a READY PLAYER ONE musing
Based on the book of the same name, READY PLAYER ONE similarly has its feet in the future, the year 2045 to be exact, but has its eyes set on the past. References to huge pop cultural touchstones are a dime a dozen throughout its 140 minute runtime. The references don’t really get in the way of the story, thankfully. Director Steven Spielberg chose to focus on the technical aspects of this beautiful-looking movie, rather to its detriment at times.
First off, Tye Sheridan is like Wonder Bread to me, and doesn’t stand out one bit. His line delivery can be cringeworthy, and lacks the charisma to make the speeches pop. It’s even more painful as we see the always dependable Olivia Cooke elevating a bland character into someone more interesting to watch, and acts circles around Sheridan. Thankfully, most of Sheridan’s performance is filtered over by a CGI avatar; yes, this can lead into a whole discussion on motion-capture acting and how much of the actor’s performance shines through the CGI, but that’s for another time.
RP1 features stellar technical work, and seeing it in 3D is an essential viewing experience. The 3D didn’t take long to adjust to, and it becomes immersive in the same way AVATAR did in 2009. The world of the Oasis is beautifully imagined, and Spielberg and his team run wild with highly extravagant set pieces with thousands of moving parts. It’s a joy to watch every part of the screen and catch references pretty much everywhere you look. It can be a bit overwhelming at times, especially in its extended race sequence early on in the film. But Spielberg makes an interesting choice to lessen the hard-hitting impact of that sequence; there is no 80’s song nor score blasting as the cars get demolished with each obstacle on the course, just the sounds of the various vehicles smashing against each other.
The movie transports you into this world and expects you to run with it. Exposition is doled out efficiently and unembarrassingly, and the pacing of the whole film is pretty fast, making the long runtime seem to breeze by. The story follows the book’s straightforwardly, with the creator of the Oasis dying and leaving a quest for an “Easter Egg” to all the players of the game in order to gain control of the Oasis. To get the Egg, one must obtain three keys by completing extremely difficult challenges. Wade Watts/Parzival is the first to discover one of the keys, and works with a few friends he picks up along the way to complete the quest. In their way is the corporation, Innovative Online Industries (IOI), making their virtual and real lives more difficult. There’s real stakes in the story, and Spielberg does a great job as always of cutting back and forth efficiently between the Oasis and the real world to reinforce the danger.
Olivia Cooke steals the movie (and my heart again; see THOROUGHBREDS), as well as the second key’s quest. *Minor spoiler alerts ahead here*, but the use of THE SHINING was incredible and was extremely frightening. The final sequence and key quest itself doesn’t really make sense, resulting in a weaker third act. The movie does a great job of reworking the book’s quests, but struggled with that last one. *Spoilers end*
Other than a few minor commentaries on living on the online world and not experiences in the real world, READY PLAYER ONE doesn’t have much to say otherwise. It seems unusual for a Spielberg movie to not really be about much else, even with a classic on-the-nose epilogue from the director. And while the actors do well with what they’re given, there’s still not much character development nor real investment in most of them. Ben Mendelsohn is always a dependably evil dude; TJ Miller drops in to be TJ Miller; Mark Rylance hams it up as Halliday, the creator of the Oasis; and Simon Pegg, my favorite actor ever, is straight up wasted. (I wish they kept his character’s plot from the book…)
Aside from being an absolute technical achievement, the movie doesn’t offer much innovation in other departments. It’s sure to go down as one of Spielberg’s top blockbusters, though. Regardless, READY PLAYER ONE is pure eye-candy, filled with joyful action and a reverence for the past, of which Spielberg helped shape. I’m glad that a movie as technically inventive and futuristic as this is also respectful and has a twinkle in its eye for everything that came before it.
RATING: PURCHASING FOR MY COLLECTION
(Refer to my rating system HERE!)