When a friend asked me the premise for Ready Player One, I sarcastically replied with the following two sentences: Have you ever heard of Steven Spielberg? And have you ever played a video game before?
While that’s not actually all you need to know going into movie theaters this week, it is funny how that’s actually pretty close to the description of the movie. Based on the novel of the same name written by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One tells the tale of a dystopian future where its inhabitants prefer being in the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) to real life. This virtual reality is a nonstop video game that’s fast and furious as a MMORPG… dripping with all the nostalgia of the ’80s.
The OASIS creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), has died, but his vast fortune, along with ownership of the OASIS, will be awarded to the winner of three online contests that involve Easter eggs from his life. Naturally, there’s good guys and bad who are willing to do whatever it takes to complete the contest. Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan), known as Parzival throughout the game, is a pop-culture savant who is joined by Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao) and Daito (Win Morisaki). Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) is the Big Bad, the CEO of Innovative Online Industries, who is up to the challenge of winning at all costs. It’s a nonstop treasure hunt that takes many of the elements of vintage games and enhances their best qualities.
But it also tells a tale of caution, about what (and whom) you see and think you know about people online. Don’t get catfished, because people hide behind avatars and act differently than in real life.
From the music of the movie (the soundtrack is great, if a little forced), to the avatars (movies and TV shows) and so many of the great video game characters that are referenced, hidden or appearing on screen, enhancing the storyline. Screenwriter Cline (along with writer Zak Penn) has packed this film with so many pop-culture references, he has easily earned his geek cred. But is it possible that there’s so many, they actually take away from the main storyline? Yes and no. Trying to find each one of the Easter eggs hidden in practically every scene is a fun game to play for a while, but for 140 minutes, it takes a bit away from the main characters. And apparently Spielberg denied showing references to his past directorial efforts, but allowed big-screen references from the films he produced. Just try to name every hidden character. Some happen so quickly, it’s almost impossible to even see them without prior knowledge. There’s anime characters, sci-fi references, even horror elements that are introduced: It’s fun for fans of every genre.
My first gaming console, the Atari 2600, works its way into the main storyline and I loved watching every moment of it, reliving my past. If you’re a gamer, you have to watch this film. It’s a fun flashback experience that can be enjoyed on different levels. No level-ups required.