Ready Player One (2018)
"Please Sign In"
Ready Player One is the ultimate nostalgia trip for 80’s babies, while simultaneously utilizing everything that modern movie making technology has to offer. It is the best special effects we currently have to work with paying homage to pop culture we remember so fondly from our childhood.
And who better than Steven Spielberg to do so. The man who has been on the forefront of technological advancements in movie making since day one. The man who gave us a mechanical shark we barely saw, but fully believed was there, all the way back in 1975. The man who recreated the holocaust using grainy film stock, black and white and a touch of red, and the landing of American troops on Omaha Beach, with such startling realism, we felt as if we were watching documentary footage, rather than staged drama. The man who used the best technology of the time to make us believe dinosaurs walked the earth, acting in films alongside their human costars.
In many ways, Spielberg’s entire career has been building towards Ready Player One. He could not have made this movie even two years ago. As with Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report, A.I. and Tintin, he had to wait for the technology to catch up to the vision in his head.
Movie animation is a gamble. You run the risk, particularly when using it alongside live action, of the animation looking dated and silly even a few short years later. Look at Toy Story. Still a perfect film, but the animation, once so new and exciting and different, looks rudimentary and old when comparing it even to the third film in that series.
Spielberg doesn’t seem to have that problem. He’s such a genius that when he puts animation in his movies, he somehow finds a way to do it so that it never dates. Jurassic Park, Minority Report and A.I. all have effects animation that looks as realistic and brand new today as they did when those movies first came out.
The effects in Ready Player One are so good, so fun, so advanced, that this movie will look current, possibly for decades. Just like Jurassic Park.
Ready Player One is about video games. Actually, it’s about the video game. A virtual reality, fully immersive experience called Oasis, in which people are able to escape their lives in a post apocalyptic Columbus, Ohio and become someone else in an entirely new world. That’s the movie’s narrative backbone anyway. As is usually the case with real video games, the visual grandeur and Gen Next pop cultural feast are so great in this movie that the story actually becomes somewhat immaterial to the fun to be had with the rest of the flick.
The screenplay was written by Zak Penn, who is a vet of relatively run of the mill superhero fare, and Ernest Cline, who wrote the book the movie is based on, but nothing much else. Based on the resumes of these two guys, I didn’t expect a story that was going to take me places I didn’t expect to go, or reveal anything deep or fundamental about the human condition. Penn writes movies where the story serves the spectacle, not the other way around, and Cline seemed more concerned in the novel with paying tribute to 80’s pop culture than anything else.
Most of the negative reviews I’ve read for this movie focus on the uninspiring story as the sticking point, but it didn’t bother me. The story is basic boy-next-door good guy/maniacal-“let’s take over the world”-bad guy stuff, but it doesn’t detract from the fun of everything going on around it.
I also loved the casting. Like all of Spielberg’s best movies, the characters in the film are made up of kids acting like adults and adults acting like children. And every single casting choice was the right one. The standout performance again belongs to Mark Rylance, who is quickly becoming the film actor I would rank among the very best in the world. Somehow, with his particular brand of understated acting, and the nuances that allow him to transform himself into any role for any occasion, he is able to embody a character unlike any he has ever performed and become entirely lost in said performance. This guy is the real deal. I will watch him do whatever he does, whenever he does it. I’m glad Spielberg has found a new muse with which to employ.
Another little piece of perfection is the casting of Simon Pegg. Not so much for his skills. He’s good, but any number of character actors or leading men could have filled his role. His inclusion in the cast is perfect because Pegg is the nerd who made good. The film fan who grew up feasting on Spielberg and dreaming of being in those movies he loved so much. For Pegg to be in a Spielberg movie that is at its core about ordinary joe’s becoming their fantasy is just too perfect.
Spielberg seems to have two creative itches he likes to scratch more or less simultaneously. There’s the grown up Steven. The father and husband and businessman. The lover of films like All the President’s Men and The Ipcress File. The director of The Post and Bridge of Spies.
And then there’s the young at heart Steven. The kid who refuses to grow up. Who makes films for families and to appease his own inner child, yearning for adventure. The director of The BFG and Ready Player One.
We sense that one could not exist without the other. That it is the internal warring of the grown up Steven with the Peter Pan Steven that makes his ‘adult’ films so fun and his ‘family’ films so mature. It’s what makes him so good at what he does. And it’s why we go to the movies. To be challenged and entertained in equal measure. And nobody does that better.