There was a significant amount of anticipation surrounding the release of Steven Spielberg’s latest sci-fi adventure, Ready Player One. We even previewed it here on All About Casual Game. But did it live up to the hype, and was there enough in there to hold your attention for almost two and a half hours?
As it turns out, there was more than enough. Usually, when a film starts off at full tilt, it soon loses that momentum and starts to sag somewhere in the middle, but not Ready Player One. This film starts off with a mind-blowing exploration of the OASIS to the tune of Van Halen’s “Jump” and keeps going right through to the pleasing finale set to Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams.”
In between, the music, the madness and the endless 80s and 90s references just keep coming at you in wave after wave. Some of these are big and obvious while others are there and gone in a flash, rewarding the repeat viewer and crying out for a pause button on the arm of your cinema seat. For example, in the opening Mario Kart-style race, our hero, Wade Watts, drives the DeLorean from Back to the Future, but if you look carefully, you’ll also spot the iconic A-Team van and even the creepy car from Stephen King’s Christine.
And so it goes on in almost every scene. As Wade and his fellow gunter Art3mis go dancing, there is a reference to Saturday Night Fever, but if you watch carefully, you’ll spot the Joker and Harley Quinn dance past them. It’s only a split second, but it makes you smile when you spot it. Other references are even more geeky, such as the time-reversing Zemeckis Cube, named after the writer of Back to the Future.
Even Monty Python’s Holy Hand Grenade makes an appearance among Wade’s arsenal of weapons to use in the epic final battle. It’s just one of the hundreds of references that will have you burning out your Blu-ray player, as thousands of characters from classic console games and movies, from Mechagodzilla to the Iron Giant, mass on the battlefield.
Among all of this, there are more serious messages if you choose to see them. It makes you reconsider just how much of your life you spend glued to your phone or your screen. As Mark Rylance’s James Halliday points out, “Only reality is real. It’s the only place you can get a good meal.” There are also warnings about the power that large corporations have over our lives, how money can bend the rules if you have enough of it and even a mushy message about how the real measure of a man is his friends.
Of course, you don’t have to engage in any of this if you don’t want to; you can go along for the ride. And what a ride it is, helped in no small part by the genuine chemistry between the leads, Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke, both in their avatars as Parzival and Art3mis and in real life as Wade and Samantha. In a world dominated by Marvel and DC, from big-screen adventures to superhero-inspired games, it’s refreshing to root for the little guy for a change.
On the downside, there is maybe a little too much clumsy exposition to help the hard-of-thinking, and perhaps the good guys and bad guys are drawn a little too black and white. There’s also the obligatory appearance of Simon Pegg, who it seems is a compulsory figure in every sci-fi franchise these days, from Star Trek to Star Wars. It doesn’t help to think about the plot too much, either. But this is just nitpicking. If we’re honest, few of Spielberg’s movie plots survive close plot analysis (I’m looking at you, Indiana Jones), but at the end of the day, that’s not the point.
The OASIS is described as a world of imagination, and that’s what the veteran director delivers here. A thrill ride of screen-filling special effects, a Boy’s Own adventure packed with fastidious attention to detail that will keep you coming back again and again. Ready, player one? You better be!