During the eighties and nineties, standing before a chunky black mirror — fingers and thumbs strategically placed over buttons — was the norm for the vintage gamer. Saturday nights resembled the ‘Stranger Things’ arcade scene and the blind belief of beating an anonymous high score was initiated by one on-screen statement: “Player One, Ready!”
Encasing this nostalgia within a fictional epic was Sci-Fi writer Ernest Cline back in 2011, praised for his tale of friendship and pop culture explosion inside novel ‘Ready Player One’. Arriving seven years later — amidst a flurry of disco era revival in TV and film — marks the thirty-third release from the BFG of directors, Steven Spielberg. As predicted, it’s a spectacle not to be missed.
Masterful in filming thrilling adventures and creating memorable companionships, ‘The King of Entertainment’ was undeniably the man to bring Cline’s vision to life. Quoted as being his third most difficult movie to shoot behind ‘Jaws’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Spielberg has roared a geek war cry and we have come running.
The complexity of RP1’s world of pure imagination was always going to be a high level endeavour to visually reconstruct. For Spielberg (who is no stranger to tackling Science fiction), transitioning a story largely set in a virtual reality interface demanded attention to detail and creative trust in effects team Industrial Light and Magic. Shot in Panavision, our first trip down the technicolour rabbit hole — where a rush of mass media characters are live, active and driven by civilians of the year 2045 — is nothing short of an eye-widening wonderland.
The OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) is a limitless, retro universe and in outline, provides real-world outcast, Tye Sheridan’s Wade Watts, a platform to enter Anorak’s Quest — a competition designed by the late OASIS inventor James Halliday (Rylance) — and win full control of the multi-user program. Watts’ VR avatar Parzival is rock star cool — sporting hypnotic locks with a sleeveless, denim jacket — and introduces the OASIS’ main attraction: Being somebody/something else. In addition to escapism, themes of friendship, innocence and courage give a gooey centre to this technological gobstopper and equips a diligent plot with a solid, emotive core.
A level balance is constant between reality and fantasy, guiding you back to the grounded motifs after gawking too long at the ‘Gears of War’ styled gunfight surrounding The Iron Giant’s PvP battle against Mechagodzilla. Frontrunners Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke avoid scrutiny by being their charming selves, proving — along with Mark Rylance’s quirky Halliday and Ben Mendelsohn’s deceitful businessman Sorrento — that Spielberg’s casting is meticulous and loyal to the source material.
As awesome as it is watching central Gunter (Easter egg hunter) Art3mis (Cooke) annihilate Sorrento’s (Mendelsohn) army of Sixers by use of a Lancer assault rifle with a chainsaw bayonet, viewers unfamiliar with Cline’s material will be forgiven for missing plot details in the thick of ocular overload. While 3D IMAX might be a component too far for our motion sickness threshold, Spielberg enhances our first-person experience of virtual reality gaming by altering Cline’s Halliday challenges to accommodate a more visually acceptable result on screen. Left unaltered and we might have had to watch Parzival play hours of competitive Joust.
Weaving through a plethora of movie references (including a whole sequence dedicated to ‘The Shining’), gaming-inspired escape plans and equilibrium-altering camera movements, Spielberg — working closely with writer Zak Penn and Cline — stack several elements and every Easter egg imaginable into a cyberspace treasure hunt on steroids, without letting any eggs fall out of the basket. In simpler terms, it’s an adrenaline-pumping, good versus evil race to the finish line, complete with a down memory lane Alan Silvestri score blended with an 80’s classics soundtrack.
‘Ready Player One’ is a geekgasm that incidentally excites us for Marvel’s behemoth later this month, achieving $53 million coins on its four day debut at the Easter weekend box office. After Warner Bros. pushed forward RP1’s premiere from December – to avoid clashing with ‘The Last Jedi’ — fans of lightsabers, video games and cheeky superheroes will be grateful for the release date staggering, precluding the possibility of geeky heart-failure. Ultimately, one of 2018’s most anticipated productions does not disappoint, nor purge Ernest Cline’s concept of its defining qualities. Instead, Sir Steven — God of euphoric adventure — deserves one thunderous high-five for letting us break free from the mundane and witness a magical journey too colossal for the real world.
Jo’s Rating: 9 / 10
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance