Ready, Set, Launch
by Dennis Campbell
Brought to life by famed director Stephen Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List), Ready Player One is a nostalgic odyssey that takes the viewer on a field trip through the 1980s. Based off the 2011 novel of the same name, written by Ernest Cline, the film is about an Earth in the ‘not so distant future.’
It is 2045, and the majority of the world’s population lives in slum like conditions. Endless rows of grungy trailers stacked on top of each other, thusly named ‘the Stacks’ (FYI also what we library folk call the bookshelves). To help escape from their waking lives, the people of Earth turn to the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), a form of hyper immersive virtual reality. In the OASIS, the user can do anything they can think of. Whether it be simple mundane tasks pertaining to work, or scaling mountains with super heroes, all of it can be done by simply sliding on their headset and transforming into an avatar.
Where the main plot comes in, is from a hidden program found within the OASIS called ‘Anorak’s Quest,’ created by the founder of the OASIS, James Holliday. In order to complete the quest, one or more users’ needs to solve a series of complex problems (such as surviving a recreation of the Shining) to obtain a total of three keys, upon finding the final key the grand prize would then be given: ownership of the OASIS.
The story takes place in Columbus, Ohio and follows two main protagonists, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who is an avid video game player who spends the majority of the film inside the OASIS. We learn to know him by his avatar name, Parzival, a not so subtle nod the 13th century poem about an Arthurian hero in his quest for the Holy Grail. His trusty sidekick on this journey is another frequent OASIS player, Samantha (Olivia Cooke), better known as Art3mis. The two form a close bond after Wade saves Samantha from being ‘zeroed out,’ in essence dying in the OASIS where you restart at level one. As someone who has neglected to save his game during late night runs on games such as Skyrim or Final Fantasy VII, I can easily relate to the horror of losing all of the progress I had worked so hard to achieve. Together, along with three others they meet along the way, Wade and Samantha work their way through being chased by Chucky (Child’s Play), a T-Rex (Jurassic Park) and the dreaded Room 237 (the Shining), to ultimately find the Easter egg they had been searching for.
What is most intriguing about the film is that the most intense sequences take place outside of the OASIS. There is a hard-boiled crime element to Ready Player One, and it comes in the form of Innovative Online Industries or IOI. This is a group headed by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who are also interested in completing the quest laid out by Holliday. Unlike the other characters we meet trying to finish the puzzle, Nolan has more sinister plans. Although he is cliché in his motives, Nolan wants to find the Easter egg in hopes of world domination. The way Nolan tries to outdo the rest of the cast is one of the brighter parts of the film as well. He hires debt-indentured users who only go by a six-digit code for their name, given them the moniker ‘Sixers.’ Together they aim to turn the OASIS into a money-making machine.
While the film is visually stunning, the fact that the majority of its 2 ½ hour runtime takes place inside the OASIS certainly drags the experience down. For almost the entire picture you are looking at avatars, even the film Avatar (2009) knew that looking at a CGI person for over two hours would be tiresome, so it would cut to the humans occasionally. In Ready Player One, it feels as if you are playing a video game. Which, may have been the desired effect. However, that does not make it any easier to look at. While the effects are great, they stray too far into the uncanny valley.
In terms of acting, as one reviewer, Christy Lemire, pointed out, Wade Watts resembles most of the iconic 80s protagonists that this film admires. It fits that Watts is such a driven, single goal in mind person, such as Indiana Jones, as Spielberg brought many of the heroes we are most familiar with from that time to life. With a career spanning fifty years, Spielberg has made a name for himself as one of the more accomplished directors of all-time, and he shows exactly why he deserves such praise in this film. Since 2011, Spielberg has directed seven films (including Ready Player One), four of these have been Historical Dramas, highlighted by Lincoln in 2011. While he has always gravitated towards movies about historical events, his more recent films had been either Comedy’s or Action films. While Ready Player One incorporates comedic elements and features plenty heart pounding action, it is a film not seen from Spielberg since his younger days as a director. It feels more along the lines of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. This ability to shift in style, even at the age of seventy-one, showcases his talent above anything else in the film.
It would not be possible to catch all of the references that go on during the film. They hit you hard and fast, so fast that just when you get done complementing yourself on remembering the name of the high school in John Hughes films, two more obscure references are thrown at the screen. There are times where this feels less like a movie, and more like a game of trivia between friends. However, part of the fun of Ready Player One is recognizing as many of these as possible, and the experience is not wasted as they are often crucial to the plot. Although the movie uses all of these references to its advantage, the film is so self-aware that it felt like Skynet was about to go online.
This film feels like it will appeal to two main audiences. Those who enjoyed the book, and those who are video game players. As someone who had never heard of the book prior to the film being announced (and still has not read it), I can only go off of my passion for video games. Gamers are always longing for a more realistic experience, something that feels like real-life, but without all of the stresses behind it. That in a sense is what Ready Player One is like. Just one long play through of a video game, an entertaining one at that. There is plenty of action to love, a villain that you want to see defeated, a hero worth following, and a cause worth fighting for.
Dennis Campbell is a Circulation Clerk at the Willowick Library.