In the year 2045, people can escape their harsh reality in the OASIS, an immersive virtual world where you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone – the only limits are your own imagination. OASIS creator James Halliday leaves his immense fortune and control of the OASIS to the winner of a contest designed to find a worthy heir. When unlikely hero Wade Watts conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends – known as the High Five – are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS and their world.
I was not going to watch this film. A) Steven Spielberg directs. I respect his ability to create an enticing (visual) world and tell earnest stories, but he covers everything in the syrupiest schmaltz. I still cannot forgive him for his un-Roald-Dahl-like treatment of The BFG. B) The film pays homage to ’80s and ’90s video gaming. Apart from a short-lived Tetris obsession, I was never into video gaming. I thought the film would be lost on me. But then, I was invited to a premiere and I could take a +1. My good friend Zaid was eagerly awaiting the release of this film, so I got over myself and my gripes and took him along. What a thoroughly entertaining, often funny joyride it turned out to be.
The CGI world of the OASIS is mesmerising. Because it is completely digitally created, Spielberg, on the one hand, did not have to make it look like anything real, but on the other hand, he could not alienate his audience by going overboard. I am happy to report he reached the perfect balance between the two. The OASIS is immersive and thrilling, but not overwhelming or too strange.
The CGI characters are surprisingly engaging, if a little shallow/underwritten. At the breakneck speed this film unfolds, something had to give, and it was well-rounded characters. What made them engaging enough was, one, terrific casting choices and, two, how their avatars differed from their real-life personas and looks. Ben Mendelsohn’s creepy yet pathetic Nolan Sorrento, along with his inflated super slick avatar, is the most complex and, quite frankly, interesting character. Look out for Lena Waithe as Aech (pronounced H) and the hilariously conflicted villain i-R0k (pronounced I rock).
Despite having Spielberg at the helm, the film is not dripping in schmaltz. Yes, it is not edgy, and it does not explore the real impact of virtual life and a ruined environment, but that’s not why you see a Spielberg film – especially this one. You see Ready player one for the nostalgia, the ’80s soundtrack and the cabal of references: The iron giant, Chucky, King Kong, The shining, the iconic looks of Prince, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, games such as Tetris and Space Invaders, and the ever-popular Staying alive dance routine. This is just the tip of the homage iceberg.
You don’t need to get all, or any, of the references to enjoy the film. It is still a thrilling, albeit sweet, adventure that will leave you gasping for breath.