Ready Player One (2018)

  • Time: 140 min
  • Genre: Action | Adventure | Sci-Fi
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Cast: Tye Sheridan, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg


In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place. The only time Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the Oasis, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spends their days. In the Oasis, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. The Oasis was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir. When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-aka the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the Oasis.


  • Virtually brilliant with Easter Eggs a plenty.
    Rating: 9/10.

    Of all the Spielberg films of recent years – and possibly with the exception of “The BFG” – this was the film whose trailer disconcerted me the most. It really looked dire: CGI over heart; gimmicks over substance. I was right about ‘The BFG”, one of my least favourite Spielberg flicks. I was definitely wrong about “Ready Player One”: it’s a blast.

    The film is fun in continually throwing surprises at you, including those actors not included in the trailer and only on small print on the poster. So I won’t spoil that here for you (you can of course look them up on imdb if you want to: but I suggest you try to see this one ‘cold’).

    It’s 2044, and the majority of the population have taken the next logical step of video gaming and virtual reality and retreated into their own headsets, living out their lives primarily as avatars within the fanciful landscapes of “The Oasis”. You can “be” anyone and (subject to gaining the necessary credits) “do” anything there.

    The Oasis was the brainchild of a (Steve Wozniak-like) genius called James Halliday (played in enormous style by “Actor R”) and supported by his (Steve Jobs-like) business partner Ogden Morrow (“Actor P”). The two had a big falling out leaving Halliday in total control of the Oasis. But he died, and his dying “game” was to devise a devious competition that left a trail of three virtual keys in the Oasis leading to an ‘easter egg’: which if found would provide the finder with total ownership of the Oasis and the trillions of dollars that it is worth.

    But the game is not only played by amateur “gunters” (egg-hunters) like our hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, “X-Men: Apocalypse“) and his in-Oasis flirting partner Samantha (Olivia Cooke, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”); there are big corporate game-hunters involved like IoI (that’s eye-oh-eye, not one-oh-one as I assumed from the trailer) who fill warehouses with combinations of nerd-consultants and professional game players to try to find the keys before anyone else. Which hardly seems fair does it? Ruthless boss Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn, “Rogue One“) and his tough-as-nails hench-woman F’Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen, “Tomb Raider“) really couldn’t give a toss!

    What follows is two-hours of high-octane game-play and eye-popping 3D (it is good in 3D by the way) that melds a baseline of “Avatar” with soupçons of “Tron”, “Minority Report” and Dan Brown novels. But its a blend that works.

    I was afraid as I said that CGI would squash flat any hope of character development and story, and – yes – to be sure this is ‘suppressed’ a bit. You never get to really know many of the ‘pack’ members to any great level other than Wade and Samantha. And exactly what drives the corporate protagonists, other than “corporate greed”, is not particularly clear. What gives the film heart though are the performances of “Actor P” and (particularly) “Actor R”, who again steals every scene he is in. For their limited screen time together, the pair bounce off each other in a delightful way.

    I have to make a confession at this point that I spent the whole film thinking “Miles Teller is way too old for the part of Wade”! Tye Sheridan (who I think *does* bear a likeness!) is actually much more age appropriate, and is fine in the role. But the star performance for me, out of the youngsters at least, was Oldham’s-own Olivia Cooke, who has a genuinely magnetic screen presence. She is most definitely a name to watch for the future.

    Almost unrecognizable in the role is the woman of the hour Letitia Wright (“Black Panther“, “Thor: Ragnarok“) as Wade’s inventor friend Reb.

    The story, although simple and quite one-dimensional, in the main intrigues: there is nothing like a Mario-style chase for keys to entertain when it is done well (I am so old and crusty that in my day it was “Manic Miner” on a ZX-Spectrum!).

    And there’s not just one “Easter Egg” in this film: the film is rammed to the rafters with throwbacks to classic pop-culture icons of past decades, and particularly the 80’s…. the film could have been subtitled “I ❤ 80’s”. Some of these are subliminal (Mayor Goldie Wilson anyone?), and others are more prominent but very clever: “The Zemekis cube” and “The Holy Hand Grenade” being prime examples. This is a film that deserves buying on Blu-ray and then slo-mo-ing through! The nostalgia extends to the music by Alan Silvestri, with occasional motifs from his most famous soundtrack!

    For me though, the highspot of the film though is a journey into a recreation of a classic ’80’s film which – while a scary sequence, earning for sure its 12A UK rating – is done with verve and chutzpah.

    Although a little overlong (2 hours 20 mins) and getting rather over-blown and LOTR-esque in the finale, the ending is very satisfying – roll on Tuesdays and Thursdays!

    Spielberg’s recent films have been largely solid and well-constructed watches (“The Post” and “Bridge of Spies” for example) but they have been more niche than mainstream box office draws. I firmly predict that “Ready Player One” will change that: here Spielberg has a sure-fire hit on his hands and word of mouth (rather than the ho-hum trailer) should assure that.

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  • (RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: B-


    IN BRIEF: A well-made but ultimately empty exercise in virtuoso filmmaking.

    JIM’S REVIEW: The DeLoren and Back to the Future. Chucky the Killer Doll from Child’s Play. The Overlook Hotel in The Shining. T-Rex from Jurassic Park. The holy McGuffin from Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail…items and places worth mentioning and on view in Stephen Spielberg’s lively sci-fi fantasy movie, Ready Player One.

    We are taken into the world of virtual reality while worshiping any of the above pop culture reference from the 70’s or 80’s along the way. Ready Player One is pure escapist fun, but your level of satisfaction will depend entirely on your knowledge base of the trends and fads of the 70’s / 80’s era. (My level of expertise is in the middling range. All of the gaming references and arcade entertainment in this film were scored zero, but I do have strong creds with the many filmdom referrals with aided in my enjoyment of this film.) Apparently all of our world prior to those eras is non-existent, faded relics of days gone by (except for one word…Rosebud). But celebrating the whiz-bang escapades in an advanced Tron universe may be all one needs to hunker down to prepare for a rollicking good time. After all, we are in the hands and mind of a master director working overtime to impress us, and he sporadically does, if only on a purely visceral level.

    Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One takes the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory premise and reboots that golden ticket to an escapist virtual reality game called OASIS where fantasy usurps a dark dystopian future. It is 2045 and as one character says, “Reality is a real bummer.” People tune out their humdrum existence and tune in to the latest escape to an alternate world. It is there that a contest created by its crazed owner James Halliday (a winning Mark Rylance) entices them to own this Atari paradise. Unlimited wealth is the goal for whomever wins the most Easter Eggs and unlocks The Mystery of the Three Keys. Enter teen hero Wade (Tye Sheridan), a.k.a Parzival, his avatar counterpart, and his soon-to-be Scooby Doo gang: Aech, Daito, and Sho, plus Wade’s love interest, Samantha (Olivia Cooke), a.k.a. Art3mis. It is they vs. CEO baddie Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), all eager for ownership of that coveted prize.

    Plot-wise, the film is only continuous chase loop after the next, with very little character development in between. The screenplay by Zak Penn and the author himself try to dole out the exposition and somewhat explain the perimeters of the game for those moviegoers that may be lost in virtual space, but it is very rough around the edges and the story goes increasingly off track. While there is no emotional connection, the movie has much eye-popping effects in its visual look.

    Director Spielberg certainly knows his craft, how to set up a scene, establish the high adrenaline pace, and deliver the thrills. Credit him and his editing team, Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar, the ever-reliable cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and that music score veteran, Alan Silvestri, for their massive contributions. (Highlights include an exciting race car scene and a wonderful sequence into Kubrick territory, a neon-lit disco sequence less so.) This whole enterprise may be a trifle in Mr. Spielberg legacy of films, but it remains a well-made one.

    Less successful is the merging of the unreal and real worlds. The human story dulls in comparison with the more exciting fantasy storyline and never registers on an equal par with the virtual reality universe. And even in that unreal world, not all is right. The CGI avatar characters lack definition in their characters and renderings. Everyone seems to have an off-putting cartoonish look about them. They are upstaged by all the visual intricacies of their stunning surroundings and dazzling backgrounds. These figures lack the human details to involve this reviewer. The constant feeling of ”this is only a game” interfered with my full pleasure of this movie and the perils they faced just seemed too remote.

    As the film reaches its anti-climactic conclusion and the narrative strains for continuity, the film goes top-heavy and into forced overdrive becoming all sound and fury, a distracting cacophony of explosions, noise, smoke, and mirrors…the end result being overdone and empty.

    My involvement throughout this movie was diversionary, admiring Mr. Spielberg’s sleigh of hand, even if the movie itself was hardly visionary. My overall reaction was always one of entertainment with a lackadaisical resigned feeling. But Ready Player One just may appeal to a younger generation of gamers and its mass targeted audience of teenagers looking for the next thrill to occupy their short attention spans. I just needed a bit more…or less.

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  • A steam locomotive pulling into a train station in the Lumière Brothers 1896 short, L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat. A giant gorilla atop the Empire State Building in 1933’s King Kong. The narrative and visual complexity of Orson Welles’ 1941 Citizen Kane. The jump cuts in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1966 À bout du souffle (Breathless). The celluloid break in Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 Persona. The visual world of Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi noir Blade Runner. These are some of the many things that revolutionised film, that made one believe that whatever one thought was possible was only the beginning.

    Steven Spielberg has been responsible for many an impactful, game-changing moment in films such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, and Jurassic Park. One could even argue that no other filmmaker could claim as many of these moments as Spielberg and yet, whilst Spielberg has received more than his critical and commercial due, there’s still the sense that the populism of his works prevents him from achieving indisputable auteur status. Why is that? Commercialism and artistry are not mutually exclusive, and aiming for the heart is as difficult a task as aiming for the mind. For almost half a century, Spielberg has been delivering films that have melded the innovative with the humanist and, whilst one can argue that the balance has swung in favour of the former in his latest works, one cannot deny that he has lost the knack for speaking to the child in all of us.

    Ready Player One, adapted from the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline by Cline himself and Zak Penn, once again displays Spielberg’s talents for harnessing next-generation technology in service of the themes that have been constants in most if not all of his works. There’s the lost child from a broken home – in this case, an 18-year-old orphan named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), living with his aunt in Columbus, Ohio. The year is 2045 and the majority of the Earth’s population are living in the “stacks,” slums comprised of trailer homes stacked on top of one another. Like most of the residents looking to escape from the grimness of their poverty-stricken lives, Wade spends most of his time in the Oasis, a virtual reality world created by the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who is revered by the masses.

    The main thrust of the tale revolves around the hunt for the Easter egg that Halliday left in the Oasis before he died. In order to find it, one must complete three quests in order to obtain three keys which will unlock the location of the Easter egg. The first person to find the Easter egg will not only inherit Halliday’s trillions but have full control over the Oasis. Five years have passed since Halliday’s death and not one person has managed to get past the first quest, which involves a car chase on an ever-changing cityscape replete with obstacles such as speeding trains and huge spikes coming out of nowhere as well as the mighty King Kong himself. This sequence is jaw-dropping to say the least – there are instances such as the way Kong smashes into view from the side that feels like it’s never been seen before – but somehow Spielberg not only maintains the very high bar he sets for himself but raises it and raises it again throughout the film.

    Take the amazing sequence which takes place smack dab in the world of Kubrick’s The Shining. That The Overlook Hotel and many of the film’s most indelible moments are astonishingly recreated is impressive enough, but to up the ante with seamlessly integrating CGI characters within that live-action setting is almost beyond comprehension. Indeed, one of the most remarkable feats in Ready Player One is how, despite being a stuffed-to-the-gills smorgasbord of pop culture references, it is never derivative or detrimentally steeped in nostalgia. To use an old adage, Spielberg makes everything old feel new again.

    Not that Spielberg doesn’t fall into his usual trap of slipping into silly sentimentality in the final stages of the film. Unlike A.I.: Artificial Intelligence where that bad habit was truly exasperating, it’s more forgivable in Ready Player One. Mostly, it’s hard to begrudge a filmmaker who has given audiences the mash-up to end all mash-ups – where will viewers ever see the Teenage Mutant Turtles, the Batmobile, the Iron Giant, Mechagodzilla, a scene-stealing Chucky, the monster foetus from Alien, amongst others all in one film ever again, not to mention the endless cultural references that would take multiple viewings to identify. Yet, the most striking and unforgettable image is arguably that of a young boy playing a video game – both entranced and imprisoned.

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  • Ready Player One is my latest review. It has director Steven Spielberg channeling his inner Blade Runner, his inner dystopia suture, and his inner young adult. For instance, check out his lead actor (21-year-old Tye Sheridan). Tye kinda looks like Spielberg did back in the early to mid 1970’s. Trippy.

    Anyway, “Player” is Steven’s take on virtual reality in slumming Columbus, Ohio (circa 2045). Although overwrought, over-plotting, and overlong at 140 minutes, Ready Player One still comes off as one of the best technical achievements of this year or any other year. Oh and by the way, Jobe Smith, aka “the lawnmower man” called. He wants his new and improved simulation headset back, stat!

    Now Steven Spielberg’s career in movies has spanned to almost 50 years. He has made bad films (Hook, The Post), boring films (Lincoln, Bridge of Spies), and stupendous masterpieces (E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark). “Player” while totally recommendable, gives you your money’s worth yet falls somewhere in the middle.

    In truth but not drowned disappointment, “Player” is not as invigorating, emotionally engaging, or majestic as Steve-O’s finest work. Still, Ready Player One has an eye-popping look that’s one for the ages. “Player” is a candy-coated fever dream, chocked full of pop culture references, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments, 80’s relics (Atari), 70’s and 80’s tunes, and elaborate movie references (you won’t believe what Spielberg does to reenact Stanley Kubrick’s, The Shining). Seeing this flick once is not enough for every scene has blotches of special effect nooks and crannies. Heck, once the DVD comes out, you’ll be hitting the scan button like a mother.

    In conclusion, I mentioned earlier that Steven Spielberg has been directing for five decades. I’m not lying when I say that this is unlike anything he’s ever done. To my dismay, I thought no A-list filmmaker could reinvent the science fiction wheel with cojones the size of Texas. Guess what, Stevie came in and proved me wrong. Bottom line: Ready Player One gets a three star rating from me. With its lushness, its forced razzle dazzle, and its yearning to be unabashedly avant-garde, I might be “ready” to see it again.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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