. There are over twenty songs in the soundtrack, and it’s kind of fun also to identify some of the lightening-fast references of old.
This film has its origins in Ernest Cline’s nerdy sci-fi novel of the same title. If you aren’t a geeky gamer, this film may not mean much to you. But there are whole generations out there for which this film will resonate.