Ready Player One

 

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Steven Spielberg creates a world of virtual reality that will blow your mind.

 

Ready Player One


 

It only seems like yesterday that we were treated to the image of a giant robot battling a Godzilla-like creature. Wait. It was yesterday – in Pacific Rim Uprising. However, there’s a lot more besides in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. As if to undercut the bombast of next month’s Avengers: Infinity War – which features a coalition of such iconic figures as Iron Man, Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Chadwick Bose-Man – Spielberg has amassed a smorgasbord of iconography here to blow our respective minds. Harvesting the seemingly impossible from Ernest Cline’s audacious novel of the same name, the director takes his love of performance capture animation (which he employed in The Adventures of Tintin and The BFG) and runs with it. Such is the visual breadth of Ready Player One, that we are not sure whether we are watching a cartoon, a video game or a live-action movie. Well, it’s a combination of all three, with a lot more thrown into the mix.

 

The premise is anything but simple. And only a storyteller of Steven Spielberg’s skill could harness all the narrative threads to make something this fun and engaging. The whole thing takes place in Columbus, Ohio, in 2045, but this being the future, little of real life ends up on the screen (most of the movie was shot at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire, and re-imagined by Industrial Light & Magic). The opening shot alone is a stunner: a tower of trailers studs the skyline of Columbus, where our hero, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), shins down a fireman’s pole, passing his vertically positioned neighbours engaged in their own worlds of VR.

 

Whereas today everyone seems to be glued to their mobiles and plugged into their earphones, this future sees everybody embalmed behind virtual reality headsets. As Wade tells us in his weary voice-over: “these days, reality is a bummer.” And so most of the populace shares the space of an immersive virtual universe called the Oasis. But when the world’s creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), dies, he passes on the key to his empire to the first gamer to find his hidden ‘Easter egg.’ The victor not only gets to take over the helm of Oasis itself, but also to inherit Halliday’s trillion-dollar fortune. However, in order to crack the creator’s clues, the player will need a formidable knowledge of pop culture. So let the game begin…

 

Name-checking everything from Citizen Kane, Saturday Night Fever and Alien to Beetlejuice, Child’s Play and Jurassic Park, the film is a cineaste’s wet dream. But the pièce de résistance is the sequence in which four gamers end up inside The Shining, finding themselves subjected to the horrors of Stanley Kubrick’s imagination (the twin girls, the woman in the bath, the wall of blood, etc). Only somebody with Spielberg’s influence could synchronize so many pop cultural references and unpick such a Gordian knot of copyright.

 

A vibrant and fresh take on the familiar, the film manages to retain its momentum while never losing sight of a good joke. The special effects really are special and the detail is overwhelming, from the costume design and art direction to the canny use of pop standards (Van Halen, Prince, Twisted Sister, The Temptations, Hall & Oates). But even after everything that Spielberg has slapped onto the screen, he still gets to stamp home his moral stance. The film’s closing words: “Reality is the only thing that’s real.” Well, thank God.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Ineson, Susan Lynch, Clare Higgins, Perdita Weeks, Sandra Dickinson, Letitia Wright, Mckenna Grace.

 

Dir Steven Spielberg, Pro Steven Spielberg, Donald De Line, Dan Farah and Kristie Macosko Krieger, Screenplay Zak Penn and Ernest Cline. from the novel by Ernest Cline, Ph Janusz Kamiński, Pro Des Adam Stockhausen, Ed Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar, Music Alan Silvestri, Costumes Kasia Walicka-Maimone.

 

Warner Bros. Pictures/Amblin Partners/Amblin Entertainment/Village Roadshow Pictures-Warner Brothers

139 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 28 March 2018. Cert. 12A.