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TAC Reviews...Ready Player One

 

Released in 2018 Ready Player One is an American science-fiction film directed by Steven Spielberg which is based upon the book of the same name by Ernest Cline. The novel was first published in 2011. The film stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Simon Pegg, TJ Miller and Lena Waithe.

 

Ready Player One Poster

 

There was a lot of hype surrounding this film, the trailer showed glimpses of the DeLorean from Back to the Future, the Iron Giant from the film of the same name, King Kong (again from the 1933 film) and plenty of others. The theme of the movie was about finding an Easter Egg hidden somewhere in a massive virtual reality online game. If you are unfamiliar what an Easter Egg is in media, let me explain, it is a reference to another film or television show, or a hidden joke or meaning. For example in The Evil Within 2 you can find a Fallout bobblehead, a model of the Doom-guy from Doom, a mug from Prey, all of which are references to other games made by Bethesda. None of these serve any purpose other than for the player to collect. Easter Eggs in movies are the same. Think back to Iron Man 2 when Tony Stark picked up Captain America’s Shield and then used it to prop up a piece of piping, it is stuff like that.

 

Ready Player One takes place in 2045, the population all spend the majority of their time in a massive online virtual reality world known as the OASIS co-created by James Holliday and Ogden Marrow of Gregarious Games. After Holliday’s death his online avatar Anorak announces that there are three Easter Eggs hidden within OASIS that open a door containing a Golden Egg. The first one who finds the keys and that Egg will gain control of OASIS as well as Holliday’s entire fortune totalling trillions of dollars. The hunt has attracted Grunters (egg hunters) as well as interest from Innovative Online Industries CEO Nolan Sorrento who seeks to take control of OASIS for himself. He uses IOI employees to try and find the egg so his company can take control of it.

 

Wade Watts (Sheridan) is an orphaned teenager (and the story’s narrator) that lives with his aunt and abusive boyfriend, in a slum area of Columbus, Ohio. He spends most of his time in OASIS using his avatar Parzival, his best online friend is Aech, a virtual mechanic (who he has never met in the real world). The only clue that anyone has ever discovered regarding the location of the first key is that it is at the end of a dangerous race. Whilst characters can die in the OASIS and respawn they will lose everything they have acquired since they started playing the game. So naturally people are cautious as no one wants to have to start over from scratch. No one has ever successfully finished the race and whilst Parzival and Aech have both run the race many times in their custom vehicles the Back to the Future DeLorean and Big Foot Monster truck respectively, neither of them, nor has anyone else ever finished it. During another attempt Parzival meets Art3mis, a fellow and well-known grunter, and whilst none of them succeed in getting to the end of the race, Parzival takes Art3mis to Aech to repair her bike after it is destroyed during the race.

 

The three scour the archives of Holliday’s life looking for clues to solve his Easter Egg, and after figuring out a clue Parzival finishes the race and unlocks the first clue. He shares the solution with Aech, Art3mis, and some of his other online friends.

 

Following the clues to what they believe to be the next clue Parzival makes the mistake of revealing his first name to Art3mis after telling her that he has fallen in love with her. Aech points out that no one in OASIS is who they appear and “she” could quite easily be a he, or might even be working for the bad guys.

 

Revealing his identity proves to be a mistake as Sorrento tracks Wade down in the real world and warns him what will happen if he doesn’t help IOI find the Golden Egg first. With threats in the real and artificial world closing in around him, Wade must turn to his friends and the others in OASIS to survive...

 

The first thing that you will notice when you start watching Ready Player One are the pop cultural references that link to films from the 1980s, 1990s, extending through to 2000s, and 2010s. Honestly the amount of times I wanted to pause the film just so I could pick out as many of the references as possible became too many to count. The initial race scene has not only the DeLorean but Christine from the Stephen King book and film, as well as the bike from Akira. That is only one sequence. There are so many blink and you’ll miss it references that are in the foreground and background of the movie. Abbie has only been active for a year so has no nostalgia for the past, not like I do, and I was happily pointing out one after another to her (despite her asking me to stop). From my perspective I was quite happy spotting these references but Abbie didn’t know what the majority of them were so her interest in the film began to wane rather quickly.  

 

The visual effects of the film are stunning, the world of the OASIS is incredible detailed and the characters look like more advanced versions of the computer software currently available to you humans. The visual style works so effectively because unlike something like Avatar in which James Cameron was trying to convince us that the citizens of Pandora were real, Spielberg has no such limitations. We know that we are seeing an artificial world that is completely computer generated so effects like King Kong or a T-Rex don’t look out of place alongside the avatars when bad computer generated effects can look atrocious next to live action actors.

 

Once you get past the references and the visual style, you start to really see some of the issues with the film and the world it creates. For starters I’m not sure if anyone in this world actually has a job. No one (apart from Sorrento) is actually seen doing anything that would constitute employment; all of them spend all of their time within the OASIS. How do they get money if none of them work?? It is never stated and the majority of the people within the world can be online all of the time. When you have “friends” online you begin to notice when they tend to be online, not surprisingly if they are in the same time zone they tend to be online after say 6 o’clock which is after they have come in from work. People in other time zones play around their work life and some might not get online for days or weeks. How does this society function if everyone spends all day every day within the OASIS would working or contributing anything to their society??

 

The interface is an extension of the human tech of today and not only to people wear virtual reality headsets they can also wear gloves, or body suits and even entire rigs set up to enhance the experience of the OASIS. But what I found strange was that there did not seem to be an interface that would enable disabled people to play. Everyone we saw was able bodied and some were jumping over their sofas and other furniture as they played, why didn’t Holliday design the game to allow less able bodied people to experience the world of the OASIS too?? Would it not have made more sense as it would give those people the sensation of being able to move as though they had a body again??

 

I am also assuming that the OASIS is a world-wide game and yet when things go sour Wade discovers that everyone he was friends with in the OASIS lives a couple of streets away from him. Seriously it doesn’t matter who they are, all of them manage to meet him in the real world without any difficultly. If one of my online friends told me that I need to be in Grand Central Station in New York in 30 minutes...okay I could easily do that thanks to my intergalactic space ship...but if I was a regular human there would be no way that I could do that. It seems pretty convent that everyone Wade’s avatar Parzival knows also lives in the same city as he does.

 

The fact that a player will lose all of their stuff and collectables if they die also seems to be a massively contrived reason to add threat into this world. I mean imagine spending hundreds of hours, or days, weeks, months and years, building up a character only to have someone randomly shoot and kill their avatar, forcing them to restart from scratch. I don’t about you but that is the kind of rage-quit educing scenario that would lead me to never want to set foot into the OASIS again. There are no storage crates or safe rooms anywhere that players can leave their stuff in so it doesn’t get lost should they get killed.

 

Also when people pull off their visors in some scenes that logs them out, and yet in others it doesn’t. Again if someone dies they lose everything so in scenes where they are in danger why don’t they simply pull off their visors or log out before their avatar is killed??

 

There are games that have Hard Core modes or difficulties in which a single hit will kill a player or saving is disabled, or whatever, but those modes are usually reserved for the die-hard challenge nutters or the sadomasochists who get off on playing games against impossible odds. Personally I am not one of those people and if I started playing an online game like GTA Online for example only to get killed in a mission and booted back to a time before I had my high-end apartment, businesses and cars I would never return to the game again. I don’t get whilst people would throw so much time and effort into a playing a massive game in which they lose everything they have worked for in the event they die.

 

The interface that the players use in the game are mainly visors, there are numerous times in the film when a player is in the OASIS and yet they are able to see what is happening in the real world too. Does the interface just overlay the real world?? Wouldn’t that get incredibly difficult for a human’s brain to cope with?? How could they tell what was happening in the game world compared to the real world if one was layered over the top of the other?? Again sometimes they pull up their visors to see what is happening around them and yet other times they don’t. There are inconsistencies with the technology the characters are using in which sometimes it works one way and sometimes in another. Parzival does acrobatic roundhouse kicks on another character but we don’t see Wade doing anything like that. Plus at the time when Parzival does it Wade is in an apparatus suspended by cables from the ceiling of a moving truck, so I guess you could say that is how he does the kick, but he doesn’t get tied up in the cables. I don’t see why sometimes the visual feed from someone in the real world impacts their avatar in the OASIS but other times it doesn’t.

 

Characters can also wear full body suits which mean they can feel stimulations from within the artificial world, during the final fight between Parzival and Sorrento (as well as other times in the film) they are both able to exact physical pain on the other in the real world through the suit. I don’t understand why these suits would be designed to inflict potentially harmful levels of pain on the player. Who would buy one of these suits and want to feel the actual sensation of a bullet tearing through their flesh as they get shot in a death match?? I heard about a game called “Blood Sport” in which when a player is hit in a game like Call of Duty actual blood is drawn from them. I don’t know if it was a means of making people aware that donating blood can save lives or was just a straight-up gimmick but for good reason there doesn’t currently exist a controller that will stab a player in the hand if they get hit in-game.

 

Wade “falling in love” with Art3mis, who in real life is a woman named Samantha Cook (played by Olivia Cooke) is also one of the sticking points of the film for me, he meets her during the race at the beginning, he tells her how to solve the first clue, next thing you know they are dancing in a club together with him professing his love for her. She rebuffs him telling him that he doesn’t even know her and as Aech points out, she could be a he in the real world.

 

Nothing is made of this idea.

 

Wade meets her in the real world and she has her hair pulled low over one of her eyes. It turns out she is part of a resistance that is fighting IOI, she tells him that her family lost everything, and for her finding the Golden Egg isn’t a game, and blah, blah, blah. When we see her hair pulled down over her eye I was thinking that maybe she has lost an eye, or the corporation that lead to the death of her father resulted in her loosing an eye. Or there would be some scar or something...do you know what is on her face?? A birthmark...that’s it. The first time Wade meets her she has her hair low, after he tells her he thinks she’s hot, for the rest of the film her hair is tucked behind her ear showing off the birthmark that she was embarrassed by only minutes before. Unsurprisingly Art3mis is indeed a she and is pretty attractive. Would it not have been more interesting if she couldn’t walk so she used the OASIS to feel whole again??

 

Wade trusts her immediately; couldn’t she have been an undercover agent working for IOI that is using him to find the Egg??

 

If Parzeval had known her for years within OASIS as he does with Aech, then there would be a reason for him to trust her. As it stands I fail to see why Wade would immediately trust a pretty face when that face belongs to an avatar that could be an employee of the IOI for all anyone knows.

 

Naturally I have picked a lot of holes in the film but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy it. However my enjoyment came mostly from trying to spot all of the references and excitedly pointing at the screen to show Abbie. But I have to acknowledge that from her perspective this film was massively hyped up, and really failed to live up to the hype surrounding it. As far as I’m concerned it is a good film, so it is getting a Thumbs Up, sadly I think it could have been a whole lot better.

 

 

7/10 – Losing everything if an avatar is killed is a contrived reason to add threat to a world in which no threat should exist. Wade falling in love with an avatar which turns out to be a hot girl with a birthmark that embarrasses her for some reason falls very flat and forces a romance into the film didn’t need to be there at all.

 

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© Chris Sharman