Ready Player One12¦ 4K, 3D, Blu-ray, DVD
Nostalgia, as we know it, will soon be dead.
Where once memories might have been triggered by brown corduroy and weak orange squash, will shortly be replaced by reminiscing chats about the very first app you bought, the first TV series you streamed illegally, or your favourite fake news story. Welcome to the era of post-modern nostalgia.
Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One, could easily be considered the bible of this new era, littered as it is, with eighties cultural references. It is only right then, that the creator of many of these references – and as an extension, an iconic cultural reference himself – Steven Spielberg, go back to the future with his interpretation of Cline’s book for the big screen.
It was only a matter of time before real life was deemed over-rated. That time is 2045. To paraphrase Shakespeare – all the world’s a virtual stage, and all the men and women merely players. One such player is orphaned teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan); in the real world he lives an unremarkable life, living in a deprived area of Columbus, Ohio, known as the Stacks.
His online avatar Parzival however, is a cool character, who knows how to play the virtual game. He, like everyone else, connects to the Oasis, an entertainment hub, created by tech genius James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and his best friend Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg).
When Halliday died, it marked the start of a competition he created, where the winner would take ownership of his highly profitable company. To win, a special Easter egg needed to be found, which could only be accessed through a gate locked by three keys. Of course these keys weren’t just lying around willy nilly, they were hid in various locales, which could only be discovered by solving fiendishly difficult clues.
With such a spectacular prize, it’s no wonder that everyone within the Oasis wants to play for it, including the CEO of Innovative Online Industries, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who is keen to use the Oasis to make even more money, and bleed players for even more of their meagre incomes.
It soon dawns on Wade that he stands little chance of finding the keys on his own, so gets the help of his online pals, as well as the mysterious Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), to aid him on his virtual quest. But with all quests, the path ahead is a perilous one, both in real world as well as the virtual one.
If you’re looking for spectacle on the big screen, Spielberg has always been the go to guy. Sure he’s been mixing it up over the years with more serious adult material, but he’s still prepared to let that youngster within him delve into the play box from time to time. And as you would expect, this story set in a virtual gaming world is right up his virtual street.
Visually, the film is jaw-droppingly stunning. The world of the Oasis is a nerd’s wet dream; it is brimming with familiar looking avatars, all playing in an ever changing virtual world.
But it’s not all fun and games. Spielberg relies heavily on his young protagonist providing a voice-over to do all the heavy lifting as far as explaining the mechanics of the environ. And after a while, it gets a tad tedious. Understandably it’s a useful tool, but it does get in the way and comes across as one of those annoying tutorials in video games that you just can’t skip.
Its other flaw are the relationships, and pseudo relationships, of the main characters. Wade is really dull. If there was a prize going for the dullest character in a Spielberg flick, he would win it hands down. In terms of being a player in a virtual world he’s certainly believable, as he’s completely devoid of any personality – as is everyone else around him – but a little charm and humour would have gone a long, long way, particularly when you consider how key relationships in all of Spielberg’s films.
It’s also disappointing that Spielberg decided to not kill off one of the characters, as Kline does in his book, somewhat sanitising the whole experience. If there’s no real peril, what’s the point?
In fact that’s a criticism that could be levelled at the film as a whole, that it’s glossy, flashy albeit a sanitised experience. It wouldn’t come as a surprise it were sponsored by the likes of Microsoft and Apple.
Many will get a kick out of the eighties references, of which there are plenty, but without tangible emotional connections between the main characters, what’s left is nothing short of a fairly enjoyable tech demo.
Could it be a glimpse of what the future holds? Probably. But we’re not ready for it just yet, if this is anything to go by.