Name: Ready Player One
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg
Watched: 25 December 2018
In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place. The only time Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the OASIS, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spends their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. The OASIS was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir. When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-aka the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS.
This was fun. All of the ’80s and ’90s pop culture references! And the virtual world was so well created, complete with everyone’s personal avatars. Might this be the best ‘video game film’ yet made? I think the only competition is Wreck-It Ralph, which is also excellent. I was sold in the opening scene with Parzival navigating different worlds to ‘Jump’ by Van Halen.
I feel like I spotted barely half the nods and references and probably a lot less than that. Some views were so fleeting and others contained so many characters, you’d need to watch fifty times. Favourites included the Parzival’s DeLorean customised with KITT’s moving red light, the A-Team van, the Serenity – and all the things in Aech’s workshop! The ‘shop alone included the TARDIS, a Viper from Battlestar Galactica, the ship from Spaceballs, the Iron Giant and countless other things. I think in those scenes I was more interested in watching the background than I was following the dialogue.
It didn’t feel at all like the 2 hour 20 minute run time. I’m not sure whether it was because it was after a big Christmas Day meal and I enjoyed the breather. Or if it was a movie with a lot going on, or that spending the time looking for references kept you busy. It really felt like it zipped along. It wasn’t all fast-paced, the breathers and slower moments were well-timed and it never felt they were there just to break up the action before all the racing and running and shooting started again. And unlike some fast-moving films I never felt the dashing around was too much or over the top – a lot of modern blockbusters have overly busy battle sequences just because they can.
Perhaps the final battle was a bit busy, but then with so many avatars in this world and so much at stake for them in the story, you’d expect a lot going on at once.
The worlds in the OASIS were well-created, just like being inside a game. As I say, probably the best representation alongside Wreck-It Ralph. The nightclub scene was particularly good.
And obviously as a racing fan I have to praise the inclusion of the big race! Tons of things to see here too, like Bigfoot, the 1960s Batmobile, and the jump was even the one from The Man With The Golden Gun! Was there a pointed comment that IOI’s identikit ‘sixers’ were racing identical NASCAR-style stock cars? Maybe that was just me.
The section from The Shining was a bit weird.
A lot of the references were from mid-00s shoot-em-up games, which was a bit weird too. I feel like someone like Halliday with all the 80s movies, would be more influenced by 90s shooters like Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake. But I get they’re trying to appeal to a younger audience too here.
Similarly, many of the references I didn’t understand were because they were American, but since that was where Halliday was from and also where Parzival and Artemis were from, that seemed fair enough. We Brits got plenty of mentions elsewhere, particularly with Goldeneye N64 and with the 80s music.
Everyone’s experience of the time was different and this was Halliday’s experience, or perhaps that of the author of the book on which this was based!
Going the other way, it was as if pop culture stopped in about 2010. (Not that I’m sure what I’d include from the current decade.) But it was kind of weird they didn’t invent their own stuff for the period 2010 to 2045. Was that part of the dystopia, that nothing new had been made?
I don’t want to make it seem like the references are the main thing, though it could’ve been. It would’ve been easy to stuff it full of distractions, ‘remember this?’, ‘remember that?’, and not bother with a story. Yet the story itself is good, so is the direction which you’d expect from Spielberg. The challenge to find the 3 keys in this virtual existence is an interesting one. The challenges are all fiendishly difficult and you have to think outside the box, like a classic video game.
They spend hours researching Halliday’s life and influences for clues in his virtual museum (with Simon Pegg as an Ask Jeeves-styled butler / curator). It was a nice touch that it been 5 years since he died, people had been trying to find the first one for years, then once it had been found they’d been trying to beat it for months. They didn’t just find it and complete it in 5 minutes.
The lead characters of Parzival/Wade and Artemis/Samantha were good. Their avatars felt well-rounded and interesting while their real world selves were a little one-dimensional, which seems a fair representation of someone spending all their lives in the virtual world! Wade being a super-fan of Halliday meant he was first to pick up on clues in the museum – and it too helped that both were very good game players.
They joined up with the supporting characters in a gang called the ‘High Five’, though I must admit I only saw the name well after watching the film. If they mentioned it in the film it wasn’t often and I didn’t notice it.
Meanwhile, Sorrento’s army from IOI was closing in both in the virtual world and in the real one, finding Wade’s home in the real world and forcing him to flee. Perhaps the only bit that brought me out of the world was that Samantha and the others were physically close to Wade all along.
Ben Mendelsohn is carving out a fun little niche for himself as Generic Bad Guy. In Rogue One he was Director Orson Krennic, the man in charge of delivering the Death Star. In Robin Hood (2018) he was the Sheriff of Nottingham, I’ve not seen the film but that character is nearly always your classic pantomime villain. And here he is as Sorrento, the greedy corporate head honcho who doesn’t care for the OASIS or those in it, other than to make money from them, getting them into debt so they can spend their lives in ‘loyalty centres’ earning money in games. I hesitate to say he’s hamming it up in all of these roles and thoroughly enjoying himself in the process… but I’m sure he is!
And Halliday himself seemed to be some mash-up between ’90s games creators and Garth from Wayne’s World, although it took me a few days to figure out that resemblance. He was well played by Mark Rylance as the gentle yet originally single-minded creator, regretting his mistakes and wanting to protect his legacy.
So much more I can add in. I’m writing this a couple of weeks after seeing it and I didn’t take notes, so I’ve reminded myself a of a few things after forgetting some of the detail. There was a lot to remember!
If you like a bit of 80s film and gaming nostalgia, along with Tron-style virtual world-building taken to the next level, I highly recommend watching this.