Everything that Ready Player One relies on is based solidly in nostalgia.
The film is set to appeal soundly to those who view “The Good Old Days” with a sense of reverence. The book is more focused on the 1980’s crowd. The movie, however, makes references all the way up to Minecraft, the ultimate pop culture icon that’s very foundation is built on mining.
Any Spielberg movie fan knows that heavy changes are made in his book-to-film adaptations. Look no further than Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World for proof of that. That holds true here, with fans already making note of the drastic changes made in 2018’s interpretation of Ready Player One. But is a constant flood of beloved pop culture icons enough to carry and entire film?
That’s… entirely up to you.
Every few seconds, the screen bounces out familiar icons from a multitude of properties that make nostalgia reverent films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Wreck-It Ralph look like amateurs in comparison. There’s no way that a viewer can compile a complete list of the film’s pop culture references in one sitting. It’s nearly impossible. Everything from films, music, video games, comics, era fashions, snacks…. You name it, it’s probably here (except for Sony and Disney properties, though two small Star Wars references are made).
The film itself is simple: The year is 2045, where everything looks broken and dystopian. Among the survivors of this world of literal garbage is Wade Watts. Like everyone else, he spends the majority of his life in Oasis, a virtual reality simulator created by a game designer by the name of James Halliday that was obsessed with all things pop culture. Like any good game creator, Halliday put an ultimate Easter Egg in the game accessed by three keys and a series of challenges. Anyone who finds this egg gains full control of Halliday’s fortune and can reshape the OASIS landscape as they please. Of course, everyone is looking for this item, including the IOI corporation, who would like nothing better than to monetize the world, filling it with non-stop ads.
While I hope we as a people can do better for our world in 20+ years time, the goals of IOI are already knocking at our present-day door.
Wade (known as Parzival in-game) has a group of friends that help him on his quest: Aech, Daito, Shoto, and Art3mis, the latter playing the role of his closest partner and love interest. The group is pursued by Nolan Sorrento, IOI’s head of operations, who will do anything to secure the egg.
As mentioned before, the cameos and nods end up taking up the majority of the spotlight, ranging from Akira, to Battletoads, to The Iron Giant. There’s a lot to spot in this film, but where these appearances work best are when they have something to do with the actual plot. There’s a great scene from Kubrick’s The Shining, and the Atari 2600 is featured heavily in other scenes.
The special effects work well, and the film is heavy on action. The smaller nods sometimes have a tendency to work against the film as the viewer is drawn into a “Where’s Waldo” sub-quest (let me know if he makes an appearance in this film) of seeing how many familiar characters can be spotted in the background. The main focus of this film is also its biggest distraction. When the film stops trying to overwhelm you with its depth of geek knowledge, it’s an easier film to consume.
Overall, I enjoyed my time visiting the Oasis. We’re getting closer to realizing it for ourselves, and in some ways, people already live in virtual societies thanks to MMORPGs on game systems and computers, but a world that tantalizes with the ability to explore and experience all of our favorite things without the harsher and more tedious aspects of reality does tend to be a siren song in itself. Why experience real life when you can do something better?
I don’t see Ready Player One as a single viewing film, which is a good thing and a bad thing. The candy coated gloss should not detract from the primary treat inside, and sometimes it does. The film needs an opportunity to give its story a chance to breathe, and it rarely slows down enough to do so because it… oh hey, Blanka from Street Fighter II!
That best describes the largest stumbling block on the film’s part.
Still, if you’re ever looking for a video game version of Ready Player One, you can already find it (on discontinued discount, no less), you can easily find that in Lego Dimensions.