Thursday, 22 March 2018

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One (3D)
Cert: 12A / 140 mins / Dir. Steven Spielberg / Trailer

Ah, the evenings are getting lighter and Steven Spielberg returns as only he can, with a sci-fi adaptation that will completely reinforce audiences' existing opinions on Ernie Cline's source-novel. People who loved reading Ready Player One will get a lot out of this cinematic rendering, while those who were 'less enthusiastic' will see their list of gripes brought to three-dimensional life. Anyone who hasn't read the book will see both the pros and cons which others have discussed, and probably develop a headache around twenty minutes in which lasts until they go to bed. Feel free to guess at this point the category into which your humble correspondent falls...

So our digital hero's journey begins in 2045 and follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), aka Parzival in the virtual reality/internet hybrid known as The Oasis. Wade spends his free time hunting for Easter eggs throughout the virtual realm in the hope of winning the grand prize - ownership of the system and half a trillion dollars. Teaming up with fellow adventurer Samantha/Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), the pair form a team to liberate The Oasis from the hands of Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn)'s megacorporation IOI, who want to take final control of the game and its participants.

First things first, I didn't dislike this. I feel that's worth pointing out because of everything I'm about to say. Ready Player One certainly can't be faulted for its ambition. The execution however, is another matter. In a very real sense, this is a CGI-animated piece with live-action segments, and the visual effects work and sound design is outstanding all round. That said, it'd be even better if the whole thing would slow down long enough to get a proper look at anything. Even with its rare quiet moments, there's barely a static camera throughout the entire movie.

And it's this frenetic pace which bleeds over into a hastily presented plot setup, as we race from one set-piece to the next, with unintroduced characters reciting industrial amounts of exposition (all the more notable, in a film which basically makes no sense*1). With a runtime of over two hours, Ready Player One is like being waterboarded with Sunny Delight while Peter Kay repeatedly bellows "d'you remember the 80s?"*2 over a blaring synth-rock jukebox soundtrack…

Because the centrepiece of the buzz and attraction around Cline's work, for better or worse, is its array of pop-culture references. While the film is clearly delighted with the Warner Bros, Ambin, Capcom and 20th Century Fox properties its been able to secure the rights to, others are notable by their absence. Marvel's superheroes can be name-checked, but we only see DC's. This could well be for the same mouse-related reason that the definitive movie about nostalgia and iconic pop culture doesn't have any Disney characters in its arsenal, and while the script mentions "padawan" and "Millennium Falcon", visual Star Wars references are buried deep within the noise*3.

It's entirely possible for a movie to depict a chaotic environment without itself devolving into chaos. Ready Player One hasn't nailed it, though. That's not to say that the action is particularly convoluted or difficult to follow - Cline's story structure itself is truly worthy of the Spielberg treatment. But the white-noise approach to the production values, coupled with dubious casting choices*4 threatens to make the whole thing feel like... well, like watching someone else play a game for two-and-a-bit hours. I'm genuinely sad to say that I was pulled out of the film at several points by the thought ' I supposed to be caring what happens to these characters?'. Which is unheard of for a Steven Spielberg flick.

Ready Player One isn't nostalgia, it's a fan-service simulation of it - which is the point, after all. The metaphors about online and gaming communities were always going to feel heavy-handed in a story about online and gaming communities, but the final product also lacks that sense of eye-widening wonder which Spielberg has effectively written the book on, over the last four decades. All I got here was a sense of overload.

There's a point in the first act where Parzival stands at a mirror and asks "...does it look like I'm trying too hard?". This is a crystallisation of the whole film.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
It feels like a cop-out to say Tron and The Matrix, but Tron and The Matrix...

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you watch it at all, the cinema is the place to do so, yes.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
This is so visually dense that it lends itself to rewatching, and in the highest definition possible.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Okay, let's not go mad here.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Yes. It's in the first five minutes and it's pitched down an octave or so.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Orson Krennic, Unkar Plutt and Ansiv Garmuth are in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Mendelsohn's evil corporate overlord shtick feels for all the world like Agent Smith in The Matrix, if Agent Smith couldn't actually control anything in The Matrix he's meant to be in charge of so just ran around after Neo shaking his fist. [ BACK ]

*2 Although at one point when Parzival rips out a Saturday Night Fever sequence in a club, Art3mis responds with "woah, old school!. Even though that's only six years older than all the 1983 references the film is so in love with, which at the time of the story taking place is sixty years previously anyway. Like nostalgia began in 1980 and ended in 1995. [ BACK ]

*3 That said, Parzival's belt/holster looks an awful lot like Han Solo's ANH one, but with the Thundercats sigil etched into the buckle-plate. If only the rest of the film was this subtle with its referencing. [ BACK ]

*4 Full disclosure, I can't warm to Tye Sheridan. I'm sure he's an accomplished actor, I just haven't yet seen him in anything where I've enjoyed the performance. In Ready Player One, the live-action Wade manages to be more unlikeable than his outlandish digital alter-ego, Parzival. Which is quite something. Simon Pegg brings his own unique brand of insincerity to the film, plus Mark Rylance is overacting. Again. These are strange days when Olivia 'mahogany' Cooke manages to be one of the best performers in a movie. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

1 comment:

  1. Games Twitter is already full of hate for this. Which is odd, because I'm not sure most of the people grizzling about it were alive in the 80s, let alone able to remember the decade...