" Alvin, a native has wandered into my frame "
— John Malkovich, Shadow of the Vampire

MRQE Top Critic

9

Nifty production design, a cinematic sensibility, but not quite a classic —Matt Anderson (review...)

Stitchpunk 9 is the most refined

Sponsored links

Power-up for a whiz-bang ride through the 1980s and beyond, with Steven Spielberg serving as the nimble navigator.

Team Banzai

Wade is saving the virtual world - and living in the real world
Wade is saving the virtual world - and living in the real world

After a string of Oscar bait movies, including The Post, Bridge of Spies and Lincoln, Steven Spielberg returns to pure popcorn bliss with Ready Player One. This is the kind of material that’s right up Spielberg’s alley and it’s a blast to see him return – in fine form – to the land of the playful.

The year is 2045 and the world’s a cluttered mess. Or, at least the world of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, X-Men: Apocalypse) is a cluttered mess. He lives in a depressing village called the Stacks — a congested neighborhood featuring towers of mobile homes piled one on top of another. It’s urban sprawl at its most nightmarish, with virtual reality in virtually every home — an escape from the drudgery and unpleasantness of the day-to-day.

Wade is an introverted teenager who spends a little too much time in the ultimate VR experience, an expansive world of worlds called the Oasis. Developed by a couple geniuses, James Halliday (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg, The World’s End), it’s the ultimate in online massive multi-player environments run amuck.

Sadly, Halliday passed away in 2040. But he left behind a pre-recorded message alerting the world to the biggest contest of all time: Find the Easter egg Halliday tucked away somewhere out in the Oasis and be the one to gain complete control of the Oasis.

The financial prospects are staggering, which is not lost on Innovative Online Industries and its CEO, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). IOI and Sorrento have put a massive amount of human and financial resources into finding the egg — all with a nefarious corporate plan to assimilate the Oasis software and build it out with the most obnoxious of online adware – taking users into information and ad overload right up to the pre-heart attack level of overwhelming visual stimulation.

X-Men 134

To describe Ready Player One as a nostalgia trip is overly simplistic, even misguided. The story’s conceit is James Halliday grew up in the ’80s and he became a pop culture maven. In order to find the Easter egg, the egg hunters (dubbed “gunters”) need to study up on Halliday, his life, his interests and all things 1980s pop.

But it’s all in service to a story that ultimately points out the downside of being immersed in the virtual instead of the real.

In Ernest Cline’s book, there’s a particularly painful moment of realization for Wade, as he considers his loner lifestyle and laments not making other choices. Similarly, Halliday was such an introverted genius, he never knew true romance — and he never kissed a girl.

Give it up for Mark Rylance, in his third Spielberg production, as he loses himself in the wigged-out trappings of an uber-nerd. When it comes to Halliday and Morrow, think of a high-powered tech team like Jobs and Wozniak, but in highly-stylized, semi-comical caricatured incarnations.

Halliday’s life is a tragic success story. Understanding that success — which came at a staggering price, a loveless life — becomes a key part to unlocking the location of the Easter egg. Halliday was effectively sending a cautionary tale from the grave.

Jones

This movie should be considered as something of a companion piece to Cline’s far-reaching and intricately-detailed novel. While the book’s situations are much more involved, the movie works great as an IMAX 3D entertainment (it’s one of those rarities that’s actually worth the upcharge). It would take a full-on mini-series to cover the narrative nuances and all that pop culture.

Consider this: The book, which has a considerable fan base all its own, has something on the order of 400-500 pop culture references. It’s a pop culture mash-up that makes Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Wreck-It Ralph look like kid’s play in terms of licensing and legal wrangling.

According to the book, Halliday’s favorite movie directors were Spielberg, Terry Gilliam, James Cameron, George Lucas and Guillermo del Toro. It’s an entertainment wrapped within an entertainment when Halliday is noted as approving of Star Wars Episodes I-III, while going on to diss every Indiana Jones movie made after The Last Crusade. (Wade Watts refers to his journal of notes about Halliday and the Oasis as his own Grail Diary, in a nod to Henry Jones, Sr. And, by the way, there are a couple of shots in which Tye Sheridan looks an awful lot like a young Steven Spielberg.)

It’s all in good fun. People can also geek out to Wil Wheaton’s narration of the novel in the audio book — and relish the moment when he reads the line calling out Wheaton as a “geezer.” Even Wil Wheaton has a cameo in the book, as the head of an Oasis user community.

2112

The book was published in 2012 and it’s a timely commentary on today’s society.

The Oasis became the world’s single-largest economic driver — front-loaded with in-app purchases, supplemental services, power-ups, and on and on. The colorful way Sorrento’s plan for adware domination is revealed within the movie is humorous, but it’s also not far off the mark from all the controversy currently embroiling another sprawling online community and its data collection practices in the name of driving advertising — Facebook.

And one of the movie’s best narrative lines offers a sad look into the very-near future: With technology having run amuck (think Gilliam’s absolutely brilliant Brazil, released in 1985), people have stopped fixing problems and by 2045 people are simply trying to outrun those problems.

Put all of this in context. Think about it.

It could be said a certain amount of societal detachment began with the video games craze of the 1980s. And look at the world now. Fake news. Adware. People making virtual friends without ever meeting them in person. People living behind the safety of online anonymity — and also bullying others while hiding behind that same anonymity.

That’s the world Cline writes about. And he offers sage advice to readers — and viewers of the movie (he co-wrote the screenplay with Zak Penn, who’s no stranger to comic book movies, having authored stories or screenplays for The Avengers, X-Men 2 and others).

The advice is simple: Get outside. Live in the real world. And that’s the kind of story that suggests more regret than nostalgia.