Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” seemed like an idea that was destined to be popular right from the time of its publication. The pop culture-filled novel earned a plethora of positive reviews and even became a New York Times bestseller, pretty much making it a foregone conclusion that we would one day see a film adaptation on the big screen, and indeed it’s no surprise to learn that said film rights were nabbed by Warner Bros. a full year before the book was even published. Nor was it a surprise to see Steven Spielberg sign on to direct the reference-heavy walk down memory lane, especially as one of the major players of the times being referred to. With all of the perfect pieces seemingly in place, all that was left to see was what magic occurred when the final product was revealed.
Taking place in the year 2045, reality has become rather harsh, with many people thrown together in makeshift towns of trailers, cars, and whatever other pieces of scrap are around. The only escape these people have are in a virtual reality known as “The Oasis,” a place where anyone can be whoever they want to be. It is here where Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) spends most of his time as his avatar Parzival, hanging out with his friend Aech (Lena Waithe). A few years prior, the creator of The Oasis, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), announced a contest in which anyone who can clear three challenges and collect three keys will gain control of the virtual kingdom and a whole lot of money.
This is why Parzival and Aech have been attempting over and over to win an extremely difficult race that would get them the first key and the next clue. However, things change when Parzival meets Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), a young woman who is trying to win the contest not for the money or glory, but to keep it out of the hands of the evil Innovative Online Industries (IOI) corporation. They soon find themselves fighting for their lives, real and virtual, as IOI fights them at every turn in their attempt to win the contest and take total control of The Oasis.
I have to admit up front that this is yet another book I had never heard of before the film was announced, which is a shame as it sounds like something that would be right up my alley, what with its multiple cinematic, musical, and video game references. Suffice it to say that I headed into this without any knowledge of the source material, freeing me up from judging how well it was adapted, and instead allowing me to immerse myself in this visually resplendent world of incredible graphics, a suitably-exciting narrative, and, of course, all of the pop culture references from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond that you could possibly want in an homage to the classics of the periods.
While the narrative is indeed thrilling enough for the audience, it would seem that the main enjoyment of the film will come from pointing out the myriad of tributes scattered throughout that include everything from The Iron Giant, Dune, Gundam, Mecha-Godzilla, and Buckaroo Banzai to a brilliant segment involving Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (this alone makes the film worth seeing). Sure, the kids in the audience (of which there were several at this screening) aren’t going to get all of the references that are jam-packed into the film, but there’s plenty here to like even so, including the stunning CGI, a good dose of humor, and Spielberg’s always-incredible direction.
As far as negatives go for the film, it must be noted that it does run a somewhat lengthy 140 minutes, which didn’t really feel particularly necessary given how stretched-out the final battle/confrontation/chase is. It’s understandable that they would want to use the climax as one last opportunity to squeeze as many additional references into the film as they could (Chucky, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Halo, Back to the Future, etc.), but you can’t help but feel that the film could’ve been great, instead of just good, if they had trimmed this section a bit so that it didn’t feel like it just keeps going on and on.
That being said, the film is still remarkably fun and entertaining. Pop culture connoisseurs will find it doubly so with all of the little Easter eggs hidden within, while others are in plain sight for all to see. It’s basically a pop culture lover’s dream come true, a film that pays homage to a time that gave us some incredible films, games, and music, all wrapped up as a gift to us from one of the greatest directors of all time. What better gift could a fan ask for? 3/4 stars.