Steven Spielberg's READY PLAYER ONE
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
With some skepticism I went to see Ready Player One.
While I've long been a Spielberg fan with a special respect for his science fiction, I’m not now nor have I ever been a “gamer.” My only connection to videogames has been through my son. A gift to him of a Nintendo machine when he was 6 years old set off a lifelong interest in the genre and provided opportunities for me to observe his gameplay over his shoulder while he was living at home. I feared that a lot of Ready Player One would go right over my head.
Also, before the movie I listened to Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack album. I was not impressed. The music contains no outstanding melodies or themes and sounds too much like “background music” keyed to reflect or emphasize action.
But, what about the movie Ready Player One?
My reaction after seeing it from a front row seat: It’s terrific. In fact, I’d love to see it again.
Ready Player One moves constantly. Production details are phenomenal as one would expect from the director responsible for films such as War of the Worlds and Minority Report. The worlds and images created for those movies pale in comparison to Ready Player One.
The many references throughout this current movie are not just to video games but to movies and music as well. In lesser hands Spielberg’s movie might have become just an exercise in cultural kitsch and nostalgia. Instead Spielberg’s emphasis on motion, story, and character raises it way above average.
Still, we are left with some serious questions. The “little guy versus evil mega-organization” has been handled elsewhere in more serious or satirical fashion; Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is an example.
Also, the movie’s main story presents its “us versus them” theme in terms of control over a virtual reality world that has become an escape from a crushing dystopian future. I could not help but wonder: is this control over an escapist unreality really where future rebels need to focus their energies? Or, is Hollywoodian Spielberg unconsciously over-emphasizing the importance of escapism and entertainment?
Maybe I have to read the book to get a better handle on such questions. I also recall how maturely and realistically a fictional character’s fascination with pop culture was handled in Junot Díaz' The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; that novel was anything but “escapist.”
Also, Ready Player One places so much emphasis on referencing pop culture as a basis for its characters' actions that I could not help but wonder why they aren't more creative about their own world? Why adopt characters and features from the past like Buckaroo Banzai and Back to the Future? Why doesn’t Our Hero create his own transportation vehicle instead of using a DeLorean?
I should not complain. I would probably adopt the “flying cage” that far-future Mecha archeologists used at the end of AI: Artificial Intelligence to get around.
Ready Player One may “just be a movie” but it’s an incredibly solid piece of entertainment. And, I'm embarrassed to say, it has certainly made made me want to see Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for the first time!
Review copyright © 2018 by Dennis D. McDonald