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READY PLAYER ONE gets 6.5/10 Retromancer

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe


In the year 2045 much of humanity has fled into a virtual construct known as the OASIS to escape the various ills that plague the world. There their work and play can be pursued, restricted only by your imagination and the amount of coin that you have accrued during your time in the game. When its creator (Halliday/ Anorak played by Mark Rylance) died, he left a mystery, a last Easter egg for players to pursue, and a promise of control over OASIS to the one who finds it. Five years later only the hard core egg hunters (Gunters) and the force of the rival Innovative Online Industries (Sixers) seek Anorak’s Quest. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), might have an unsatisfactory life in the slum of The Stacks in the real world, but in OASIS his avatar Parzival might have the clue to unlock the first of three keys to the secret prize. With Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), and the other Gunters help, he might be able to find it before the forces of IOI (led by Ben Mendelsohn) assert their control.

Adapted from the best-selling novel Ready Player One is reliant on the sheer power of nostalgia for its buzz. The film (and the book) plough into this with a hoard of pop culture references and all the fervour of a kid diving into a toy chest. Ready Player One frequently and proudly lifts up a new toy to show you hoping that you get the reference and have the same nostalgic attachment to it. After a while, your eyes can glaze over wishing for something more substantial and a deeper critical understanding of why these symbols of a bygone era hold such cultural relevance in 2045, rather than merely being the cherished gems of the OASIS creator’s childhood. But then it’ll win you back with a deep cut (or not so deep – who’re we kidding) reference that feels tailored for you, and makes you feel special for getting. It doesn’t cover how ultimately hollow this film is, but it does go some way to explaining it’s appeal, and how in the hands of a master emotional director, it has been positively weaponised.

And Spielberg is certainly a master of emotions. From the initial chords of Van Halen’s Jump he attempts to sweep you up in that same nostalgia for the cinema of the 80s, priming you for an action adventure romp. Which is probably the best way to approach this film, as he works with the thin plot that the novel has given him, and makes the best of it. It is big on flash, delivering on some spectacular large-set pieces, and emotionally engaging with an audience (at least on a superficial level), while being incapable of an intellectual connection. Its ideas of struggling for effectively net neutrality, while fighting against further corporatization of OASIS (tiered access, increased advertising, and slaved gold miners) are noble, but underdeveloped. This also demonstrates a curious lack of self awareness in a film that effectively blurs the line between Easter egg and product placement in its worship of consumer culture.

All of which leaves you with the sensation that this is a film that is of the moment, but that history may not be kind to it. Still Ready Player One does deliver on its promise of spectacle while painting its plot in big broad brush-strokes, and will appeal to viewers based on their connection to the pop cultural references it is playing upon. For me personally, that may not be enough, leaving me with a sense of ambivalence about the film and wanting something deeper from some of the intriguing plot points it does raise, rather than watching another played out video game sequence. However, based on audience reaction, I might be in the minority.


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