It is unprofessional of me to rely on internet acronyms, however LOL... Hollywood have been celebrating retro storytelling for aeons, and it is simply a shift in perception that determines what qualifies as “retro”. A reliable measurement is generally 30-years, as proven by filmmakers in the 60s and 70's telling stories from the 30's and 40's (The Sting, Bonnie & Clyde, Chinatown), and filmmakers from the 80's and 90's celebrating the 50's and 60's (Stand By Me, A Christmas Story, The Outsiders) etc. And so we arrive at contemporary Hollywood, where the children of the 80's and 90's are the filmmakers of today, and they are telling stories that reflect their own upbringing. Suffice to say that “retro” is an ever-shifting perimeter that has always permeated cinema.
As for Spielberg's age (sorry) … LOL. The guy IS retro, not to mention being responsible for the majority of homages being paid today. He created some of cinema's most iconic characters and has watched the creation and evolution of videos games from an entirely adult perspective. From Atari's “Computer Space” ('71) to Ubisoft's “Farcry 5” ('18), he has witnessed the rise of the video game industry and has even contributed to it with games like “ET”, “The Dig” and “Medal of Honor”. And considering his precision with technologically sophisticated filmmaking (Minority Report, War of the Worlds, The Adventures of Tin Tin etc) I can't think of a more qualified candidate to direct the theatrical adaptation of Ernest Cline's cult novel READY PLAYER ONE!
Set in 2045 the film depicts a dystopian future where society is crippled by poverty, over population and corporate greed. To escape the wretchedness of their deprived existence, the citizens of the world spend most of their time inside a virtual utopia known as The Oasis. It is an online game universe where people can socialise, profit and indulge. There are no rules and the virtual world is populated with pop cultural references from the previous decades. When the creator of The Oasis died, he left behind an easter egg; a secret treasure buried deep within the game, and whosoever should discover it would, in turn, inherit his wealth and ownership of the entire Oasis. And so for several years the world has been invested in the quest for The Oasis, and giant corporations pour endless resources into acquiring the game's enormous value. To put it bluntly, READY PLAYER ONE is a science fiction adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The film itself is a treasure trove of pop cultural references and demands multiple viewings. It is so chocked with famous characters and references that no one viewer could possibly identify all that the film has to offer. From the obvious nods to Back to the Future, Godzilla and The Iron Giant, to more subtle treats from Say Anything, Tomb Raider, Christine and Knight Rider. The density of references is overwhelming and gamers and movie-goers alike have been treated to the biggest scavenger hunt cinema has ever seen.
Such is the nature of the story and its concept that there isn't any time for those pesky things like character development and subtext... and who needs 'em? READY PLAYER ONE doesn't need that level of depth, and its strength lies within its adventure. Much like Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, or The Goonies (which he wrote) the film is a methodical point-to-point structure, with each advancement relying on the solving of a riddle. We know of our character only what we need to, and rather than adding extra convolution to the story, their personal motivations are simple. Hardship and oppression are the forces which drive all of these people, and delving into their own personal back stories would be a disservice to the narrative.
Spielberg embraces the intricacies of the READ PLAYER ONE universe with the skill and finesse that we should expect from him, and rather than being an out of touch codger (as many predicted) he proves to be an articulate and astute practitioner, blending his contemporary proficiency with his love of nostalgia. Of course he would not have made the film without the reliance of the source material and a stable of nerdish advisors... but hey, no captain steers their ship without deckhands.
While there's little room for stand-out performances, the cast is made up of a reliable ensemble. Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cook and Ben Mendelsohn lead the film and portray their live action characters as well as their online avatar counterparts. They all offer an appealing on-screen presence, with Mendelsohn indulging in a particularly maniacal villainous persona. They are supported by players such as TJ Miller, Lena Whaithe, Simon Pegg and an exceptionally dynamic Mark Rylance. Rylance has become Spielberg's unofficial muse, having previously given outstanding performances in The BFG and Bridge of Spies. He gives a fantastic turn as the meek and geeky video game developer who created The Oasis, and he taps into the nerd-like nuances to perfection.
Steven Spielberg has outdone himself with READY PLAYER ONE, and delivered a film that cannot be fully surmised with one viewing. It is richly textured, methodically detailed, and above all else.... incredibly fun. See it once at the cinema.... see it again at the cinema.... and then watch it over and over again in HD at home. I suspect it will continue to reveal its secrets for some time to come.