Film and drama

Movie Talk: Ready Player One (2018)

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Are you ready?

After seeing what was his most anticipated movie of this year – twice, so far – Dan Jensen is ready to give his thoughts on Spielberg's new sci-fi adventure.

Ready Player One

Directed by Steven Spielberg (2018)

BACK IN 2011, the novel of Ready Player One, written by Ernest Cline, hit the bookstands and became an instant hit among pop culture enthusiasts (otherwise known as nerds) around the world. Set in a dystopian 2045, society escapes the bleakness of the real world by going into a virtual reality paradise called the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) — an online universe where people can be whoever they want and do anything they please. As a result, the place is populated by millions of established pop culture characters — let's face it, if you're going to be someone you might as well be Batman or Lara Croft. The creator of this digital realm has left an Easter Egg, which can be found by completing three challenges and it's up to our hero Wade Watts and his friends to find the egg before a greedy corporation wanting to monetise the OASIS with advertisements and take away the fun of it all.

Steven Spielberg is no stranger to crafting movie magic. The guy has directed some of the greatest films of all time, including the Indiana Jones series, Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park and many others. It's not likely that a better man could be found to turn a book such as Ready Player One into a movie and, as a result, we've been given what is one of the most fun rides I've had in a cinema in a very long time. Make no mistake, this film is the very reason we go to the movies.

In terms of visual wonder, Ready Player One is hard to beat. The cinematography – both in the real world and virtual – is absolutely wonderful. One of Spielberg's trademarks is the way he moves his camera and, in this film, it's done with dazzling results, particularly in a thrilling race sequence, where the virtual camera smoothly glides in, out and around the action. The tones and colour palette used throughout the film were very pleasing to the eye, with every scene leaving a lasting impression in the viewer's mind.

The performances were as great as you'd expect from a master director. The lead role went to Tye Sheridan who played the character of Wade (aka Parzival in the OASIS) perfectly, starting out as an awkward teenager and gradually becoming a hero. The female lead role of Samantha Cooke (aka Art3mis) was played by British actress Olivia Cook and I'm not sure which version of the character was more engaging — the real Samantha or her beautifully-designed avatar. Speaking of the avatars – digital counterparts of the real world characters – the motion capture and design work that went into them was a true standout. They were just digital enough to remind you that you were looking at pixels, yet realistic enough to draw you in and believe in the characters.

Australia's own Ben Mendelsohn once again plays a bad guy, this time around Nolan Sorrento, leader of Innovative Online Industries who are willing to stop at nothing to obtain control of the OASIS. Mendelsohn has made quite a name for himself playing villains and does it flawlessly, this film being no different. Yet there was also something unique with his character, an unexpected layer of Sorrento's personality displayed near the end in a moment of confrontation with Wade that I found very interesting.

Other notable performances came from Mark Rylance as James Halliday, the eccentric creator of the OASIS, who brought the character to life in the most charming way possible. Comedic actors Simon Pegg and T.J. Miller also feature, the latter having some truly hilarious dialogue.

The movie also offers some clever social commentary in how we can be different people with online anonymity, themes of corporate greed and also how virtual reality technology is now a big deal. Back in the 1990s, VR demo rigs were found in various shopping centres and arcades, but the headsets were enormous and uncomfortable, and the graphics left a lot to be desired. For many years, VR seemed to disappear, yet now we can find it on our home gaming consoles and even our phones. The tech featured in Ready Player One most likely isn't far off eliminating the Virtual and just becoming Reality.

Ready Player One wasn't without its flaws, though. For starters, some of the characters weren't quite developed well enough to feel much sympathy for in moments when we should. One particular surprise reveal, which should have left Wade dumbfounded for several scenes to follow, seemed to be brushed off fairly quickly. Aside from that, the opening of the film suffered from some terribly lazy exposition, whereby we are shown around the world of the OASIS narrated by our hero when things could have easily been shown visually instead.

One thing worth pointing out to fans of the book is that the movie version is vastly different. There has been some online flak from purists who were expecting a cinematic equivalent of what they'd read, but unless you realise that this is a significantly different beast then you could be disappointed. For what it is, however, the film succeeds on a grand level and fans of the book should rejoice in the knowledge that we now have two versions of the one great story.

But, despite its few flaws, it's hard not to love this movie. Of all the reasons we go to the cinema, it's hard to argue that the main one would be to have fun. Ready Player One delivers this with grand spectacle, exhilarating thrills, dazzling visuals and a cracking good adventure story.

My score: 9/10 — Spielberg has returned to bringing us movie magic, worth seeing multiple times just to catch the plethora of pop culture references.

Dan Jensen is a filmmaker and avid movie fan. You can find more of his movie reviews on his YouTube channel at Movie Talk.

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