Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Runtime: 140 minutes
As a little bit of a gamer nerd and having purchased the original novel (released 2011) prior to its release, I walked into this film with pretty high expectations. I have always loved pop culture and over time it has become a point of pride to know as many quotes, references and film and television characters as I possibly can. Not only does this film bring out my inner nerd, but it pays respect to this alter ego by placing tiny easter eggs throughout the entire film for me to find. While these easter eggs are aimed at games more generally, there is a beautiful scene straight from a Stanley Kubrick film that made me audibly gasp.
Ready Player One is a science fiction narrative that takes place in the dystopian 2044. To escape the harsh reality of pollution, overpopulation, corruption and climate change, James Halliday (more on him later) creates OASIS; a virtual reality world where you can be whoever you want and immerse yourself in the gaming world. Upon Halliday’s death, the OASIS world is informed that he has left easter eggs for gamers to find, with the ultimate prize being full ownership of the OASIS and all the money that goes with it.
We are quickly introduced to our main protagonist: Wade Watts (or Parzival in the OASIS world) who lives in the slums of Columbus with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend. As the opening scene begins, Wade climbs down the various trailer buildings and we can see how the virtual world has truly taken over from the real world, as almost every person has a headset over their eyes, engaging in something else in a far-off land. The audience is quickly reminded that this film is directed by the excellent Steven Spielberg as the shots throughout the film, although containing CGI, are absolutely breathtaking.
As Wade enters OASIS, we discover that he is one of the Gunters (or egg hunters) who hasn’t given up on Halliday’s quest. We quickly meet his virtual friends; Aech, a male avatar that serves as a virtual mechanic, Art3mis, a well-known player and fellow Gunter, as well as players Daito and Sho. The 5 of them soon create an alliance as they all receive the first key and work together to achieve victory. However, with every good team, there is a bad team. In this instance, it is a competing gaming company IOI, run by Nolan Sorrento. Sorrento is hell-bent on getting the OASIS for himself so he can have full control over the gaming world.
Throughout the film, there are several references to video games that will make any gamer nerd happy. Although the film focuses on some 80s references (paying homage to the novel), there are several updated references too. I have only seen this film once and I am sure I missed several references due to the screen sometimes being full of recognisable characters. Blizzard entertainment had several characters from Overwatch, Mechagodzilla fought against a Gundam and of course Halo, just to name a few.
As the film progresses, Wade soon falls for Art3mis and reveals his real name to her. While this did feel a little rushed in the film, it sends a narrative reminder that Wade really is just a teenager. However, due to this mistake, Wade is quickly tracked down by IOI and his home is destroyed. Now on the run, Wade is found quickly by the rebellion and taken underground. Samantha, one of the members, is revealed to be Art3mis and now, more motivated than ever, they both go back into the OASIS to try and get the next key.
The best part of this film is the way in which the world is built. Not only the real-world dystopian future but also the OASIS. For every gamer watching the film, it is a dream come true as the world is full of possibilities and you can live out your favourite gaming dream. There are endless possibilities and Spielberg does an excellent job of showing these possibilities with exceptional cinematography.
The stand out moments for me, surprisingly, was the backstory of Halliday and his reasons for leaving the easter egg. While this for many would have been the slower parts of the film, it did an excellent job of framing the narrative for the audience. This story was extremely touching and drove the narrative in a very personal way. Not only did it humanise a very out-of-this-world plot, but it also tied in with our main character and sent a beautiful message about friendship and the meaning behind his challenge.
My only criticism of this film, and it’s more a criticism of its marketing, is the lost opportunities this film had to do some amazing multi-platform advertising. With a film that is literally based on easter eggs, they had a chance to engage the gamer audience by including easter eggs prior to its release. Other than that, the narrative did seem a little cheesy at times, but that’s exactly what you wanted and expected as an audience member.
Overall, Ready Player One was an enjoyable film, whether you are a gamer or not. With Spielberg’s incredible CGI universe and excellent storytelling, this film left you feeling entertained and more motivated than ever to become a better gamer.