From the cinematic game-changer Steven Spielberg, Ready Player One marks his return to the very genre he single-handedly changed the course of with his sweeping cinematic vision & innate ability to carve moments of pure spectacle in a way that just makes our heart sing. Jam-packed with overwhelming nostalgia & countless references to popular culture from 1970s onwards, Spielberg’s latest presents the master storyteller in sublime form as he delivers yet again with a sci-fi adventure that scores high marks in both quality & quantity of larger-than-life entertainment.
Based on Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name, the story of Ready Player One takes place in the year 2045 where numerous geopolitical events have resulted in much of humanity now residing in slums. Their only escape from the desolation of the real world is OASIS, a virtual reality universe that allows them to live all of their fantasies. The plot follows Wade Watts who tries to win the contest that was announced following the death of OASIS founder, the winner of which will inherit the full ownership & control of the virtual universe, but he finds himself being targeted by another corporation that plans to acquire the OASIS for itself.
There are only a handful of filmmakers whose movies are as popular amongst critics as they are cherished by the mainstream viewers, and Steven Spielberg is undoubtedly on top of that list. Having relegated to making historical dramas of lately, it’s been a while since a Spielberg film was this much fun, adventurous & freewheeling. Infused with a sense of warmth, wonder & magic that only he can provide, Ready Player One sets its premise up with an expository narration that explains the fundamentals of the OASIS with speed & clarity. Every frame in the final print is a pop culture galore yet Spielberg makes sure that his film is more than that and provides it an identity of its own.
The script packs a simple video-game premise, and the various references stay in the background so as to not interfere with the main story while the obvious ones play a key role in the plot development & outcome. The characters don’t really stand out like so many of its action set pieces do but they nonetheless play a serviceable role in the story. Spielberg aims for a balance between nerdgasm & storytelling and manages to walk the fine line with precision for the most part. However, the decision to explain a few nods to earlier films & games felt quite unnecessary, as if it was only being carried out to appease the latest generation of filmgoers who may not be able to connect the dots on their own.
Production design team brings OASIS alive in meticulous detail and makes sure that the navigation through the virtual universe is smooth & effortless. While the very first race sequence does provide an adrenaline rush & jaw-dropping thrills unlike anything in recent years, one particular standout is the tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, ingeniously recreating the setting, mood & atmosphere of that horror masterpiece to near perfection. Cinematography operates the camera with kinetic flair for scenes set in the OASIS while events taking place in the real world come drenched in cold, desaturated colour palette that further reflects the dismal life the inhabitants of this futuristic world have become accustomed to.
Equally worthy of mention are its spectacular visual effects without which Ready Player One wouldn’t exist. And as is the case with a Steven Spielberg film, every VFX shot is exquisitely refined, seamlessly integrated & never feels out of place. Editing isn’t perfect when it comes to interweaving the drama unfolding in two worlds but its terrific pacing brushes away most complaints. The film also marks a rare instance of a Spielberg film not scored by John Williams. Instead, it’s Alan Silvestri who takes up the mantle of providing the musical score and contributes with tracks that gel well with the unfolding segments. Silvestri also incorporates themes from already existing works and utilises them brilliantly.
Coming to the performances, the film features a capable cast in Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, Lena Waithe, Simon Pegg & T.J. Miller, and although there are no standouts, all of them do well with their live-action roles & respective OASIS avatars. Sheridan leads as Wade Watts (Parzival) who faces an extraordinary circumstance after completing the first challenge of the coveted treasure hunt. Cooke plays Samantha (Art3mis), a mysterious figure fighting to ensure that the OASIS doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Mendelsohn is in as the CEO of the conglomerate who seeks total control of the OASIS while Rylance appears as James Halliday, the co-creator of the OASIS who includes an Easter Egg into his creation, the finder of which will inherit the entirety of his virtual reality universe.
On an overall scale, Ready Player One is truly a thoroughly captivating, endlessly entertaining & highly satisfying sci-fi adventure that presents Steven Spielberg in complete control of his craft and ranks amongst his finest directorial efforts. An awe-inspiring ode to the genre that permanently cemented his own legacy, a heartfelt tribute & love letter to cinema & its magical quality, and a nostalgia trip that you may never get enough of, this effects-laden homage to films, TV shows, video games, toys, music, comics & anime of yesteryears is definitely one of the finest offerings of the year so far and deserves to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. Spielberg’s confident & assured direction, his singular knack for envisioning moments of exciting action, and his firm control over all filmmaking aspects is what makes Ready Player One the pure escapist bliss it is in every sense of the word. In short, only Spielberg could have made it as amazing as it turned out to be. A cinematic gem for anyone & everyone. Delightfully recommended.