Tropic Sprockets / Ready Player One

By Ian Brockway

“Ready Player One” is Steven Spielberg‘s latest matinee thrill. Though somewhat faltering, it is stunning, big, bold and ambitious. It is based on a novel by Ernest Cline that focuses in part on the contrast between a digital internet realm and our earthly concrete life. The film is chock full of color and stimuli and it is threaded with thoughtful commentary. But it does stumble when the plot zooms in on seemingly endless video game style wars and battle sequences.

It is the year 2044 and due to an energy crisis, the middle class is gone. Thousands of people live in high rise trailer parks. The color gray is ubiquitous.

Teenager Wade (Ty Sheridan) lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend. To escape anxiety and boredom, Wade spends whole days on the net with OASIS, a virtual world created by Mr. Halliday (Mark Rylance) where people can make actual money and experience semi- tangible emotions. Halliday has started a contest to find three keys. The finder of these objects will own and manage the OASIS. Wade is driven to win.

The film is Federico Fellini as interpreted by Spielberg, with numerous quirky goblins and ghouls floating about on the screen. King Kong smashes and roars. Cars rip upon the road. There are numerous explosions and collisions. Batman is here but he is ineffectual. Noise and confusion reigns.

The best and most intense scene takes place in the setting of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” Rivers of blood pour through the elevator as Wade runs for his life. The scene is a stand-alone wondrous sequence and a loving detailed tribute to the master director.

But the film flattens out when our hero has to combat endless motley characters from a video universe. It all starts to feel as if the audience is not watching a film, but rather a routine loop in a video game. Every segment is full of lasers, knives and high powered guns.

The striking Olivia Cooke has a solid turn as a warrior heroine and Wade’s love interest, while Rylance, a Spielberg regular, is once again terrific as a strange man / boy inventor. Ben Mendelsohn is fine as a billionaire villain, although he hardly stretches his dramatic muscle.

The concept is once again a favorite of the director: of a young boy fighting against authority and utilizing his imagination. It is compelling too, that Spielberg is engaged in a nostalgic exercise of re-living his cinematic past and having fun with it. Wonderful also is this auteur’s belief that this imaginary world, no matter how euphoric, is no substitute for romance, the touch of the human and our prehensile existence.

There are many passages to amaze the eyes and there is no question that Spielberg is a master of film, be it concerned with history or escape. That being said, this is at times a disappointment. Just when the film reaches dazzling heights, it lowers to the sundry events of fighting, swordplay and laser shooting. Since the OASIS environment is supposed to be so vivid, pluralistic and magical, the routinely shown combat is a missed opportunity. Still, even with this plunge, “Ready Player One” makes a fine addition to the director’s canon.

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