Monday, April 23, 2018

Ready Player One


Directed by Steven Spielberg.
2018. Rated PG-13, 140 minutes.
Cast:
Tye Sheridan
Olivia Cooke
Ben Mendelsohn
Lena Waithe
T.J. Miller
Simon Pegg
Mark Rylance
Philip Zhao
Win Morisaki
Hannah John-Kamen

It's 2045, the world has gone to crap, and everyone spends as much time as possible inside The Oasis, a virtual reality universe that allows users to be and do anything. Imagine a world where almost everyone has a VR device strapped to their face at almost all times and you've got the idea. The company that owns The Oasis is the largest in the world. We're told that when its co-creator and sole propietor, James Halliday (Rylance), died a few years prior he decided he would grant control of it all to just one person. However, he didn't have or declare an heir. Instead, he made it so the person who gets the company will be the one who finds the three keys he spread around The Oasis without giving anyone any clues on their whereabouts. As you might imagine, everyone in the world is trying to find these keys. We focus on Wade, known as Parzival (Sheridan) in The Oasis, more or less a nobody with a crappy real life, and Nolan Sorrento (Mendelsohn), the CEO of Innovative Online Industries - the second largest company in the world. Of course, there's a girl. Wade has more than a little bit of a thing for Art3mis (Cooke), who kicks all sorts of tushy in The Oasis. Together, with a few more of their e-friends, they form a group they call the High Five and find themselves in a race to gain control of The Oasis before it falls into the hands of the diabolical Sorrento.

The thing that strikes us right away about Ready Player One are the visuals. We're presented a palette bursting with kinetically energized imagery. Whenever we're in The Oasis, the film strives to do what virtual reality does - create a world in which we can become immersed. Unlike most movies that use cgi in an attempt to trick us into thinking that what we're seeing is real, this one efforts not to fool us in that manner yet still draw us in. In short, it looks like a video game. The fact it can do this and involve us as much as it does is in itself an excellent commentary on where we are as a society. We are already at the point where the virtual world is as real to us as the one we first see as we open our eyes each day. Most of us, particularly the target audience for this film, have two identities. We are who we are in the natural world and we're the personas we've created for the internet. Depending on the person, the two can be incredibly similar or wildly divergent, but they're almost never identical. We all at least have something we're willing to do in one phase of our lives that we're not willing to do in another. Ready Player One exploits and explores this phenomenon. What happens when our two sides collide? What happens when we apply flesh and blood to the avatars we communicate with? We're bound to be surprised, and often enough, disappointed. The film leans heavy on the surprise and carefully sidesteps the disappointment.

By avoiding the disappointment many of us would face if we really met the people we associate with online, RPO avoids being too heavy, in true Spielberg "kids on an adventure" form. Of course, since this is Spielberg, the operative word is adventure. These wonderful images don't just lay on the screen. They bounce all over it as our heroes have to maneuver through them. The amazing thing is that even though we know, and are even told, that these people aren't in imminent danger from The Oasis, scenes of them fighting their way through various obstacles still generate plenty of tension. Two scenes particularly stand out. The first is the race across virtual Manhattan where King Kong serves as the biggest and final obstacle. The other is when the characters enter a virtual version of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. As things progress, the drama does spill into the real world and we begin to understand the stakes. The film's most poignant shots are actually not in The Oasis. It's of people lining the streets, yet simultaneously living their virtual lives. It's a stark reminder of how dependent we are becoming on staying connected with as many people around the world as possible as a means of diversion from the things and people we actually come into physical contact with.


While Speilberg and friends create a wonderfully realized world from a visual standpoint, both in and out of The Oasis, the screenplay he's working with fails him. Ernest Cline, who wrote the novel of the same name that serves as the basis for this film, is partly responsible for this. His co-writer is Zak Penn, who served in similar capacities on other very good blockbusters such as The Avengers, Men in Black, and X-men 2. On the other hand, Penn was involved with the scripts for such bombs as X-Men: the Last Stand and Elektra. The plot of Ready Player One is generic, but not really the problem. The trouble is that nearly every single thing in the movie is exhaustively explained by the characters on the screen. The characters are on the hunt for easter eggs in a video game. It's well established that just about all the people we're dealing with have encyclopedic knowledge of video game history, including of the lives of game designers. Why then, must they constantly give bios of every person who's name comes up? They do the same for a number of games and other pop-culture items. Very rarely is it warranted. Mostly, it just takes us out of the movie and makes our eyes glaze over. There are countless visual references in this movie. The reason they work is because we don't get them all. We have fun picking out this one or that one and losing count of how many we've found. Even when we are told something, such as when we're about to see a mini-rendition of The Shining we're not beaten over the head with the movie's history, plot, and so on. For things we might not get, one of the characters is told "You need to watch The Shining. The search for finding things we previously missed is one of the things that will keep people coming back to this movie.

The verbal references are much more boring. Sure, name drop designers and other video game luminaries all over the movie. However, since we already live in a world where we can find out just about anything we want to know about these people before we've walked from the theater to our cars it would be okay to leave it at that. Not telling us everything would add to subsequent viewings. We would have our own Easter eggs to discover. Instead, we're forced to listen to one person or another recite Wikipedia pages multiple times throughout the movie. It's the type of spoon-feeding that signifies a distinct lack of trust in the audience. Without all that information, we would still "get it" and we'd be more involved in the process of figuring things out. As it stands, we're removed from the action that the visuals work so hard to include us in. No need to pay all that much attention to things happening between action scenes because A) the story is predictable, as noted, and B) someone will surely explain to us whatever we might not know.

Admittedly, I'm way too late with this review. By that, I mean that I'm posting this after the tide has already turned on this film. When it first hit theaters, people were hailing it as another Spielberg masterpiece. After a few weeks, it's now become fashionable to hate on this movie. As usual, I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't hate it at all. I rather like it, but find the execution of an already bland plot to be lacking. This includes the delivery of the message everything works up to. It feels heavy-handed and more than a bit obvious. On the other hand, lots of its sins are made up for by what the film accomplishes visually. Ready Player One is just a fun movie to watch whenever the action cranks up. Fortunately, that's quite often.

14 comments:

  1. If it's on TV. I might give it a shot as I'm often unsure with everything Spielberg has done since the abomination of that 4th Indy film that we shall not speak of.

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    1. It's a lot better than The Crystal Skull.

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  2. Don't worry Dell, I posted my review of this film a few weeks late, too. :-P I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. I connected with the gaming aspect and playing just for the fun of it. It looked beautiful but the story is what I really connected with. Great review, Dell!

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    1. Glad the story worked for you, but it didn't quite do it for me. I was all about the look with this one.

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  3. I haven't seen this yet and probably won't until it hits HBO or the equivalent. But "heavy-handed and more than a bit obvious" covers a lot of Spielberg's lesser career elements.

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    1. Just off the top of my head, I'd say this was a middle-tier effort

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  4. I had a feeling it has a hit you over the head with a sledgehammer message. Just from the scenes I saw, it looks like that type of film along with the special effects. I have no real desire to see it unless it comes on tv. Spielberg can lay it on thick at times

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    1. He can lay it on thick. It's definitely worth a TV watch. Like I replied to SJH, this is middle-tier Speilberg, so take that how you will and choose accordingly.

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  5. I'm right in the middle on this one, too, Dell. I'm a huge fan of the book, and the movie did something very smart in that it kept the same general plot outline of the book but changed nearly all of the details. This was smart since they only had a little over 2 hours to get through everything, but given how quickly the character stuff gets dealt with and glossed over, I still think the material would have been better suited to a miniseries as opposed to a feature film.

    I didn't have a problem with the Wikipedia-like explanations of things, as it seemed in character for these kids to try to impress the others with their encyclopedic knowledge, but I can see how that could make a person's eyes glaze over. In the end, it's a pretty fun flick, but definitely not a great one.

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    1. A mini-series might have been really interesting. Who knows, a couple years down the line and Netflix or some other streaming service might do it anyway.

      I didn't read the book so I had no idea they were trying to impress each other. It didn't play that way, at all. It felt like they were doing it for my benefit. If that were made clear, I would probably be able to live with it better.

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  6. I had so many issues with the book that I haven't gotten around to this yet. I'll probably wait for DVD<

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    1. I will say that it's fun to see on a big screen because of the visuals, but it'll probably look just fine at home.

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  7. A shame it's heavy-handed. I'm lukewarm to recent Spielberg works but I might check it out on TV and see how many of the pop culture references I can spot!

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