Review: Ready Player One (2018)

Ready Player One

Rating

Director

Steven Spielberg

Screenplay

Zak Penn, Ernest Cline (Novel: Ernest Cline)

Length

2h 20m

Starring

Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Ineson, Susan Lynch

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language

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Review

If any director were a perfect fit for a film, it’s Steven Spielberg and Ready Player One, a film steeped in nostalgia of the period in which Spielberg was growing and expanding as a filmmaker. Forty-plus years into his career, Spielberg’s genre filmmaking days might have been thought to be behind him, but Ready Player One proves that he still has the spark and imagination to helm this dystopian film.

Set twenty years into the future, the virtual reality (VR) realm of OASIS is on the brink of collapse after its creator dies. As the denizens of OASIS race to find the three keys that will open the door to an Easter Egg that will give them full control over the VR paradise, an impressionable young man (Tye Sheridan) joins forces with an array of friends new and old to reach the end before the corporate president (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants to monetize OASIS and bring an end to the free and open nature of the realm.

From the looks of the trailers, this was going to be a film flooded with 80s references and it is. However, there are plenty of nods to other decades including Minecraft and Overwatch from the present, Saturday Night Fever from the 70s, Pulp Fiction from the 90s, and an array of other references with the bulk of them being from the 1980s. Yet, the story itself only loosely connects to those elements, focusing on original characters whose pop cultural influences pre-date them by decades. As much as the myriad references are a tribute to the films and video games of the past that have influenced much of modern pop culture, the film is rooted in a deep antipathy towards corporate conglomerates who seek nothing more than to monetize and commodify the internet and eliminate what makes it an accessible and cheap place for the expression of oneself.

Spielberg isn’t subtle about his anti-capitalist message and that should resonate with the myriad Gen-X’ers and Millennials that can find joy and acceptance in the framework of this movie. Ready Player One may be hindered in ways by its reliance on the past, but that reliance only deepens its ability to connect with audiences of younger generations who can not only appreciate the bountiful number of visual cues and references to pop culture, but who use those references to bolster and open their minds to possibilities for the future.

On the design side, the film is a panlopy of visual splendor, stellar visual effects are ably supported by a lush production design, rich sound mixing, and inventive and familiar sound effects. If there’s a weak spot, it’s in Alan Silvestri’s score, which attempts to remind audiences of John Williams’ many compositions. Those attempts are in vain with loud, but ill-used music, which lacks the characteristic penchant Williams had for making a memorable themes, something sorely lacking from this production. And Williams’ absence seems all the more disappointing considering his own place in pop culture history.

For children of the 1980s, this is a beautiful ode to an era of awakening for many. The development and explosion of video games combined with a bountiful environment in which pop culture thrived are the perfect inspirations for the film. While it becomes accessible through its vibrancy, its political themes are superficial, but no less crucial making Ready Player One a seminal film for the 2010s, much like Spielberg’s own Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. were for the 1980s.

Oscar Prospects

Probables: Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
Unlikelies: Original Score, Production Design

Review Written

May 9, 2018

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