Ready Player One (****) Spielberg remembers how to have fun

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Ready Player One – 2018

Director Steven Spielberg
Screenplay Zak Penn, Ernest Cline based on the book by Cline
Starring  Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Lena Waithe, Mark Rylance, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen

Spielberg’s done so many films by now, most people have watched or rewatched one of his films within the last month. This is no guarantee that all or even most of his films are what one might consider “classics” as he is often celebrated. In truth, many of his films these days are lauded before they’re released and quickly forgotten. Anyone who disagrees with me quickly name more than five the last ten films he’s released.

Still waiting…?  Let me help:

The Terminal, War of the Worlds, Munich, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Adventures of Tin Tin, War Horse, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, The BFG, The Post

Be honest. A few of those made you cringe. One, The BFG, you probably can’t picture even now even though it came out 2 years ago. It’s not that he’s a bad director, as Pauline Kael believed towards the end of her life in 2001. Not at all.  Shia LaBeouf may have said it best “He’s less a director than he is a fucking company.”

The commercials for this film did not give me hope. There is so much crap going on as to almost make one develop epilepsy if they push through the film. The animated characters aren’t a selling point either in an under 3 minute bite. We have a kid named Wade Watts (Sheridan) living in squalor with his aunt and some non-descript jobless guy. Society is collectively held down by corporations, yet resting all of its hope in a kind, unstable genius of a man (Ryland). This man died 5 years ago.

Each person living in this horrible world  spends most of their existence in a virtual reality called the OASIS, the product of the genius, James Hallyday. He is offering the chance for any one of these virtual game players to inherit his company. All they have to do is get three keys and unlock the game.

That these keys are literally the rosebud to Hallyday’s life would be obvious. It is interesting how few seem to be studying it. The world only just figured out how to even get to the first key. They have to win a massively convoluted race, battling the each other, as well as a variety of in game bosses, like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park and King Kong. Pop culture references abound here, often too fast to catch.

Thankfully, this part of the story doesn’t last long. By the time the search for the second key hits, the story gets interesting and the animation cools down to an extent that some of the sets the animated characters inhabit look believably real.

The pop culture references continue, my favorites are currently Hello Kitty and Iron Giant. Surely future viewings will present more.

Sheridan makes a willing hero and Cooke gets some long overdue exposure as his quite capable counterpart. He’s got other interesting companions in the game and their roles become defined as the story moves along.

None of the roles among the friends feel clunky in the slightest, as it’s obvious that this is the kind of story telling Spielberg used to do really well. The only times things go a little askew happen when characters seem to bounce back from tragedy in accordance to what needs to happen next in the plot.

The plot is driven by antagonist extraordinaire Mendelsohn who is the leader of IOI, which has spent years getting rich by leaching off of the ideas of Hallyday. They would like to make it all official by getting the original company. They do this by forced labor teams of gamers called Sixers. These players provide fodder and not much else to the equation, though it is interesting to see how it all turns out.

There are some twists that seem silly as things advance. The film is by no means perfect. It is as much fun as I have had in a Spielberg film since 2002, when he released the one two punch of Catch Me if You Can and Minority Report.

Spielberg deserves much credit for making what could have been an obscenely niche film into something most members of the family could legitimately enjoy. The visual references abound, but everything is explained in general, yet accurate terms.

It’s not clear where one goes in this universe. It’s fun, but not immediately something that screams sequel worthy. It could go just about anywhere. It would be better if he doesn’t pursue a sequel.

If you have any desire to legitimately smile at a Spielberg film for the first time in decades, see Ready Player One.

(**** out of *****)

 

 

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