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Ah, Kira
After the unusual experience of a certified flop with The BFG, Steven Spielberg roars back into cinemas in some style with READY PLAYER ONE, a novel adaptation firmly – if virtually – planted in Spielberg’s most iconic decades. Camus straps in…
  "I got to escape into the imagination of Ernest Cline and Zak Penn for three years. It was amazing! But I came back to Earth, a couple of times. I made Bridge of Spies and The Post while I was making Ready Player One. I got that whiplash effect of going from social reality to total escapist entertainment. It’s a great feeling, but it also makes my wife and kids kind of crazy."
  Director Steven Spielberg*


Expectations are rarely useful things to take into a cinema. If unmet, the experience leaves you decidedly 'meh' and if – albeit rarely – exceeded… Well, then everybody wins. If you've seen a trailer you cannot help but have some idea of what you're in for and whether you want to or not, don't think of an elephant. I know what you're thinking. It's not only in the room but as an expectation and like the real pachyderm, it seems to be unavoidable. The one thing I knew going in to Spielberg's latest was that it heavily featured a virtual universe. I certainly don't know about you but I am so tired of virtual worlds but perhaps not for the reasons you may think. Yes, I skew much 'older' when it comes to demographics and yes (as my son reminded me) I've never got to grips with console gaming – my choice – despite my love of narrative and friends my age who've taken to the PlayStation like a buck to slaughter. Ever since I could not liberate bloody Buzz Lightyear from Andy's garage, I've left the virtual to those with more time, more patience and more skill. But the digital landscape so familiar to those with a gamer bent is not a place I inhabit or really wish to inhabit. And this is why.

Ready Player One

If you can imagine anything digitally, then that unshackled freedom locks you down as surely as a painter with an infinite number of colours on her/his palette. Option paralysis. If I know that what I am watching is the result of thousands of talented artists and technicians beavering away behind the scenes, I'm always thinking "This simply isn't real…" And I'm out of the film, spell broken. Now I know that this is so far off the point I may as well be on another planet. It's conceivable that the movie's intended audience probably live in an online world during a lot of their free time. Their (and presumably your) acceptance of it as a valid environment and therefore emotionally engaging is not one I share so I'm sort of handicapped before I even start watching. I'm not after photographic realism though this might be welcome but in the early film days, you had to place a physical object in front of a lens. This was 'real' even if it 'really' wasn't; miniatures posing as full size, matte paintings tricking the eye into believing something was there when it wasn't, forced perspective, multiple exposures etc. But now we have digital and the effects gloves have come off or in the case of motion capture, been slipped back on again. Now we can do anything (except Dwayne Johnson-based giant scorpions apparently) and in almost a philosophical way, this means we can now do nothing without a cynical reading of "It's just digital..." If every word of a sentence is bold, then none is. If we are all special then none of us is. Let me underline that I am not belittling the staggering achievement of Spielberg and his biblical legion of digital effects artists. What they can do is breathtaking but it's like watching the world's greatest chef labour for years making the greatest Quiche Lorraine the world has ever tasted. And I simply do not like Quiche Lorraine. I can still acknowledge what an extraordinary holiday location the island of 'x' is but not if I live there. I am simply weary of the ubiquity of impossible imagery and find no emotional or dramatic comfort or tension in those landscapes and virtual avatars no matter how cunningly crafted. Dragons excluded, the CG work in Game of Thrones is where I can really appreciate the craft, as it's invisible and emotionally effective. And the dragons are really good, don't get me wrong but part of my brain is engaged with the interminable mantra of "Those CG dragons look astonishing!" God, I'm a tough crowd.

I am also well aware that the audience that this film is aimed at is defiantly 'not me'. That said, Ready Player One is enjoyable on its own terms. You could go quietly mad ticking off the cultural references so best let them wash over you. Blink and you'll miss ten. Yes, you pat yourself on the back a few times when the more obscure references flit by and as you're in the OASIS when all of them occur, the dalliance off the plot isn't as injurious as if we were in the real world and asked to appreciate an off-story nod. Well over fifty per cent of the film is set inside the OASIS (it stands for something smartarsey but I don't think your life will be enriched by this information). This is the virtual world created by the digital genius Halliday (played by the BFG himself, Mark Rylance). I love seeing director/actor friendships blossom and am happy to see Rylance in the movie even though he feels a bit crowbarred in, a bit old for the role. I guess that's because he's partnered with Simon Pegg supposedly as a contemporary. That's my assumption and I am happy to be wrong. Guess what? I am wrong. Just to set the record straight, Rylance's character lives to be 67 in the book. I'm also wrong about my next point… Rylance's avatar has the handle of 'Anorak' and I thought, "Isn't that a bit on the nose for a film adaptation of a subject that's cutting edge technology?" Can I suggest it's actually uncool? Or is that the point? My generation's digital shibboleth (not the internet company but used in the meaning of 'a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people') was used to differentiate Mac and Windows users. Mac users owned Macs. Windows users trolling as Mac users would call their illusory kit, Apples, Apple Macs or Macintoshes, names, however technically correct, which Mac users never used. The lead bad guy, Nolan, has a hundred nerds in his ear via a remote device feeding him all the nerd info he may need to sign up Parzifal, our hero but the bad guy is busted with some ease. In the book, Halliday was christened 'Anorak' by Kira, the woman he loved so it's more than relevant. My own first impressions were pertinent to the experience of seeing only the movie and not reading the book but they were wrong nonetheless.

Ready Player One

The world as envisioned in 2044 is grim and I mean really grim. RPO's society may well be a future we are realistically heading towards more than any other committed to the cinema screen and that is seriously depressing. It makes Blade Runner's Los Angeles look like Risa. That is a nerd reference and so belongs in this review. The only way out of this world's social drudgery and mind-numbing reality is to jack in to the OASIS where you can be anyone and have any adventure you care to imagine. Parzifal is our hero, a 'Gunter' – Egg Hunter – with a digitally sculpted face and the anodyne look of 'who we are supposed to identify with'. He's looking for Easter eggs within the virtual world, three keys that will unlock the OASIS creator's final message to the 'one' who can decipher all the clues. Tye Sheridan plays Wade in the real world as his insipid avatar shrinks back into irrelevance. The film almost exhales as we swap worlds. Even the grimness of RPO's reality is dramatically more viable than all the impossible shenanigans in the OASIS. I found myself engaging so much more when the stakes were real and not digitally losing the wealth you've picked up over the years online via the digital death throes of a splattering of coin. In short, I cared about the kids on Skid Row but disengaged when in the game. Online, Parzifal is in awe of Art3mis, a resistance fighter trying to keep the purity of the OASIS out of corporate hands. Olivia Cooke has a ball as Art3mis' human alter ego Samantha but I felt that tricks were missed. The alluring, lithe, punk Art3mis is revealed to be a stunning girl who's not fond of her birthmark but really should have been more of an outcast in real life but hey, what am I talking about. This is Hollywood. The bad guys are mostly one note working for Innovative Online Industries (IOI or 101, geddit?) and the lead faux-nerd Nolan is a bland suit and not much else. His assistant is almost a carbon copy of Luv from the Blade Runner sequel, a fierce, no-nonsense sidekick with a hint of sadism and a seemingly identical haircut. As both films were being made simultaneously, this is just how the universe works sometimes. And the novel was published in 2011 so conceivable character origins are further blurred.

There are many facets to the film to be admired. The online detective work is a pleasing element and most of the 'Aha!' moments are well delivered. The reveals of the gamers' identities is sugar sweet and as I mentioned, for me, the real world is where all the drama lies. It's no coincidence that the early trailers featured a cover of Gene Wilder's Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The song lies dormant for decades and all of a sudden it's used in Thor Ragnarok and the trailer for Spielberg's latest. The dénouement of RPO owes quite a bit to Wonka. Its vibe is identical, the hunt for someone worthy of such great responsibility. The argument will rage on; is all this virtual game-playing actually good for us? That's really not the question any more because it's embedded in our culture in such a way that its effects cannot be broadly judged in a conventional way. If my parents' most ubiquitous pronouncement throughout my childhood had come true, I'd literally now have square eyes. Spielberg has the fame and clout to pander to his nostalgic urges despite his golden touch having dimmed lately and Ready Player One is tailor-made for him and he does a great job and I'm sure it will leave the Big Friendly Giant's weak box office in the flame trails of Parzifal's DeLorean. But this kind of subject and its attendant overwhelming visual assault just doesn't move me and I don't think it ever will. But if you are like me (unlikely, but hey) you should go for one reason, which I will reveal in two words and let you figure out the rest… The Shining. Enough said.



Ready Player One poster
Ready Player One

USA 2018
140 mins
directed by
Steven Spielberg
produced by
Donald De Line
Dan Farah
Kristie Macosko Krieger
Steven Spielberg
written by
Zak Penn
Ernest Cline
from the novel by
Ernest Cline
Janusz Kaminski
Sarah Broshar
Michael Kahn
Alan Silvestri
production design
Adam Stockhausen
Tye Sheridan
Olivia Cooke
Ben Mendelsohn
Lena Waithe
T.J. Miller
Simon Pegg
Mark Rylance

UK distributor
Warner Brothers Entertainment UK Ltd
release date
28 March 2018
review posted
30 March 2018

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind
War of the Worlds [Camus]
War of the Worlds [Slarek]
Bridge of Spies

See all of Camus' reviews