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Ready Player One – Review


Release Date: 28 March 2018
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Zak Penn - Ernest Cline - [Screenplay] - Ernest Cline - [Novel]
Cast: Tye Sheridan - Olivia Cooke - Ben Mendelsohn



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Posted April 8, 2018 by

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Ready Player One Review:

Spielberg’s latest flick is only the second of his I’ve actually seen at the cinema, right after Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Had this been my only experience of his filmography, his reputation would surprise me.

Ready Player One sees Wade Watts (alter-ego Parzival) fight against the evil IOI in a race to solve tech buff, James Halliday’s, mystery for control of his virtual world ‘the Oasis’. The world’s gone to pot, VR is the new fad, and everyone’s stuck in the 80’s. Let’s get on with the review… it’s not good.

There are two reasons that the plot of Ready Player One doesn’t work. Both of these fall under the critical issue of the film; there are no stakes. Blake Synder’s number one rule of screenwriting, so important to him that he named three books around the concept, is ‘Save the Cat’. That is, give the audience a reason to care about a character early on; the notion of gripping an audience’s sympathy and emotional engagement translates to all areas of a screenplay, but no areas of Ready Player One. The first failure is the world.

Not to overly damn Spielberg here, a known expert for his world building; the virtual reality of Oasis is realised with great immersion and visual creativity (if an assault of CGI) that interprets Ernest Cline’s creation with flair. But it’s not Oasis that’s the problem, it’s the real world. In fact, the real world makes so little appearance throughout the film that, instead of juxtaposing itself against the endless, breath-taking opportunities of Oasis, it only meekly reminds us of its presence for about thirty seconds on the half hour marks throughout the film.  Sure, the set design of the ‘Stacks’, the poverty-ridden district of the world, is impressively constructed, but not even the audio-tape of exposition opening can reasonably explain how things got this way. So, when characters reveal their ‘tragic’ backstories, when tragic things actually happen in the real world, and when they declare that the Oasis lets them ‘escape’ from their tragic selves and become whoever they want, I can’t help but wonder what exactly they’re escaping from, or why we should care.

This failure leads to the second; the antagonists, Innovative Online Industries (IOI). Ben Mendelsohn once again chews the fat as the main bad guy in a fun, interesting performance that keeps the film rolling, but what exactly he planned to do with the Oasis remains a mystery. IOI are, throughout the film, the stereotypical shady tech company bent on control. But, not knowing much about the real world, and with complete lack of motivation or intent, there’s a big problem. When the big armies (‘oppressed’ only by the screenplay deeming them relevant on the ninety minute mark) line up spontaneously in the film’s third act, and Twisted Sister’s We’re not gonna take it blares from an 80’s speaker, I’m thinking, what exactly are you not gonna take here?

But at least we can care about the characters right? How many protagonists does it take to lead a Spielberg film? Five. Two to fall in love prematurely and three to checkbox the lousy source material. There’s really no character arc developed at all. It’s impossible to route for anyone when the stakes are unclear, and all emotions seem to be rushed tenfold in favour of 80’s pop culture references. Even characters that were initially strong and interesting seem to fade back into the archetypes that make up a film’s checklist, giving rise to major issues with the female leads. This isn’t helped by the nature of Oasis, and the fact that 80% of the film is entirely CGI. Though it insists on 21st century’s apparent obsession with technology, it remains difficult to empathise with pixels. Not really a fault of Spielberg’s so much as the nature of the story. Perhaps one of the few instances where it lends itself better to the novel than the film. And then there’s James Halliday, geek genius creator of the Oasis and catalyst for the adventure. His motives and story make up the B-plot that’s abandoned for the bulk of the movie and only tries to assert its theme at the climax. A theme that had virtually (see what I did there?) no logical build up or allusion to prior to the final ten minutes. At one point, a character remarks ‘the only thing that’s real, is reality’ – why then, did I just spend two hours watching digital effects?

And as said, this is because the film’s agenda is purely to push that 80’s nostalgia. Spielberg is surprisingly sparring with the references back to himself, and it’s nice to see some old characters, songs, and quotes popping up left, right and centre, even if they are largely arbitrary. The film is cool, and it is fun, but it’s also bad, just like a lot of the culture it’s referencing. There is an argument to say this is a fault of the novel. But given the drastic narrative changes the film takes, and more importantly, given it’s an artwork and voice of its own, that’s hardly a reason to forgive. Maybe Spielberg should have looked at Tron Legacy, an overlooked gem, for how to manage these themes and worlds. Dust off your Sega Genesis instead; the vast majority of the games you’ll find there will have a stronger, more consistent story.


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Written By:


Kieran Rae
Freelance Contributor

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