Ready Player One: Spielberg’s lost his charm


Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Ready Player One” is the kind of movie I thought I’d never see. I shouldn’t be surprised though–80s nostalgia trips have been prevalent recently with “Stranger Things” and “It” as of late–and it was only a matter of time until this cash-in happened.

The film follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), also known as his online personality as Parzival, in The Oasis, a multiplayer virtual reality game that has consumed society as a new, better reality after the America has gone to waste. There he hunts the three keys for dominance of The Oasis and the inheritance of its founder, James Halliday (Mark Rylance).

“Ready Player One” is based on the bestselling book by Ernest Cline of the same name. I read the book a few years ago and looking back on it, it was fine, but for various reasons the story doesn’t translate well to the screen.

First of all, the entire premise of it isn’t really set up to be put on film. With it mostly taking place in a video game, the characters’ avatars take up more screen time than the actors themselves, minus their voices. The character design for these avatars is awkward and jarring at first; they look like combination of fish people and an early 2000s video game character model.

Throughout the story, Watts and the rest of his key hunting crew are racing against a corporation called IOI, who want control over The Oasis for evil, stereotypical-movie-corporation monetary purposes. I get IOI’s motivation, but it felt a little over the top in its presentation. The villain feels more like a maniacal caricature rather than a grounded character with real drive.

One aspect I can sort of applaud the film for is its effects, but in total they were all pretty hit or miss. Some were surprisingly well done, like the recreation of The Overlook Hotel from “The Shining” (I’ll get into that later) but other sequences felt behind the times.

The film relies a lot on properties of the past (mainly the 80s) to get the story across, using The Iron Giant, Godzilla and countless other nostalgic elements, making audiences to go “hey I remember that” instead of realizing how bland the movie actually is.

Most of my problems come from the story, though. It’s frankly everything I don’t like about Hollywood blockbusters mixed together into a melting pot of predictability. Nothing feels new, inventive or at least interesting. It all just goes exactly how you expect it to and nothing stands out. None of the stakes feel too real due to the fact if you die in the game, the worst that can happen is you losing all of your items, and that fact alone ruins the tension of most action sequences within the film.

Steven Spielberg is generally a great director. Making such classics as “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “Schindler’s List,” the man has not only a prolific, but diverse catalogue. Spielberg lately seems more suited to make more slow burning movies like “The Post” or “Lincoln,” he seems a little burnt out on big action blockbusters, and it shows with “Ready Player One.”

He’s more than a competent director, but with this film, it feels like more of a paycheck for him. There’s none of that magic that goes into making a classic Spielberg movie.

The acting in the film ranges from alright to solid. Tye Sheridan acts like a slice of white bread, but on the other side of the spectrum Mark Rylance plays a great awkward tech developer. My favorite parts of the movie easily were when he was on screen. TJ Miller plays his typical annoying wise-cracking side character that never fails to ruin any scene he’s in, but the rest of the cast did a decent job with their roles.

I can’t credit “Ready Player One” with much; it’s a pretty run-of-the-mill blockbuster and to be honest, it’s a good choice if you’re just looking to have some mindless fun. While I was initially quite mad at it, looking back on it I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s been–for the most part–blocked out of my mind.