The 1980s is a major reference point for Steven Spielberg’s new movie Ready Player One, based on Ernest Cline’s book which was sold as a screenplay to Warner Brothers studio within 24 hours of first print. Cline created a cyber universe that has been fashioned by the software and computer games of the past 30 years. Given the corporate involvement, it’s worth noting that most of these cultural references are licensed by Warner Brothers studio.
This film begins in a multi-level trailer park in Youngstown, Ohio, circa 2045. Given their dismal reality, most of the population escapes to the Virtual Reality of the Oasis. The Oasis is a vast and detailed universe created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance, Spielberg’s favorite actor as of late). Halliday is a cross between Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and Ben Bernanke. A single man with no heirs, Halliday dies — leaving the fate of the Oasis in a state of flux.
In his will, Halliday made sure to transfer the Oasis to the people who understood his vision. In the cyber games, Halliday planted three keys for people to find to unlock three magic gates. Two years post mortem, no one has yet found the missing keys. Enter Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who goes by his avatar name — Parzival, who spends most of his waking hours in the Oasis. Parzival makes friends with other avatars and, together, form a team to locate the three keys.
The plot for Ready Player One is that simple. It is the overwhelming detail that could confuse some ticket buyers. Having lived through the cultural references of the Bee Gees, Duran Duran and A-Ha, I found a connection that people (a few years older than me) could find it hard to relate to. Beyond the bells and whistles of cyberspace icons and avatars, Ready Player One reveals an important theme about human relations and friendship.
Spielberg is still a master storyteller with a great visual eye. Having eschewed the naive wonder of Close Encounters of a Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Spielberg’s science fiction flicks since the turn of the century have taken on a darker hue with films like A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report and War of the Worlds. Ready Player One feels like a compromise between the two contrasting visions of light and darkness.