New Realities

He practically invented the blockbuster movie, after Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the 1970s, E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark in the 1980s and Jurassic Park in the 1990s. So it makes total sense for Steven Spielberg to bring Ernest Cline’s YA novel, Ready Player One, to the big screen. Make no mistake: this is Spielberg’s most exhilarating big screen entertainment in years, filled with exactly what he does best – thrill rides, young dreamers and cutting-edge tech.

Set in Ohio in 2045, the film’s hero is Wade Watts (Mud’s Tye Sheridan), an orphan living with his aunt in “The Stacks”, a cramped looking housing project on the grim side of town. With real life so dour, Wade indulges in a virtual reality game called The Oasis, an all-encompassing digital environment that allows players to be whatever they want. Your imagination is the only limit.

What drives the story is a quest set by the game’s late creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a rather shy, insular Bill Gates-like genius. Find three keys in The Oasis and the rights to the game and Halliday’s stock will be yours. Wade – or Parzival, as his digital avatar is called – is joined by others in this Holy Grail search that he’s never met in the real world, like Aech (Lena Waithe) and the spirited Art3mis (Olivia Cooke).

Hounded by the villainous Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), chief of evil tech corp IOI, the race is on. But while that’s the motor driving Cline and Zak Penn’s screenplay, the real fun comes with exploring The Oasis’ nostalgia-packed environment. References abound largely to 1980s pop culture, everything from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. There’s even a “Zemeckis cube” – a time-shifting device named after Spielberg’s old pal, Back To The Future director Robert Zemeckis.

Visually, the film is stunning, shifting between the real world and the digi-scape of The Oasis, which looks rather like the video game series Final Fantasy. But it’s the depiction of the world that really hits home. Just as Spielberg managed in Minority Report, with its dystopian look at the future, this is a persuasive view of the shape of things to come. Suggesting that we should all take in more of the world around us, rather than engaging with our digital lives, it’s a simple but salient point.

Ready Player One opens in cinemas on 29 March. Find out more here. 

James Mottram

1. Still from Ready Player One.