After the heavyweight drama of Spielberg’s ‘The Post’ he returns to his popcorn pleasers with Ready Player One. Set in the dystopian future of 2045 where orphaned teennager Wade Watts (a likeable Tye Sheridan) now lives with his Auntie and her boyfriend Rick (Ralph Ineson)in a caravan stacked on a vertical pile of other caravans. It sets the tone for what’s to come when Wade abseils to ground level passing the windows of the other caravans where we see each occupant with VR goggles clamped to their heads lurching around consumed with whatever they are watching. It’s a grim look of a not too distant future. Wade is one of the many who escapes their drab lives by strapping on the goggles and escaping in to world of AI called the Oasis, which thankfully is not a pair of mono-browed Mancunians but a virtual world where you can do anything and be anyone and can assume an avatar of male, female or beast.
It’s all been invented by Spielberg regular Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) as a wavy haired aging computer geek who dies and to everyone he throws down the challenge to find three keys which will unlock his trillion dollar fortune and give them ownership of the OASIS. This is how he believes he will find a worthy heir although our own feeling is that he’s more likely to find a lone male who lives with his mum and has no social skills but an obvious personal hygiene problem. With all that money out there for the taking it’s no surprise that big business led by Ben Mendelsohn’s corporate leech, Sorrento, go after it committing huge manpower resources to looking for the clues and sending out an army of avatar into the OASIS to find the keys.
It’s in the Oasis that Wade, who takes the moniker of Parzival, meets the mysterious Art3mis whose avatar looks like the unholy union of an anorexic manga boy and Sonic the Hedgehog. Whilst the avatar’s are never meant to reveal their real identity it’s more of a surprise that none of the characters turn out to be a 22 stone paedophile looking to groom unsuspecting other players. Thankfully Art3mis here it turns out to be the rather lovely Olivia Cooke.
Video game to film adaptations have a notorious history of failure and in fairness Ready Player One is not quite the same but Spielberg has made a visually dazzling film absolutely jam packed with 80’s references that takes in Freddy Krueger, Batman, The Iron Giant, Back to the Future and even Alien all of which must have been a nightmare for the legal dept to obtain the rights. If there’s anything missing it’s the directors own back catalogue because apart from a brief Jurassic Park moment there’s precious little of his own sizeable contribution to 80’s pop culture. Once inside the OASIS each frame is packed with references which, for game geeks, will keep them coming back to rewatch and freeze frame when its eventually released on blu ray.
For the rest of us though the film is entertaining enough and whizzes along at the same pace as the games and puzzles the characters play. What is missing though is a heart, those moments in Spielberg’s films that soar whether it be ET’s bike through the moon’s silhouette or the first sight of the mother ship in Close Encounters nothing comes close to it here. Though Ready Player One does zip back and fore briefly to the real world it is one big CGI experience and whilst it scoops you up and whizzes you along it’s soon forgotten and it’s the picking out the references that is perhaps more fun especially half way through in one of the best ever extended homages to Stanley Kubrick ever committed to celluloid.
Ultimately this is one giant video game with enough pizzazz to carry you through to the end but Spielberg, always a fan of the old school and one of the last major directors who still shoots on film makes a last minute plea for audiences not to OD on VR and stick with reality. Ready Player One is a sugar rush of a film and quite whether you would want a second helping is doubtful. Ready Player Two anyone?
Here’s the trailer…….