By Scott McDonnell
It’s kinda hard to believe that you can still walk into a cinema and catch a film by Steven Spielberg. The perennial director, who pioneered the blockbuster with Jaws in 1975 and broke new ground with CGI in Jurassic Park, turns just another innovative page with his latest film. Spielberg’s natural progression constantly finds him going bigger and, for the most part, better – there really is no other director who could’ve brought Ernest Cline’s IRL-pop culture-encyclopedia Ready Player One to life.
Ready Player One follows teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) in the dystopic future of 2045. The world has declined to the point where most of society prefers to live in a Virtual Reality called The Oasis, created by Zuckerberg-like genius James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Halliday’s death begins a hunt for three keys that will grant one player ownership of the Oasis and Halliday’s fortune.
It’s a story that has been told time and time again – a group of young teens chasing down a priceless fortune – but nobody tells it like Spielberg. The film is a technical world of imagination, filled literally to the brim with pop cultural references spanning decades, fully realised and rendered, with care and respect to their source.
Spielberg, while not reinventing the wheel as he has in the past, spins some technical flourishes that are marvelous to watch. One scene between the villainous Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and Wade’s Oasis avatar, Parzival, could almost set a new standard of what we as audiences should expect from visual effects, a blending live action and animation without entering the uncanny valley.
The pop culture references do become excessive however, to the extent that they take precedence over the quality of the story. After two hours of being spoon-fed images of Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and even Monty Python’s Holy Hand Grenade, Ready Player One loses its appeal and reveals the lacking, disappointingly derivative story that lies underneath – no matter how many times it attempts to shoehorn part of your childhood in to distract you.
These problems carry over to the painfully generic final act, which does very little to differentiate itself from other blockbusters. A good half an hour of underwhelming CGI bloats an uninteresting finale that is as fun as watching someone else play a video game. Spielberg’s signature sentimentality saves the film’s final moments, with a message about being yourself and recognising the real world around you – it’s just disheartening that the film falters so poorly in its last moments.
Ready Player One is a film that, for all intents and purposes, shouldn’t work. It’s loud, clumsy, relies on tropes and attempts to coast by on its pop culture references, but it works because of who sits in the director’s chair. Awe-inspiring visuals and a whimsical adventure flow positively within Spielberg’s filmmaking magic, and elevate a lacking story into something much, much more.