Ready Player One (2018)

I’ll have to confess to a major disappointment here.  After hearing it used so effectively in the trailers, I really, really wanted to hear Rush’s song “Tom Sawyer” when the rows of identical videogame warriors known as the Sixers get into their identical cars in lockstep.

Oh well.

The whole story of how this film got made is…strange.  Long before Ernest Cline’s novel made it to print, the big studios were tripping over themselves making him offers.  When Warner Brothers won the auction, they were desperate enough to agree to one of his biggest demands:  Cline wanted Steven Spielberg to direct!

It is hard to imagine which other directors could have successfully handled the challenge of this film, as telling even the simplest story in a setting like the virtual reality of “The OASIS” would involve vast amounts of digital work:  in fact, the film uses almost 1500 digital effects and took so long to complete that it gave Spielberg time to complete The Post.

Nor is it hard to see Spielberg’s expert touch on this one.  This is an absolutely dazzling film.  The artistry on display here is on a level it is almost impossible to take in, with vast amounts of detail crammed into some of the scenes — and yet the action still “reads” well.  This isn’t something that simply happens: look at George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, where despite all the gee whiz imagery, some of the big battle scenes are so cluttered that George just couldn’t make them seem all that interesting.   Here, we have just as much — or even more happening in every corner of the screen, and yet it is still compelling.  

Ready Player One is one of those films which leaves you with the impression that you can never fully appreciate it:  it is loaded with so many homages, Easter Eggs and quotes from other movies and videogames that one doubts that there is any one viewer who could catch all of them.  And some of them — like Freddy Krueger’s brief “walk on” — will only be spotted by the sharpest-eyed viewers (and that doesn’t even count the things that only get winking references, like The Terminator and Galaxy Quest).

Yet it still manages to tell a compelling story — perhaps a somewhat familiar one  — about a treasure hunt, with the rival trying to beat them to the treasure, and, of course, the usual evil corporate type (pause for a moment to dwell on the sweet irony that Spielberg has not only made dozens of films about fighting big corporations, but he is also the Patron Saint of product placement, whose classic Eighties films were never complete without that money shot of the Pepsi can).

Perhaps the most notable thing is that, in our age of super-competent female characters and wimpy men, for once we get a film where the guy is allowed to be uniquely gifted, and the only one who can solve the puzzle.  One might almost think it was the Eighties again!

A lot of people dislike Mark Rylance’s portrayal of Halliday, the genius creator of The OASIS, but I found it a particularly interesting one:  someone who is socially inept and has a difficult time relating to the rest of the world — and yet who has a definite presence, when he’s talking about the things that matter to him.  I find him very believable – and more than a touch like some of the people with Autism whom I know.

And yes, I did notice how much the OASIS resembles OZ in Mamoru Hosoda’s brilliant anime, Summer Wars.

There is one sour note in the film which deserves a mention:  at the end, a lone villain is surrounded by an angry mob, many of whose friends and family died at his hands.  But they obligingly clear a path for him when he pulls out a gun.

I’m sorry, Steve, but anyone in that crowd could have hit him from behind.  Preferably with a loose bit of two-by-four.

Maybe it was so he could have that dramatic confrontation at the end, but I do have to wonder, is someone trying to promote an atavistic fear of firearms, as if they were magical and all powerful?  It just doesn’t make any sense otherwise.

I should point out, though that it is just the one sour note in an otherwise exemplary film, and really doesn’t do too much damage.

However, despite the fact that this is an inventive, wildly entertaining, massively well-made, suspenseful and exciting film, it just lacks…something.  That extra little touch that would have made it one of Steven’s great films.  That whatever it is that the equally effects-heavy and densely-detailed  Minority Report has that this one lacks.  

But then, very few films have that.

And Steven Spielberg made an awful lot of them.

But don’t worry.  Even if this isn’t one of his great films, you will still have a hard time finding an extravagant SF/Fantasy film that is anywhere near this much fun.

After all,  the Eighties are over.

Watch or Buy from Amazon:

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