• [The Daily] Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One

    By David Hudson


    When the SXSW Film Festival presented the world premiere of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One last night, “technical difficulties KO’ed the sound for the second time in a row, bringing the dizzying, VFX-fueled video game adventure to a grinding halt just at a climactic moment in an epic battle scene,” as Jen Yamato reports for the Los Angeles Times. But “the freewheeling SXSW festival was the perfect place for the snafu. During the film’s introduction, the audience of pop culture geeks seemed just as excited to see Spielberg in the flesh as they were author Ernest Cline, who co-adapted his own 2011 novel (with Zak Penn), about a youngster named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) on a quest to find a coveted Easter Egg in a virtual reality game filled with endless pop culture references. The film resumed soon enough, prompting a roar of excitement from the audience—and when the lights came up as the credits rolled, Spielberg was welcomed back to the stage with a boisterous standing ovation.”

    “‘I didn’t make this movie just for gamers,’ Spielberg told the crowd, though he mentioned that he'd been a hardcore gamer since discovering Pong on Martha's Vineyard while making Jaws,” notes Rolling Stone’s David Fear. “‘I made this for everybody . . . . The pop-culture references can be seen out of the side windows,’ he added, ‘but if you look right out of the front windshield, you can follow the story.’ . . . So much stuff crowds the frame for so long that it becomes hard to take it all in, even if viewers are used to processing information now at Pentium-chip speeds in their head. There's a lot to love here. There's a lot to hate. There's just a lot of everything, period. The key is getting through it all with bandwidth left over before Game Over flashes onscreen.”

    “In Ready Player One, there is plenty of vicarious fantasy combat, notably a war of the worlds that features the Iron Giant as well as the red-eyed, gleaming silver Mechagodzilla,” writes Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. “Every time a creature like that shows up (at one point, even the monster fetus from Alien makes a kind of palm-buzzer cameo), it’s entrancingly cool. Ready Player One tells a breathless and relatively coherent story—essentially, the future of civilization is riding on the outcome of a video game—but the movie, first and foremost, is a coruscating explosion of pop-culture eye candy.”

    At the Verge, Tasha Robinson argues that “the film improves significantly on the book by prioritizing the story over the signifiers. . . . The exposition is just as bald, but once it’s done, Spielberg can focus on the endless dynamism of a world where anything is possible.”

    As Joanna Robinson, writing for Vanity Fair, explains, Wade is “a nice, earnest boy who lives in the post-apocalyptic ‘stacks’ (so-named because the houses are literally stacked on top of each other) in Columbus, Ohio, in the year 2045. By this time, the real world is so filled with the usual miseries of overpopulation and societal decay that its residents, including Wade and his friends Aech (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Morisaki), and Shoto (Philip Zhao), spend the majority of their time locked into an elaborate virtual-reality world called the OASIS. The four friends and, eventually, Wade’s crush, known online as Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), are all hell-bent on cracking an elaborate and nearly impossible online game constructed by the late OASIS founder James Halliday (Mark Rylance, in top form). In a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-esque twist, whoever finds Halliday’s literal golden Easter egg first will inherit ownership of the OASIS itself.”

    “Spielberg knows how to conduct a larger-than-life car race, even if it’s entirely composed of pixels,” writes Emily Yoshida at Vulture. “Whether or not the IV feed of geek culture is too much entirely depends on your taste, but make no mistake, Ready Player One is nothing if not fun.”

    “Never, ever underestimate Steven Spielberg,” writes IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. “That’s the biggest takeaway from Ready Player One.” It “amounts to a frenetic attempt at remaking the past thirty-odd years of popular culture by one of its greatest architects. Without seeing the movie, it’s hard to imagine anyone could turn it into a satisfying product; by the end, it’s clear that only Steven Spielberg can.”

    “Unfortunately,” writes Monica Castillo for the Guardian,Ready Player One has a noticeable girl problem: it can’t see female characters as just other people. For as skilled and resourceful as Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke) is, her avatar is that of an impossible pixie dream girl—a creature with a svelte body, anime-inspired big eyes, weapons training and the person who knows and loves almost every reference Wade makes. Of course, she’s damaged with a birthmark on her face, and he’s the only nice guy who can see that she’s truly beautiful. Samantha is the artificially programed Eve to Wade’s Adam, but worse because she never gets the chance to sin.”

    “It's a little twisted, at a time in which much of what is soul-sucking in our world was created or enabled by the internet, to cheer for humans who risk their lives to remain in a digital reality,” suggests John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. “In a film and novel full of nostalgia, perhaps the deepest throwback is to the spirit of those early home-computer adopters—many of them trained on Dungeons & Dragons world-building—who deeply believed that wondrous things could spring from the primitive programs they were learning to write. If today's digital citizens could step back from their newsfeed troughs and think about a web they'd actually like to be caught in, maybe there's an oasis worth fighting for somewhere out there.”

    More from Jonathan Barkan (Dread Central), Joi Childs (/Film, 7/10), Britt Hayes (ScreenCrush), Evan Narcisse (Gizmodo), Marlow Stern (Daily Beast), and Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert.com).

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