Steven Spielberg took on quite a challenge directing the dystopian cyberpunk adaptation of Ready Player One. Unlike some of his safer directing choices lately, like The Post, Spielberg’s Ready Player One takes on the new and constantly evolving technology of virtual reality. The movie stars Tye Sheridan, who plays Wade Watts, an orphaned teenager determined to save the virtual reality world of OASIS from an evil corporation. By solving riddles left posthumously by the designer of the virtual universe, Wade teams up with a group of other gamers in search of an “Easter egg” within the game designed to grant the finder control over the digital universe’s future.
First and foremost, the movie is a celebration of achievement in the field of computer-generated imagery. The majority of the action within the film occurs within the OASIS world and includes the virtual avatars of each character. The animation presents an incredible use of extremely realistic digital textures that embraces a video game-inspired artistic aesthetic. The visual design of the universe within the OASIS is astonishing, from vibrant, colorful night clubs to war-torn, desolate planets. However, this movie offers much more than just stunning visuals.
The soundtrack of the film brings the energy of the ’80s to the theater. Spielberg opens the film with Van Halen’s 1983 chart-topper, “Jump.” The high energy synth pop immediately floods the theater with a sense of magic and nostalgia. Featuring songs like “You Make My Dreams” by Daryl Hall & John Oates and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears For Fears, Spielberg pieces together a musical tour of the decade. The further inclusion of “One Way or Another” by Blondie and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister truly captures the rebellious spirit of the ’80s manifest in the plot.
Packed thoroughly with references to pop culture, Ready Player One pulls the audience through a nostalgic journey that looks back at the best of the ’80s. With a particularly inventive parody of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the film recreates the Overlook Hotel in which the movie took place. Spielberg’s homage to Kubrick creates a golden comedic atmosphere in which characters unfamiliar with Kubrick’s plot hilariously spar against the film’s villains. These pop culture references within the film serve as their own form of Easter eggs for audiences to catch while watching. Though Spielberg’s constant nods to pop culture references feel oversaturated at times, they remain well executed throughout the entire film.
The movie, however, was not perfect. It lacked certain elements of character development that many critics complain were present in the original novel by Ernest Cline on which the movie is based. Indeed, Wade’s character undergoes extremely minimal character dynamics within the plot. His emotional development never seems to extend beyond building a romantic relationship with another character, and he does not seem to have matured much by the end of the film. Further, Sheridan’s portrayal of Wade offers a limited range of facial expressions that makes many of his scenes emotionally flat and tedious to watch. Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of the movie’s central villain, Sorrento, is particularly one-dimensional and unexciting. Mendelsohn fills his diabolical plotting with common tropes, and his acting feels unbelievable at times.
Ultimately, the themes within Ready Player One resonate deeply in today’s increasingly digital and corporatized world. The Black Mirror-esque digital dystopia offers insight into the overwhelming negative implications for human reliance on digital means of escapism. The issue of class warfare and corporate control of our digital lives comes through particularly heavily, given the current tumultuous climate of corporate interference in people’s digital lives, as in the case of Facebook’s privacy invasions and data surveillance. Spielberg’s contribution to this dialogue is as timely as it is successful.