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Ready Player One – Review
UKScreen Rating:

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

It’s 2045 and the poorest in society live in areas known as “Stacks” – essentially old, rusty caravans, piled precariously on top of each other, on the edge of major cities. In this dark and polluted world, most people spend as much time as they can, escaping into a virtual-reality world, known as the OASIS.

On one level, it’s a big game, but on another, it’s a life-style; people can adopt whatever character they want in the OASIS regardless of age, gender, skills or status.

Things have recently heated up in the OASIS; its founder, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), has recently died and in his will, he promised that ownership of the whole project would be handed to the first person to complete a game he’s set up in the OASIS, first to find three keys and then to use them to find an Easter Egg he’s hidden.

When lonely Ohio teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) uses his knowledge of Halliday to work out how to win the first key, the attention of almost everyone in the world – both real and virtual – falls on him, sometimes with praise and respect but often with jealousy.

The ruthless businessman Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) is putting all of the resources of his global computing company, IOI, into to finding the Egg so that he can control the virtual world in the way that he runs the real one, so he’s none too pleased when Wade – through his avatar Parzival – gets the jump on him.

But when Parzival and his OASIS friends, including Aech (pronounced H) and Art3mis (pronounced Artemis), inch closer to the prize, Sorrento is determined to do everything in his power – in both worlds – to stop them in their tracks, and take the OASIS for himself.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Millions of children – and adults – around the world have grown up with computer games – from the Ping-Pong and Kong Atari games of the early 1980s to the modern-day MMORPGs, which I’m reliably informed are Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games.

The same kind of youngsters who’ve spent their time – and money – on such games are often the same ones who’ve enjoyed other elements of popular culture of the time, or the films and TV at least.

So when mid-forties Ernest Cline wrote the novel Ready Player One, it quickly became a bible for nostalgic game players and movie fans.

In Steven Spielberg – the director of 1980s and 90s classics such as Raiders of the Lost Arc, ET and Jurassic Park – they could not have found a more qualified, or appropriate man to take Cline’s novel from page to screen. It’s as if Cline sat down with the intention of writing a novel that Spielberg wouldn’t be able to resist.

Coming out just weeks after The Post – one of the director’s more thoughtful, grown-up films – Ready Player One perfectly encapsulates the other kind of project that has made Spielberg one of the most influential film-makers of the past forty years – a wildly entertaining blockbuster.

For the audience, Spielberg doesn’t put a foot wrong, here. It’s a huge, frenetic, colourful, imaginative and thrilling spectacle, bursting with battles, races and chases, spread across the real and virtual worlds.

While every main character appears as an actor in the real world and a motion-capture avatar within the OASIS, looking – and often sounding – different, Spielberg manages to make sense of a plot that could easily have got out of hand and quickly lost viewers.

And with the OASIS crammed full of references to the films that the world’s creator James Halliday – and his creator Ernest Cline – will have grown up with, there are in-jokes and knowing nods in the background of almost every shot.

There is so much to enjoy for children of the 70s, 80s and 90s – and for fans of video games throughout their long history – that they might not notice that the plot itself and the characters, both real and virtual, leave a bit to be desired. It’s not really clear what makes Wade and his gang particularly special, when the whole world is searching for the Eggs, Sorrento’s antagonist is hardly a Darth Vadar (or for younger viewers, a Kylo Ren), and in truth, the film as a whole is little more than an opportunity to watch two groups of people you’ve never met before and have no particular reason to like or loathe, playing a computer game, competing against each other as they complete one level at a time on their quest to find an Egg. It could feel just a bit inconsequential. Then there’s a bit of mawkish moralising; Is it right for one person to be so powerful? Does global domination really make you happy? Having a god-like figure overseeing a world where everyone can have what they want, and a release date which will tie in with many other Easter-Egg hunts around the world, doesn’t make it any more profound – it’s still a hugely successful piece of big-budget time-wasting.

This is not one of Spielberg’s more thoughtful films – it’s a visual and audio wet-dream for nostalgic gamers, a non-stop adrenaline hit on the senses. Don’t get me wrong – it’s hugely enjoyable for everyone else too, but if you’re not emotionally engaged in the plot and characters and miss out on many of the cultural references, you could come out of this film feeling that it was the most entertaining two hours that you’ll instantly forget.

Others, though, will be eagerly awaiting the inevitable Ready Player Two.

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