Are you ready, Steve? Alright, fellows, let’s play ...
Steven Spielberg has a gas with 'Ready Player One'
Perhaps no one is more responsible for the endless cycle of high-action, big-budget blockbusters that are shoved down audiences’ throats during the US summer months than Steven Spielberg. Beginning in 1975 with Jaws, Spielberg changed the movie universe indelibly. Together with George Lucas he made movies just one part of a larger multimillion-dollar industry that shaped the popular culture of the 1980s and beyond, and led to the creation of the fanboy.
Ernest Cline’s cult 2015 sci-fi novel Ready Player One was beloved by the fanboy sect for its vision of a world in which virtual reality has become the normal activity and obsession of people escaping from the bleak and harsh reality of the US in 2045. They spend their days interacting in a virtual world called the Oasis, created by the ultimate fanboy – a socially awkward VR genius man-boy named James Halliday, filled with references to the video games and pop culture of his childhood. To make matters more interesting, upon his death Halliday announces in Willy Wonka fashion that he’s hidden three keys within the Oasis and whoever finds them will inherit the majority share in his multitrillion-dollar company and take over the running of his virtual Eden.You can see why Spielberg would be attracted to this as the basis for a film. It turns out that contrary to popular belief the biggest fanboy in the world is not JJ Abrams or any of the many other protégées of the director but Spielberg himself. The most pleasing parts of Ready Player One are the many scenes that take place in the virtual world of the Oasis, packed full of references to everything from Back to the Future, Akira and King Kong, to Rubik’s cubes and Spielberg’s own films.It’s in the Oasis that our hero Wayde (Tye Sheridan) together with his friend Aeche (Lena Waite) escapes his tragic life with his aunt in Columbus, Ohio (the biggest city in the US in 2045). He uses his avatar Parzival and his anorak obsession with Halliday to find the keys before the armies of players employed by the villainous Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) can claim the prize for his evil corporation, Ion. In the quest for the keys Wayde meets Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and falls in love with her as they team up with other righteous gamers to preserve Halliday’s creation.Spielberg is still a master of the multi-setup action sequence and there are at least two too many here for him to play with. The crew of youngsters fighting against an evil adult is also a long familiar Spielberg trope. While the director certainly handles the virtual world and its many delights with aplomb, the scenes that take place in the real world are a little flat and dreary. However there are plenty of in-jokes and nods to cinema history littered throughout the film and it’s hard not to be captivated by Spielberg’s obvious and childlike joy in bringing them to the screen.It’s definitely about 20 minutes too long and in typical blockbuster fashion things fall apart a bit once we arrive at the inevitable final battle, but along the way there are too many moments of unadulterated pleasure and fun not to keep even the most cynical viewer entertained.At 72 Spielberg shows the same enthusiasm and sense of wonder at the escapist possibilities of the movies as he did when he was a child making Super 8 epics in his lounge, dreaming of conquering the world. While Ready Player One might have little of any depth to say about the world, in Spielberg’s hands it’s still one of the most exceptionally executed and purely enjoyable movie experiences you’re likely to have this year and a testament to the fact that a true master always has new tricks to teach even his most dedicated disciples.
Ready Player One is in cinemas across South Africa.