READY PLAYER ONE Review

By Victoria Alexander, Film Critic

Floods the senses with dazzling imagery. But it reaches overload and then something extraordinary happens. A scene so unique, so bizarre that it knocks off being eaten by Godzilla.

I have not read Ernest Cline’s apparently best-selling novel Ready Player One. I have never played video games. I did live through the 1980s.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, the screenplay is by Cline and Zak Penn. The plot can be easily doped out: The world in the near future – 2045 – has literally gone to hell in a hand basket as evidenced by the sprawl of stacked, mounted favelas in Columbus, Ohio. No one cares about living in the real world, so no one bothers caring for this boring, ordinary reality.

Society, thanks to a shy, awkward man-child named James Halliday (Mark Rylance) whose emotional age was frozen in the 1980s, has designed a Universe that rivals anything to be had on reality-based Earth.

He looks like someone whose neighbors, living within 1,200 feet of him, would keep their eyes open at night.

His Universe is steeped in 1980s arcana. (Hey, isn’t that the dude who played Chipper in TOP GUN?)

This new reality is not based on physics. If you can think it, you can do it – as long as its origin lies in the 1980s. Halliday called his personal Universe OASIS. Want to be a dining room table or Beetlejuice? It seems everyone spends as much time as they can inhabiting fascinating avatars they have constructed for themselves. Want to be Zeus and have a goddess leap from your head? You can when you are in OASIS.

Karl Marx famously said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Well, Karl, OASIS has imprisoned everyone’s minds and bodies. People live and love and kill in OASIS. They take up space in Columbus.

What a brilliant way to keep the masses placated. Finally, fascism is working! This fantasy world has no boundaries, yet you are bound by it.

And while there is no political agenda in READY PLAYER ONE, it is eerie that is portends to a future we are heading straight for.

We are all being anesthetized by the amount of time we spend with our heads down looking at our phones and closed off from everyone while being in front of a screen. We are like the ancient Roman citizens, kept appeased by the emperors with gladiator games and free bread.

The emperors could do whatever they wanted as long as they provided death as free entertainment.

So watching READY PLAYER ONE is kind of creepy. The real world ceases to give people anything to satisfy them. The people you meet, like, love, and interact with are all idealized avatars of themselves.

Sheepish Halliday, while shedding innocence as he walks in his too-high pants held up by a belt, is a hallowed god to gamers. He has memorialized every moment in his life on video and journals. Dying without an heir or significant others, he leaves his empire to anyone who solves the three easter eggs he has embedded in the game.

The winner, deserving or not, will control OASIS.

There is an opposing force, a formidable company run by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), has a real life in OASIS. He is Parzival and he is on the hunt for the clues to win sole control of OASIS. His best friend is avatar Aech, who represents as half giant black man, half robot. Aech is a mechanical genius.

Avatar Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), represents an anime character with a feisty personality and the bravery of a newly minted Disney princess.

The gamer’s first challenge is a car race hampered by a feast of sci-fi villains. Soon Parzial, Aech and Art3mis are joined by Japanese players, Daito (Win Morisaki) and Shoto (Philip Zhao).

Going back to referencing READY PLAYER ONE and a fascist society bent on subjecting everyone to obedience – be it with gadgets or punishments – Sorrento somehow has an enslavement prison for those gamers who have not paid up their coins.

Yes, even in OASIS, pleasure has a price.

Right now there are Earth-bound gamers listing all the 1980s references in READY PLAYER ONE. Remember when there used to be a popular game trying to name all the survivors of the Titanic?

So let the games begin! Director Spielberg has all the current wizardry at his disposal and he puts up every one of them. READY PLAYER ONE floods the senses with dazzling imagery. But it reaches overload and then something extraordinary happens. A scene so unique, so bizarre that it knocks off being eaten by Godzilla.

Its READY PLAYER ONE’S highlight and Halliday’s little corner of darkness.

This scene encapsules the 1980s.  (Well, Spielberg could have put players inside the 2001 egg – now there is something for READY PLAYER 2!)

Sheridan, filling in as the current Spielberg archetype, is rather ordinary and has no real charisma. With the way he is directed and photographed, he is Spielberg’s avatar. You don’t leave the theater thinking about Sheridan. Cooke, who seems to be in every movie I see (she’s a patient with bad hair in UNSANE and a hostage in 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE), also suffers from Spielberg’s disinterest in building female characters. Parzial and Art3mis love each other but their love is chaste.

The visuals are amazing and the art direction is superb. How many animators worked on this film? Did Spielberg hire an entire Indian city to make READY PLAYER ONE?

Like most, if not all, Spielberg films, intimacy is an emotion best served cold. When will Spielberg make a passionate, sexy film? He has the finest tools to display and excise his libido. Why not use it?

Victoria Alexander

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com. 

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