Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the sci-fi/action romp READY PLAYER ONE (2018) by director Steven Spielberg. To best describe the story, I will turn to the IMDB plot summary:
When the creator of a virtual reality world called The OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.
To be honest, I went into this with pretty low expectations. The trailer was fine, the concept was nothing terribly new, and while I generally enjoy Spielberg’s work, I am not one to automatically trust any director. Keeping this in mind I walked into the theater, sat down, and hoped for the best.
All things said and done, I found this movie pretty darn entertaining.
One of the biggest concerns I had going in was the reliance on computers to create the video game world that makes up the majority of the story. This worry was nicely handled by the effects team because they made everything within The OASIS look just cartoonish enough to not enter into the territory of uncanny valley. In fact, nearly everything within this digital world walks the stylization line rather nicely so I imagine the effects will actually age better than other features that try to use computers to make their imagined world look real. This use of digital wizardry also allowed The OASIS to appear as a thrilling, engaging realm that people living in the drudgery of reality would actually want to spend hours exploring.
The real world, by comparison, has its own drab aesthetic that manages to look like an overcrowded trailer park. It is by no means a nice place to be, but there is little focus given to these portions so it never felt as fleshed out. All we are really given is told to us early on through voice over; overcrowding, people want to escape their existence into the game, and the corporation is evil. Apart from the trailer park slums, the few scenes in the dingy cities, and an extended sequence in the luxurious corporate headquarters, we spend the rest of our time in The OASIS so not much context is required for the real world.
As far as the story itself goes, we have seen this sort of movie before. In fact, it is so similar to a specific candy themed classic (which has received an update) that it is hard not to draw a parallel. Granted, this has become a pretty well-worn structure over the years so I am not bashing the plot, more just commenting on how familiar it feels.
Though the story is not breaking any new ground, the cast does an admirable job of selling their characters and the concept. Their timing on the jokes is just as good as the emotional resonance they create during the few, heavier moments. Though our heroes are portrayed by younger actors, the more memorable roles go to the older cast members. Of particular note are Mark Rylance and Ben Mendelsohn one of whom provides the emotional crutch while the other portrays the worthy antagonist.
Now, most people who know anything about this piece know that one of its main selling points was its pop-culture references. While I liked the sheer variety they included and the fact that they did not shy away from the horror characters of the 1980’s, the vast majority were cameos. The ones that were given time to shine were excellent, but for every Delorean type cameo on screen, there were at least ten Hello Kitty styled references. Be they great or small, the appearance of these characters/objects felt very in line with the world being built since the creator of The OASIS was obsessed with the 1980’s.
All in all, this was a fun way to spend a few hours with plenty of nostalgic references to keep any fan of the 80’s happy. What this lacks in great emotional depth it makes up for in sheer visual splendor. Fans of movies like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) will find this to be a video game styled mashup of those superior films.
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