People are either rich beyond the dreams of Croesus, or existing in a polluted miasma of chronic underemployment and spiritual redundancy.
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, X Men:Apocalypse) is 18. Born after the “corn syrup drought and the bandwidth riots”, he spends his every waking moment, like pretty much everyone else in the western world, in the Oasis; a vast virtual reality platform built 20 years before by a couple of programmers afflicted with an almost terminal strain of 1980s geekdom.
The Oasis is a near-infinite riot of pop-culture references, game playing and fantasy. It is where you get your education, your entertainment, and quite probably your relationships. Players from around the world meet, form clans and make friends or enemies of each other.
It is also home to the world’s most stable currency. Credits earned inside can be spent in the real world.
At the heart of every game is the story that the designer James Halliday has planted the ultimate Easter Egg somewhere within. And whoever finds the three keys that unlock the egg’s hiding place will inherit mastery of the Oasis and all of Halliday’s trillion-dollar fortune.
Wade is a serious egg-hunter (“Gunter”). Arrayed against him are the forces of capitalist darkness, as personified by corporate chief executive Ben Mendelsohn – who seems to have become this generation’s Alan Rickman – and his army of grey suited drones, fighting to secure the Oasis and its potential as an advertising platform for themselves.
It’s a fabulous set-up, with one eye firmly on a satire of present day social media platforms and their embrace of VR and AR technology, and the other on a retro-riot of pop-culture fun and games.
And who better to balance this mix of grim warning and sugar-coated love letter to nostalgia than Steven Spielberg; one of the key architects of all that ‘80s culture Ready Player One is so gleefully mining.
Spielberg makes an absolute pig of himself here. Ernest Cline’s original novel – which is a darker and more nuanced beast than this self-adapted screenplay allows – includes references to a galaxy of movie, game and musical sources. The reality of licensing deals has led to some changes, but Spielberg still manages to chuck in Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhees, the DeLorean from Back to the Future, The Iron Giant, Dragon Ball-Z, Street Fighter, The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. There will be dozens of others of course, but those are the ones I jotted in my notebook
Ready Player One is a huge, gaudy, predictable (of course, no one does “plucky kids save the world”like Spielberg, and there is never any doubt how this story will play out) and occasionally unwieldy film. There is also some confusion, I think, about exactly who the film is aimed at.
A lengthy sequence set in a pixel-perfect recreation of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining had me cooing with appreciation, but it’s hard to imagine your average 12-year-old being quite so awed. Then again, I know that at least half of the game references were over my head, and I still enjoyed every second of them.
This film, at its best, is a candy-coated blast of movie-going nirvana. Maybe Tron, The Last Star Fighter, The Lego Movie and even The Matrix have spun a similar yarn. But no-one has done it quite as impressively, and has quite as much fun, as Spielberg and co do here.
Ready Player One will have you hooting if you did grow up in the 1980s or ‘90s. And if you didn’t, it might make you wish you did. - Stuff