First to the key, first to the egg!
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline (novel and screenplay)
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Mark Rylance, Ben Mendelsohn
Swift shot: I am an ’80s film geek; I was nurtured on Spielberg films. When I first heard about Ready Player One it was in the form of a tweet with someone not too keen on it being made into a movie. The quip was something about how the book was essentially all just mediocre writing with more pop-culture references than plot. So, even though it was being directed by the legend, I was keeping my expectations humble. While I haven’t hated anything Spielberg has done, I have definitely been disappointed with some of his stuff, like A.I. and The BFG for instance. But, after plugging into OASIS and seeing how incredible the vast virtual universe was and how powerfully the characters were conveyed in both realities, I must say, I was blown away by all aspects of this fantastic film. This is one of the best Spielberg films of all time!
I haven’t read Cline’s novel, but I am really tempted to now, because the characters are compelling on their own without all the special effects. Or as Spielberg himself says, “I never make movies for the sake of technology; I only use it to tell a better story. The technology is there to help this kind of film come into existence, but then it should disappear so all you’re focused on is the story and the characters.”
That is exactly what you get with Ready Player One, fantastic characters and a fast-paced, adrenaline packed adventure to find the greatest Easter Egg of all time, in a film that is so full of Easter Eggs that you’ll need to watch it about five times, or more, to find them all.
When it comes to ’80s pop-culture, I have noticed something remarkable in younger audiences, there is this kind of mythology surrounding the art, music, movies, and TV that was a real American renaissance. And it’s pretty cool that all these millennials are such huge fans of a time I personally consider so special.
Mark Rylance plays James Halliday as the archetypal nerd of the ’80s who is so smart he can design a complete virtual world from his imagination that becomes a reality, but he also lacks basic social skills and needs a buffer for dealing with “the real world.” His only friend, Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) is the talker of their company, Gregarious Games. And as you get to know more about Halliday’s self-deprecating cynical sense of humor, that name makes a lot of sense.
Sadly, shortly after he made his virtual plane, the OASIS, he passed away. But before his soul fled his fleshy avatar, he left three keys hidden in the OASIS that would unlock the ultimate Easter Egg to take full control of the OASIS. And here you can see the influences of Willy Wonka, which inspired Cline to write his novel back in 2011.
Five years have passed since his passing, and it’s 2045 when we meet Wade Watts (Sheridan) who is an egg hunter, or Gunter living in the Stacks, a mobile home park that looks like a terrifying jenga that can topple at any moment. Wade wants the egg, and the 500 trillion dollars that comes along with it, plus the control of his favorite universe, the OASIS.
On the other side there’s Sorrento (Mendelsohn) who runs the second largest company on the planet, IOI which has dedicated human drones, soldiers called Sixers that he sends into the OASIS to discover the keys so he can control the virtual universe and become the number one company on the planet . . . in the real world. The bastard wants to inundate the OASIS with advertising!
Sorrento has a brutal henchman with a warped sense of humor named i-R0k (T. J. Miller) who only exists in the film in the OASIS, and Sorrento’s also got a henchwoman named F’Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen) who only exists in the film in the real world. With both of these goons at his disposal, plus the Sixers, it will take a virtual miracle for Parzival or his friends to obtain the Easter Egg.
Wade enters the OASIS as his avatar, Parzival along with his friend Aech (L. Waithe) who he has never met in the real world. Aech is a hulking cyborg looking master mechanic who can fix anything you throw his way. They have two other friends, Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zao) who tag along with them in the OASIS either hunting for the keys or picking up loose coin as unfortunate players meet their digital demises on a winner take all PVP realm called Planet Doom. For some weird reason though, Parzival refuses to “clan up” which means he prefers to run solo . . . along with his four closest online pals. That part was kind of a miss for me.
On a coin scavenging run on the first challenge, a monster race through New York City, complete with King Kong, Parzival notices his crush, Art3mis (Cooke) who is riding on a sweet bike who seems amused by his presence. Oh, and one thing you need to know is that no one has ever even finished this race – in FIVE YEARS! That’s why Parzival is really just there to collect some loot, because it’s foolish to think you can win. At the end of one of the best race sequences you will ever see in your entire life thanks to ILM, Parzival has to save Art3mis’ tail as she barely comes out alive.
And here is what I really liked about the film, that I was worried would chagrin me, when you die in these winner take all zones, that’s what it means – you lose your shit, all of it! So, to die in the virtual world can have deep psychological effect on you in the real world. But, if all the peril in this film was confined to the OASIS, it wouldn’t be that great. Don’t worry, Cline masterfully balances the story from fake world to real world, and somewhere in between, in a way that never got old or confusing.
Of course Halliday was a master game maker, so he provided clues that anyone who really understood him could use to unlock all the keys. He even cataloged these life moments in a virtual journal run by a butler-looking bot called The Curator. If you ask The Curator for access to a Halliday memory, he will oblige. And everyone knows that the ’80s pop-culture references will help find the clues to find the key, and find the egg.
There are brilliant allusions to some of the best films ever made which I don’t want to spoil here. And I was happy to hear that most of the book actually references Spielberg’s works, but he didn’t want to shine all the light on his own works, because he’s not an egoist. So, he replaced them with equally amazing works and brought on board Alan Silvestri to provide some of the best music since Back to the Future. It was interesting to learn that this is the first time Silvestri has worked with Spielberg as a director. He’s worked on other projects where he was a producer, of course. But, fans of Silvestri will not be disappointed, as there are even musical Easter Eggs throughout the film that you are encouraged to catch.
With all the special effects and the dedicated mocap acting by most of the cast, everything just comes across as completely real in this film. There was some social commentary about debtor prisons, called Loyalty Centers, where people in the real world are forced to work off digital and real world debt in the OASIS. This harsh reality is what ultimately brings Parzival and Art3mis together, as they work without a clan to find the egg before anyone in IOI.
I could go on and on about this movie here, but I want to save some stuff for the comments section. All I can say is us old ’80s kids are now seeing what Spielberg can do with all the modern toys at his disposal, and honestly, I don’t think you have any idea just how incredible this whole experience will be – it will take you back to a time in the past whilst thrusting your imagination into a future that is really not that far off, nor that far-fetched when you see the things futurists are working on even now.
It’s like the ’80s exploded onto the screen in a giant cataclysm of radicalness that you get to see in your lifetime. Don’t miss out!