Based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel of the same name, Ready Player One tells a story about an orphaned teenager named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) from Ohio in 2045. With the world is pretty much desolated, his only way to escape from reality is engaging in the VR world of OASIS. From there, he becomes an avatar named Parzival and soon joins the ultimate quest to find the Easter Egg left by its late founder, James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Whoever wins it will inherit Halliday’s huge fortune and also a total ownership over the OASIS.
Nowadays, Steven Spielberg has been largely committed to making Oscar-friendly prestige pictures like Lincoln, Bridge of Spies and most recently, The Post. But the truth is, I really miss the old Spielberg. The one who used to define most of our childhoods with blockbuster classics like Jaws, E.T. and Jurassic Park. Thankfully, he has finally made a comeback to the blockbuster game with Ready Player One, his first sci-fi genre in more than a decade since 2005’s War of the Worlds.
As you can see, Ready Player One is based upon Ernest Cline’s bestselling novel popularised with mostly 80s pop-culture references. So, who’s better than Spielberg himself to direct such a movie? While he’s definitely the right man for the job, he could have chosen the easy way out. That is, of course, just throw whatever pop-culture references to make it look retro-cool and call it a day. But Spielberg is smart enough not to fall prey to making this movie purely as an empty-headed nostalgia trip. Mind you, he’s already in his 70s and I’m impressed that he still has what it takes to make a solid Hollywood blockbuster.
From the opening scene where Van Halen’s “Jump” played in the background, Spielberg has already successfully set the bouncy tone of the movie. He took the economical route to introduce his main protagonist Wade Watts while making good use of Tye Sheridan’s voiceover narration to tell his story about living in a drab reality in Ohio.
Then comes the vibrant introduction of OASIS and this is where Spielberg works his magic. It immerses me at the moment Wade becomes an avatar who called himself as Parzival and enter the VR cyberscape, followed by an engaging virtual race sequence. It’s an absolute geeky moment to see Parzival behind the wheels of the iconic DeLorean from Back to the Future trilogy while competing with other opponents ranging from Akira‘s cherry-red bike to Mad Max‘s black Interceptor. It’s almost like experiencing an arcade game minus the joysticks in your hands, coupled with Spielberg’s lively camerawork alongside Janusz Kaminski’s vibrant cinematography and Alan Silvestri’s propulsive score.
If that’s not enough, Spielberg even paid an unlikely extended homage to one of the most iconic movies of all-time. I’m leaving the name of the movie for you to find out yourself but let’s just say it’s the single most memorable sequence in Ready Player One. He even made it like a theme park ride while seamlessly blend the avatars, the action and the actual footage itself.
Ready Player One runs at 140 minutes long but I’m glad that Spielberg maintains a consistent pace for the most parts of the movie. He keeps the plot moving, while Spielberg certainly has a knack for bringing the best out of his young actors including Tye Sheridan’s Parzival/Wade, Olivia Cooke’s Samantha/Art3mis as well as Win Morisaki’s Daito and newcomer Philip Zhao’s Sho. The adult cast is equally excellent, with Ben Mendelsohn perfectly typecast as the ruthless corporate bigwig, Sorrento while Mark Rylance nails his part as the nerdy James Halliday.
As much as I enjoyed watching Ready Player One, the movie isn’t exactly perfect. Sure, Zak Penn and Ernest Cline’s adapted screenplay is captivating enough with its immersive virtual-reality world of OASIS. But the plot begins to fizzle once it reaches the conclusion. The ending feels anticlimactic till the point Spielberg has gone a tad melodramatic for its own good. Still, it was a minor shortcoming. Most importantly, I’m happy to say that Ready Player One is a great Spielbergian blockbuster. The kind that demands you to see on the biggest screen possible.