Ready Player One Is Pure Nostalgic Bliss
Review by Aaron Haughton
Steven Spielberg opens the floodgates of nostalgia with surprising effect in the spring blockbuster Ready Player One, based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline (who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Zak Penn). Very rarely am I struck with the sense of childlike awe that I was while watching Ready Player One, but then again that may be the nostalgia talking... With a film as referential as this, it's hard to not view it through rose-colored glasses, but on the other hand, it's also hard not to love something that feels very much like a master storyteller playing with all my childhood toys. This is ultimately the double-edged sword of the film; for a film whose very premise is steeped in nostalgia, the pop culture references will be the determining factor for just how well the film works for you.
One of the chief issues with Ready Player One is its failure to show not tell. The first act leans heavily on voiceover narration to deliver mounds of exposition, but some of the information received through the VO was already pretty apparent on screen. The narration in the opening act is the only thing pulling the plot along until we get to the first hidden key challenge in the OASIS, and its use at the end of the film to directly deliver the film's main objective and thesis, which is an urge to live more presently in reality as opposed to behind a screen, and perhaps to not revel so much in nostalgia (which is a little ironic). In the film's defense, the first third of the book (which I've yet to read) is apparently just first-person world building and set up; however, opting for narration is by far the easiest option, and the information presented in the VO could've easily been delivered by other, more subtler means. Of course, Ready Player One is a blockbuster, and those film's commonly dull the narrative to ensure the popcorn-eating masses get the point.
As far as the references go, none of them felt forced or out of place. The scenes weren't built around pop culture references, they're just there, and if you see them, great; if you don't get the reference, you're not excluded at all. The nostalgic elements littered throughout the film are merely Easter Eggs (which is probably why the studio locked in an Easter weekend release date), and they may make your nerdy heart swell, but they're not crucial to understanding what's going on in the story. In at least one instance, the pop culture reference is paramount to the story, and takes you back into one of Kubrick's classic films for a 10-15 minute scene that I can only describe as pure nostalgic bliss. Spielberg is one of the few directors I would trust to recreate one of Kubrick's films, and he attacks it with thrilling bravado.
Spielberg's direction is kinetic and exciting, resulting in some truly wonderful action sequences, which are Ready Player One's true bread and butter. Under Spielberg's proficient care, Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke give solid leading performances, and Ben Mendelsohn, who's been on fire since Killing Them Softly, gives another commanding villainous performance, chewing the scenery and eating up the screen whenever present. T.J. Miller is absolutely obnoxious is every scene he appears, which works well for his character because he should be hated, but seemed like the weak link with regard to casting. Any time the film takes a stab a humor, it fails nearly every time, only leaving behind a smattering of chuckles from the popcorn-eating masses, and Miller is a big contributor to those misfires.
At the end of the day, if you don't think too hard about what's happening on screen, Ready Player One should dazzle you with its fun Spielbergian dystopian adventure. For a film that's two and a half hours long, it glides by and leaves you feeling like a kid again, which is Spielberg's crowning quality. Definitely see the film in the biggest theater setting possible.
Rating: 3.5 hidden keys outta 5.
What did you think of the film? Were the references too much? Did the story ring hollow, or were you fully immersed into the both worlds of the film? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!