Ready Player One (2018)

2018 #183
Steven Spielberg | 140 mins | Blu-ray (3D) | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Ready Player One

Steven Spielberg’s latest foray into the style of popular moviemaking he helped create in the ‘70s and ’80s — the summer tentpole action-adventure mega-blockbuster — is an adaptation of a novel so bedded in the popular movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s that the whole thing is a bit too meta: it’s a movie obsessed with the brilliance of ‘80s pop culture, made by one of the primary creators of that culture. At least Spielberg insisted that all references to his own work be cut, otherwise it could’ve become a mite self-congratulatory. Though it does mean that Spielberg becomes conspicuous by his absence in a Spielberg movie. Oh, it’s enough to make your head spin…

The plot, then: in the year 2045 the real world is a mess, so people spend most of their time in the virtual reality playground of the OASIS. When the game’s creator died, he left behind the first in a series of challenges, and whoever completes them will inherit the OASIS itself. (If you’re thinking, “isn’t that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but with video games?”, I guess we’ll chalk that up as just another reference. (If you’re thinking, “isn’t that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory but with video games?”, tsk, go read more Dahl.)) Unfortunately, no one’s even been able to crack the first clue… until someone does, of course, because this is an action-adventure blockbuster, not some existential mood piece on the futility of trying to please the dead… or, you know, something. Anyway, cue lots of whizzy CG antics, with CGI that’s actually allowed to look like CGI because it’s all set in a CG environment — I bet the animators were thrilled when that brief came along, because who doesn’t love their job being made easier?

What other car is an '80s lover gonna choose?

Unfortunately, the same amount of effort seems to have gone into the screenplay. Some of this no doubt stems from the original work: the world of 2045 makes no plausible sense (check out the ghost of 82’s review for more on this theme), and there’s the least convincing romantic relationship outside of a George Lucas movie. Worst for me was something a screenplay can readily fix, the dialogue, but which here is frequently full of clunky, hand-holding exposition. This rears its head not just when establishing the film’s world and its rules, which would be bad enough, but also for relatively minor and easily-followed plot points throughout. It’s like the film has been written so even a goldfish could follow it — you don’t need to remember the start of a sentence because its end will explain the same thing again. Equally ill-considered is the movie’s apparently pro-gaming stance. Certainly, a lot of gamers seem to have embraced it as a film that understands their culture; and yet its final message is, “go spend more time in the real world, ya nerds!”

And yet, I mostly enjoyed it. It may not hang together if you engage your brain, but as a bit of fluff it’s largely a fun virtual romp. There are more Easter eggs than a Cadbury’s warehouse in January, which are fun for geeks like me to spot, and those whooshy visuals are even more entertaining when viewed in 3D, which (as Blu-ray.com’s review put it) is “a compelling demonstration of why the format is worth keeping alive.”

Watching other people play video games

But, even though I liked it overall, I can’t help feeling it was a bit of a waste of Spielberg’s time. It’s not that he’s done a bad job — he’s still a god amongst men when it comes to crafting a blockbuster movie — but I also think the end result lacks a certain something that his best work contains. I don’t really know why, but for some reason I feel like he should’ve spent the time it took to make this doing something else, and left this film to be helmed by someone… less important. I mean, there are a lot of other filmmakers who could’ve done a fine job with the material, and wouldn’t have felt the need to cut all the book’s references to Spielberg’s films either.

4 out of 5

Ready Player One is available on Sky Cinema as of this weekend.

5 thoughts on “Ready Player One (2018)

  1. Very good. I thought you might have doled out one or two stars based on those comments but then it redeemed itself by the end of the review. I haven’t seen it since the cinema and am looking forward to watching it again on Now, but I am a bit apprehensive that the first time around I was wowed by all the visuals and referencing (a sucker for anything featuring the Iron Giant), and this time would the plot weaknesses come front and centre…?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think mentioned it in my review, but what this film really needed, rather than Spielberg, was Joe Dante. He would have been a brilliant choice for this film, and yeah, that way all the Spielberg pop-culture references could have been included. And lots of Gremlins maybe. Just thinking about it gets me tingling.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It continues to baffle/intrigue me that the guy who directed Gremlins, etc, hasn’t been let near a decent-sized budget for yonks. Would be interesting to see what he’d do with some larger-scale material and the tech of modern moviemaking.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have to agree that the cutting of Spielberg’s references is disappointing since he is such a legend. When people hear Spielberg directed a new film then it is an automatic attraction to it. But, perhaps, Spielberg was drawn to making the film for the same reasons that even my parents enjoyed watching the film: its a nice throwback to the past. I’ve watched the film about 3 times now and intended to rewatch it again once I’ve finished reading the book. One major disappointment for me is that the book and the film differ so much. I am not unused to the fact that film adaptations are different and often leave gaps the size of craters in the plots but it feels as though I am reading a complete different book from the what the film is based on. Either way I’m still z huge fan!

    Like

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