Ready Player One   
Directed by
Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance. Length 140 minutes.

In a not too distant future, a large portion of humanity has been reduced to a poverty and hopelessness. Wade Watts is one of the many suburban kids who take refuge in a virtual reality called OASIS to escape the squalor of daily life. The search for the prize that Halliday, the architect of this world, hid before his death, will give him a goal and a chance for redemption.

Rhythmic, psychedelic, distracting and at the same time rigidly structured: Spielberg's latest effort, in its form even before its substance, is more like a videogame than a film.

We are in 2045, but we see only a few claustrophobic glimpses of this future world, because almost the whole story takes place on OASIS, a colourful and glossy universe, in perfect CGI style. “People come to us for everything they can do and stay there for everything they can be” explains the protagonist. And OASIS really looks like the world of endless possibilities: you can assume the look you want and do whatever you want, with no apparent limitation. You can even be killed, but it’s nothing more than crumbling into the thousands of coins and items one has accumulated over the years and starting from scratch after you recover from the frustration of defeat.

The juxtaposition between real and virtual is a subject that has been populating big and small screens alike for many years now. Just think that the tools used to enter OASIS, a VR viewer and a haptic suit, are no longer science fiction).

Spielberg is unable to tackle this issue in a truly original and convincing way, partly because Wade’s reality, initially kept on the tones of resignation and daily routine, soon becomes a second videogame complete with drones, explosions and incredible pursuits; but above all because there’s a basic incongruence between the moral words and the message.

In fact, right from the beginning it’s clear that, in order to redeem himself from his social status of outcast, Wade must win the virtual challenges and find the Easter Egg (Halliday’s secret prize hidden inside OASIS, which will grant the winner total control over the world he created). So the closing words of the film, that “reality is better, because it’s real”, is a bit underwhelming. Only modest change results — closing OASIS two days a week in order to have more time to spend in the real world.

Overall, the movie is distant from the argumentative rigor of Matrix, but it conceals its incoherence with elegance, drowning in beautiful animation and an ocean of pop culture references. From Back to the Future to Star Wars, from The Lord of the Rings to Shining, (and through dozens of lesser known movies and videogames), the only references that seem to be missing from the fold are the ones to Spielberg’s own works, which were present in the book.

It’s easy then to imagine that that determining factor for the box office success has not been today’s teenagers, but rather the teenagers of the 80s and 90s, who had their fun discovering their own Easter Eggs and becoming literally part of the game.

What remains at the end of the movie is not so much the shining surface, but the search for a relationship with Halliday: a rather bizarre “God”, but at any rate the only actually “real” presence inside a world reduced to pure appearance.

Giulia Cavazza recently graduated from the International Screenwriting and Production Master's program of Università Cattolica, in Milan. She is a contributor of “Scegliere un film”, an annual collection of film reviews. She has published, with Paolo Braga and Armando Fumagalli, a book about antagonists and “bad guys” in cinema and TV series: The Dark Side, Audino 2016. 

 

Giulia Cavazza recently graduated from the International Screenwriting and Production Master's program of Università Cattolica, in Milan. She is a contributor of “Scegliere un film”, an annual collection of film reviews. She has published, with Paolo Braga and Armando Fumagalli, a book about antagonists and “bad guys” in cinema and TV series: The Dark Side, Audino 2016.
 

Michael Cook

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet