Ready Player One

We got to see Ready Player One with Steven Spielberg himself at SXSW – it was truly one of the most seminal moments I am likely to ever experience as a movie reviewer, and more importantly, as a movie fan. Sean wrote about it weeks ago, but I realized that I had something to add to the conversation.

I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One back in 2011 and I thought it was a tonne of fun. But it’s a highly nerdy book and I am not remotely nerdy. I do, however, know some nerds, and I eagerly pushed the book on them (it made for an EXTREMELY easy Christmas season: it knocked all the brothers-in-law off my list at once). I seem to recall Sean reading it in Mexico, and as I’d anticipated, he ate it right up. But for the many references that I just didn’t get, I still felt the energy and excitement of the book were translated to me. So while we were excited to hear that Spielberg was taking this on, we were less than thrilled to sit back and wait for three years for it to become reality. And then when were finally treated to a trailer I thought: holy moly, I don’t think I remember this book! So I reread the book a few months ago and prepared myself for its big March 29 release date – yes, we’d be busy in 2 different cities celebrating Easter, and Grandma’s 95th birthday, and my sister visiting from over 1000km away, and making the great variety of baked goods requisite for such a long weekend – but surely we’d be able to squeeze it in. But alas, no need! While in Austin, Texas for the SXSW festival, Ready Player One was revealed to be the secret screening. Both Cline and the movie’s star Tye Sheridan are hometown boys, which READY PLAYER ONEmeans 300k of the festival’s attendees were vying for just 1000 seats in the venue. Some people may be discouraged by those odds, but not Sean! He gamely spent hours lined up outside (while I watched Blindspotting, which was an incredible festival revelation) but his dedication paid off, and we got in, got some pretty fabulous seats actually, and sat among people who were just so incredibly excited to see the movie they hardly stopped cheering for a single second of the film’s 140 minute run time.

First of all, for fans of the book: the movie Ready Player One carries all of the novel’s essence but none of its spoilers. The big, showy challenge scenes are all-new for the movie, so you get to enjoy it and be surprised by, and if I may say: delighted by it. It hits exactly the right tone but it’s new and it’s exciting. And some of the new stuff IS REALLY FUCKING COOL. But Spielberg HIMSELF asked me not to spill the beans, so I won’t. And I wouldn’t want to in any case: not every movie is capable of enchanting us, and I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of that simple little thrill of pleasure.

Second, to fans of Speilberg: this is the most ‘Spielbergian’ film of the century. By which I mean, Spielberg himself has really gotten away from Spielberg-type movies. He hasn’t done blockbustery, popcorny movies in years. Lately he’s concentrated on smaller films, like The Post, and Bridge of Spies, which I have actually loved. It’s a different, more grown-up Spielberg; they’re movies that feel almost indie in nature, if not for the souped up cast. Dramatic stuff, more grounded, dark and moody, and often political. But little Stevie finds his inner child, indeed his inner fanboy, and allows himself to just express exuberant joy once again on the big screen – and even, and I do honestly believe this was hard for him, allow his own film legacy, to be paid homage in this film right alongside other iconic pop culture moments from the 1970s right through the early 90s.

Ready Player One feels like Steven Spielberg has thrown himself a parade, and he’s got every one of his time-honoured tricks riding big loud floats. It’s fantastic. I’ve heard the Internet shitting on the fact that this film is load with pop culture nostalgia and I can’t for the life of me understand that. I mean, the first time you see the film, you won’t notice half, or likely a third, of what’s hidden in there. Spielberg himself doesn’t know every single thing that’s been recreated in the film – he was surprised readyplayerone-56b7d103-d459-4ff3-89ac-e6342be40e01to find a Gremlin long after he’d already approved the scene, and he’ll continue to be surprised by Easter eggs (how fitting, for this weekend!). In subsequent viewings, you could easily play a drinking game with friends, or a Bingo game would be fun, just spotting all the cool things the brilliant art department and visual effects people slipped in there – it’s like the hoarders of movies with so many layers it’ll take forever before you reach the dead cat layer.

I still haven’t even told you what this movie’s about, but you’ve already gleaned that from elsewhere, haven’t you? It’s basically about the near future where the world has gotten so bleak that everyone prefers to live in this virtual world called the Oasis. The creator of the Oasis dies, and leaves the rights to it to whomever can win a little game that he’s rigged. Now, the Oasis is definitely worth a kabillion dollars, but it’s worth even more politically. So while our protagonists are kids, they’re up against not just adults but corporations in order to win control of this thing. And the Oasis creator (played by Mark Rylance) is a guy just enamoured with the 80s, so everything he does is basically a loving tribute to the “golden age” of gaming. But you don’t need to be able to pick up on those references in order to enjoy the story – they’re just the window dressing on a dystopian tale as old time.

The fact is, the world in Ready Player One is not so far from our own, and it feels worrying possible. The real trick, the one the movie keeps bumping up against, is to ask yourself: what are we taking from this virtual world, and how are we using it to make meaningful connections in the real world? Though this fight is online, the repercussions exist in the real world, and this creates an interesting duality between the avatar characters online and their real life counterparts. Though it looks and feels like a game, the stakes are high and the consequences dire. There’s some really flashy editing that allows us to move back and forth between worlds, and some truly exceptional visual effects mean the movement between the two feels natural but looks distinct.

And at its heart, this movie tells a story like many of Spielberg’s best: that of friendship, trust, and human connection. The film omits some of the book’s more subversive themes – race, gender, class – and given its scope and run time, it’s no wonder. There simply isn’t enough space to explore this world from corner to corner (read the book!). Instead, this movie submerses you in a world of pure imagination.

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29 thoughts on “Ready Player One

  1. Sean

    You make a great point about Spielberg getting back to his popcorn days with this film, and that is what made this movie for me. I expected to enjoy it, having liked the book so much, but Spielberg took the movie beyond the nostalgia and made it better than I could have ever expected. He made it fun even for those who never played Joust and never wanted their own Delorean time machine, and that’s not something the book ever was.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Oh yeah, there was plenty of stuff that went over my head, stuff I didn’t even realize went over my head except I heard the knowing laughter of others.

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  2. Invisibly Me

    I was curious about what this would be like & the trailer certainly seemed like a more light-hearted, fun version of Spielberg. Definitely sounds like he’s riding the fun float on the parade he’s thrown! Will look forward to checking this out soon ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. Holly

    My best friend works for an indie bookstore and has apologized numerous times this past week when she realized she never recommended the book to me. I plan to start reading it tonight…

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  4. bookbeachbunny

    I saw it this morning and really enjoyed it! Which was really nice because to be honest I didn’t like any of the trailers for some reason. To be sure I don’t really remember the book ๐Ÿ™‚ We loved the references and the goodies. Also great point about the friendship theme. Thanks for the review!

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, the trailers made me really doubt my reading! I felt much better once I knew the movie wasn’t sticking to the book and I could just relax about it.

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  5. Christopher

    I just saw it yesterday and had a blast. I saw it in a crowded theater, which ainโ€™t as good as seeing it with Spielberg, but is still fitting. I felt like the film, and, in retrospect, the book, are more than just celebrations of pop culture. They celebrate and encourage shared experience. To paraphrase a great line, life is not meant to be a one-player game.

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  6. Liz A.

    I found it funny that Spielberg didn’t want to include any of his own history in the film. Probably the right call, but still…

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  7. Brittani

    That’s so cool that you got to watch this at SXSW with Speilberg. That’s something else in its own.

    I really ended up hating the book, even though I ate up the first 100 pages or so. I’m glad to hear the movie is fun, even though it changed some things. I’ll probably watch it eventually.

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  8. J.

    Iโ€™m actually really looking forward to this one. Not sure when Iโ€™ll see it, right enough. Iโ€™m happy that Spielberg is making a big Spielberg movie, though; even though thereโ€™s no question that he knows how to make a great movie, I was thinking maybe he wasnโ€™t able to make a big Spielberg movie anymore.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Well he can and he does. It’s a hybrid, in some way. I think there were even allusions to concentrations camps. Even his most terrifically fun movies have an element of melancholy to them. He can never quite shake a sense of sadness.

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  9. Arionis

    As an uberfan of the book I was on the fence about seeing the movie after watching some of the trailers. Then I read Sean’s review which pushed me over the fence. The side of the fence that the theater was on. However, a few days before it was released I almost let some audience reviews pull me back over the fence. I’m glad I cut the rope before that happened because I went and saw it and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m not going to lie and say the geek in me wouldn’t have rather seen some of the original book material, but the over all spirit of the book was there and the sequences were amazing.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yeah, i think they wanted to create something that could surprise all of us, and that was a really ambitious undertaking!

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  10. sportsattitudes

    Definitely agree it has the ol’ Spielberg feel. About time! In IMAX, a true mind-blowing experience. Missed a few of the references but I suspect many will. Much to like about this movie. Haven’t read the book, but it’s the kind of film I think will have many curious to do so after a viewing, including me.

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  11. Experience Film

    So lemme get this straight. You met Steven Spielberg… At SXSW… At a secret screening of his kick-ass new movie, which you guys watched with him… in the same room, breathed the same air as..?? That is fucking AWESOME !!! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜ฒ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿผ๐ŸŽฌ๐ŸŽธ๐Ÿ’ฏ

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