The Bock’s Office: ‘Ready Player One’ a nostalgia-infused, sometimes buggy visual delight
When you’re borrowing a souped-up DeLorean, The Iron Giant and scenes directly lifted from one of the all-time scariest horror movies, you’re bound to gather onlookers who either can’t get enough of the references or are utterly disgusted in your lack of originality. Well, get ready, because “Ready Player One” is going full steam ahead with it whether you like it or not.
In 2045, the people of Earth have more or less given up.
Social and political advancements are a thing of the past as more and more of the world’s population retreats into the last booming industry, the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, otherwise known as the OASIS.
The online sensation is a world unto itself — hundreds of times more engaging than the average video game, more extensive than the internet and far more tantalizing than virtual reality, an interactive place of knowledge and entertainment that nearly every living person spends hours enjoying.
The program is the brainchild of technical visionary James Halliday (Mark Rylance), whose sudden death has only made his creation all the more popular. With no heir to his fortune, Halliday’s challenge to the world is to seek out three keys that will reveal a hidden Easter egg within the program, the lucky finder automatically inheriting $500 billion and majority share of the OASIS.
Among those searching high and low in every corner of the online refuge is teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), seeking a way out of his meager existence in a dingy Midwestern trailer park, the closest thing to escape is seeing the world through the eyes of his avatar, Parzival.
Though no one has made any progress in the game, Wade’s years of research on Halliday helps him find a clue in the unlikeliest of places and jump to the top of the leaderboard, progress which catapults him to instant fame.
But, not all the attention is positive, as he discovers there are plenty of people who will stop at nothing to take him down, both within the OASIS and in real life.
In his younger days, Sheridan has had better showcases of his talents in “The Tree of Life” and “Mud,” but lighter fare still suits him even in a well-worn role of a kid who comes from nothing hoping for glory. Like Charlie Bucket and Harry Potter, he’s unrealistically noble as he unravels the mysterious thread to the center of Halliday’s puzzle, yet that’s what we’ve come to expect by now, right?
Besides, living in a tiny shack with your grandparents all in the same bed or being locked under the stairs is nothing compared to the hard knocks of living in Columbus, Ohio…
Olivia Cooke outshines him as a gung ho fellow Gunter — egg hunter — going under the online handle Art3mis with a take-no-prisoners attitude the appearance of a fuschia-skinned sprite with a mohawk. What teenage boy wouldn’t be utterly entranced?
As far as engineered appearance, it’s hard to best Rylance as Anorak, the wizard alter ego of Halliday, who lives on in cyberspace as the guide to those on the quest for the ultimate prize. It’s the actor’s portrayal of Halliday in flashbacks — perfectly recreated and available in the OASIS for perusal — that are more intriguing as we see someone who’s the epitome of the social misfit that can only function in the online world.
He may have a legacy akin to Steve Jobs, but his frizzy hair and frazzled appearance could be any anonymous user who spent far more time in front of a screen than anywhere else.
Simon Pegg has a minimal role as his former partner Ogden Morrow — the de facto Steve Wozniak — but all you need to do is look closer to see more of him.
And, let’s not forget Ben Mendelsohn as their former protégé, Nolan Sorrento, now the head of a company named Innovative Online Industries — a meaningless title if you’ve ever heard one — who sets to work an army of corporate drones to capture Halliday’s egg in the hopes of controlling the OASIS and refitting it with the most nefarious thing imaginable: ad space.
With a villain who’s the perfect example of a world where people network without connecting, play without fun and study without learning, the downfalls of the online age are hard to miss, particularly the painful realization that there are always people dumb enough to write their passwords on a Post-It. Yet, there’s no missing the pro side of this list when it’s crafted so lovingly by Steven Spielberg as a universe where anything is possible.
Author Ernest Cline had a hand in adapting his own novel with screenwriter Zak Penn, with the final result a considerable improvement over the book, which, while entertaining, is all tell, no show.
A constant string of references to 1980s pop culture — Halliday’s wish to return to his childhood couldn’t be more apparent — as players in the OASIS reacquaint themselves with classic video games, bands and movies as they move along in the game.
And, yes, that is indeed a clever musical sting by composer Alan Silvestri when the Zemeckis Cube is unleashed.
Spielberg takes a break from the recent heavy material of “The Post” and “Bridge of Spies” and the more rollicking motion-capture features “The Adventures of Tintin” and “The BFG” for a pure popcorn flick.
It’s everything it needs to be visually for something that’s so heavily fabricated and manages to not be a nostalgia vacuum or an echo chamber that keeps repeating, “Remember this?,” though the weak plot and thin characters that make Cline’s book such a polarizing read are still there.
Also, shouldn’t we devote a little more analysis to a dystopic corporation that has effectively legalized slavery?
You can’t deny the flawless veneer of “Ready Player One” is a thrill, even if the players within have as much depth as a hologram. It’s an exciting ride that doesn’t live up to all its possibilities but manages to be a sincere salute to true gamers and fan boys across the generations.
And, with Cline working on a second book, anything can happen from here.
Never underestimate what you can accomplish once you’ve earned an extra life…
So much for the models that predicted a cool, wet summer for us here in western Colorado — at least I think it’s hot this July. Ranchers are probably relieved that it’s been a good haying season, and after the cool spring, it’s nice to have a “normal” summer, but it is indeed hot.