I’ll readily admit that I haven’t played a video game since roughly the same time that Ronald Reagan ran for and won his second term in the White House. That preceding sentence will probably go a long way in articulating my disconnect when it comes to a discussion of the film Ready Player One, a movie experience that certainly is enhanced by one’s appreciation of the art of video gaming. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that it’s a prerequisite for one’s enjoyment of the film but it certainly goes a long way in buoying one’s enthusiasm for a film that contains large sections featuring characters in the midst of virtual game battles.

Ready Player One is the latest addition to Steven Spielberg’s directorial resume. The projects he’s choosing nowadays seem to have hit a familiar groove; one serious film (think The Post and Bridge of Spies) followed by one made for the masses (think The BFG and the current film in discussion).  The more serious endeavors tend to be tolerable to dull (think Lincoln), while the ones manufactured for the masses tend to feel like bloated extravaganzas made for the broadest possible audience.

It’s obvious right from the opening frames of Ready Player One, with its uninspired use of the overplayed Van Halen hit from 1984, Jump, that Spielberg isn’t interested in the least little bit of subversion in his approach to things. The film is filled with needle drops of songs throughout, all of them worn to death by creatively bankrupt radio programmers during the last twenty years or so.

Unfortunately, this is the least of the film’s problems. The plot hinges on a futuristic society in the year 2045 where everyone spends one’s spare time indulging in a virtual reality game known as the OASIS. The recently deceased creator (Mark Rylance) of that game left behind the key to his fortune inside the game.

Enter Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a boy from the poor side of the Cleveland, Ohio. Watts is a master gamer and gets caught up in the action, thinking that by finding the game’s ‘easter egg’ he can pull himself out of poverty.

The opposition here is represented by a shadowy corporation who wants to retain control of OASIS and will do all in their power to stop Wade’s quest.

The world of the OASIS is indeed a sight to behold. It’s chockfull of practically every major figure in pop culture from the 60s through the present day. Unfortunately, it seems like all the time and effort went into the production design and not into developing the characters into full fledged human beings. The film doesn’t seem to care about the people that inhabit its world but is more interested in jamming in as many pop culture references as humanly possible. I’ll admit that there’s a clever homage to The Shining amongst the clutter but it’s not enough to save this overlong endeavor with clichéd characters and a nonexistent story arch. It may be a triumph in production design but that’s about the best it has to offer.

Player One is playing in Hickory and all around this area.
Image: Tye Sheridan in Ready Player One

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.