Seven years after Ernest Cline’s debut novel Ready Player One hit the stands, its adaptation is finally in theaters. Steven Spielberg took on an almost egotistical project: homaging pop culture, where his print is so essential. Did the director of Raiders of the Lost Ark deliver?
In short, yes: he delivers. Spielberg hands out a perfectly fun film, with lots of excitement, solid characters and beautiful world-building. Few people have Spielberg’s ability to go about an adventure story, retaining its core humanity. You can definitely feel the trademark Spielberg naiveté that made films like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial timeless classics. Still, fans of the book who might have expected something a little deeper could be disappointed.
Once again, Ready Player One is what it is: a fun movie. In terms of Spielberg’s cinema, I’d say it’s a good example of the film genre he practically invented: the blockbuster. It’s colorful, it has a well-defined hero versus villain dynamic and it’s a joy for nostalgia-seeking millennials and X-Genners. The amount of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references might be larger than any other movie you remember seeing. And the references don’t stop at gaming! There’s a particular quest that should make even the most hard-boiled film buffs snicker in giddiness.
This is a movie to kick back in the theater and feast at your knowledge of pop culture. It’s not a Blade Runner-esque deep sci-fi that will help you unravel the mysteries of modern times. Yes, there’s a clear deeper message (life is for the living, not avatars), but don’t expect a gaze into humankind.
As far as the actors go, they’re quite all right, but the performances aren’t necessarily exceptional. The most impressive acting comes from the adults, which is peculiar considering it’s such a teen-centric film. Perhaps the biggest standout is Ben Mendelsohn as the archetypal evil businessman, not too far from his Rogue One character. Mark Rylance’s performance is incredibly sweet, as he channels a nice and shy man and his avatar. T.J. Miller shines in a voice role, and Simon Pegg is as enchanting as always in his little screen time.
Steering away from his usual musical collaborator, John Williams, Spielberg worked with another icon: Alan Silvestri. Silvestri’s score might not as good as Back to the Future or Avengers, but his work is always fantastic. And the pop culture-focused soundtrack is memorable to say the least.
The animation and effects are on par with what you’d expect from the man who founded Dreamworks. If, like me, you were freaked out by the TinTin animation, I’m sorry to say it’s here, too. However, it certainly looks a little more cartoonish than the Belgian uncanny valley resident.
Prepare yourself for an immersive film experience with Ready Player One. Sit back with your 3D glasses and try to catch all the references. And then, allow yourself to return to the childlike state of the Spielberg films you watched growing up. You won’t be disappointed.