I am a child of the 80s. Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, the Cold War; Spielberg, Star Wars, John Hughes movies? Those are the cultural tent poles that defined my childhood, for better or worse.
And as a science fiction aficionado as well, Ernest Cline’s bestselling novel Ready Player One really was one of the most fun reads I have had in recent years. No, this is no in depth Shakespearean tome, or even hard core scientific Arthur C. Clarke deep dive. But it was fun sci-fi pop, and it was easy to imagine it on the big screen, if done correctly.
Well, here we are.
The fact that Steven Spielberg, of all people, was chosen to helm this is both a boon and a curse. In some ways, it is almost a cosmic joke; a book written to immortalize people exactly like Spielberg, now being directed…by the man himself.
The story begins in another dystopian future, as most youth novels begin these days…but beginning in my own home of Columbus, Ohio. The world is a horrible place, where the Earth’s resources have been largely been used up, and humanity subsists on the meager leftovers.
Except when people are online; when they are in the OASIS. The OASIS is a 3D virtual reality that for most humans has replaced the wonder of real life and the natural world.
But the OASIS is no Shangri-La. Like the real world, it has large powerful entities trying to game the system just like the world we live in. The creator of the OASIS is the mysterious James Halliday, who upon his death, creates the greatest online treasure and Easter Egg hunt of all: the winner of the hunt will own the OASIS; and become the most powerful person on the planet to boot.
Into this world enters Wade Watts: a poor orphan in the slums of Columbus, who really is nothing more than an 80s fanboy that isn’t really looking to be a hero, so much as a disinterested teen having fun on the premier gaming system of his generation.
This is where Spielberg is in his element. He is masterful at building fictional worlds that immerse the viewer in every way possible, and the OASIS is no different. Pop culture references impact you from every corner, and move so fast that I am pretty sure I missed at least 50% of the references upon my first viewing. Easter eggs litter the screen, and fans of the 80s and 90s can giggle in delight at making cultural connection after connection.
The movie is fast paced for the most part, and that of course means at times the plot is lacking. Those of us that are fans of the book can obviously keep up, but I can imagine others struggling at moments to figure out exactly which direction the story is headed. And that, in many ways, is the greatest weakness of the movie. It is simply too hard to drag the viewer along on portions of the plot, and Spielberg replaces that plot with extravagant special effects, which for the most part work its magic, but leaves the end of the movie slightly demanding more.
I love this film, to be honest, but I am biased. I am a big fan of the book (which many of my friends are not). The 80s references are like pure opium for my brain’s joy centers. And watching Spielberg have fun with the world of the OASIS is watching him have fun the way he did in his 20s, except with the massive power of computer graphics. It is a fun joyride, and anyone that is a fan of that era will have a blast along the way.