The Winonan

Film in review: “Ready Player One”

Blake Gasner, Features Reporter

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If I were still a seven-year-old boy, I would have immediately rushed home from seeing “Ready Player One” so I could I dump out my bin of action figures and begin recreating battle scenes from the movie. My Batman would throw a Batarang towards Master Chief only to see it deflected out of the sky by the nunchucks of my favorite ninja turtle, Michelangelo, who would be knocked to the floor by the almighty staff of Gandalf the White. This hectic chaos would rage on for hours as Lara Croft, Godzilla and Darth Vader also join the fray, alongside countless other pop culture icons driving me deeper and deeper into the inner machinations of my imagination. The battle scene being recreated on the floor by seven-year-old me, although not entirely the same as the ones in the movie, is still miraculously consistent with much of the onscreen action we bear witness to in “Ready Player One.” It really bursts at the seams with THAT many pop culture references and cameos. It is a euphoric dream world for nerds like me.

The film is set in the year 2045 when Earth, devastated from environmental neglect, overpopulation and corrupt government oversight, is a hopeless landscape. People escape the dread of reality through their only possible resource, the OASIS, a virtual reality world where nearly anything is possible. People can be whoever (yes, even Batman), go wherever and do whatever they want (within reason) through this new pinnacle of technology. When the genius mind behind this virtual reality software, James Halliday, passes away, he hides three keys throughout the OASIS that will grant ownership of it to the person who finds them all. The search is meticulous and overstuffed with cryptic clues based off 80’s pop culture making its completion a highly difficult task for the generation of gamers living in the 2040’s. The story takes off when our protagonist, eighteen-year-old Wade Watts, stumbles upon clues that lead him to becoming the first person to find one of Halliday’s lost keys, elevating him out of his impoverished life and into a wild adventure through the OASIS (and the entire history of pop culture, in general).

The talent working behind “Ready Player One” is an impressive roster, headlined by one of the greatest directors of all time, Mr. Steven Spielberg. Spielberg’s work with young actors has always been extremely strong, and in this film, he succeeds again. Out of the young cast, Tye Sheridan as Wade and Oliva Cooke as Wade’s romantic interest, Art3mis, are particularly charismatic. The highlight of the whole cast however is not a kid, but rather the 58-year-old Mark Rylance, who as OASIS creator James Halliday, injects his character with a wonderfully memorable yet off-kilter personality. Although the performances bolstering the rest of the cast are all full of potential, they are greatly hindered by a narrative that gives the audience little time to get familiar with the characters.

The second the film kicks off, we are sprinting. Locations, character names and cameos crash down on us and flood the gates of the story Spielberg is attempting to tackle. The film really benefits from this explosive method of information overload during moments of visual emphasis, like the all-absorbing action sequences and eye stimulating explorations of landscapes in the OASIS. These flourish from uncountable amounts of creative and curious details. Although the scope of the world captured in “Ready Player One” is remarkably grandiose, the narrative weight of the story feels surprisingly restricted. Little time is spent exploring the characters’ emotional reliance on the OASIS as an escape from the pain of the real world.

A filmmaker must achieve a balance between style and substance, and Spielberg puts more emphasis on the explicitly detailed texture of the world than the characters and their plight, unfortunately weakening the stakes of the film. “Ready Player One” could have benefitted extremely from more scenes establishing the friendships and relationships of the characters, but instead we are thrust into a high-octane quest that is so bulky that it puts the characters on the back burner.

The prospect of adapting the Ernest Cline’s massively popular novel, “Ready Player One,” was a very ambitious move by Spielberg and welcome return to exhilarating blockbusters. Lovers of the book will notice that the film is nowhere near a symmetrical adaption of Cline’s work. The general premise of the book remains, but specific events are added, taken out and flipped around, similar to his adaptation of “Jurassic Park,” a method that in reflection works less effectively this time. Also like “Jurassic Park” (and not to mention “Indiana Jones,” “E.T.” and “Hook,” amongst others) he still proves to retain the innate ability of being able to capture the youthful sense of adventure. Younger movie goers, as a result, should have a blast in this film (although some of the adult jokes and 80’s references will likely shoot over their heads). Yes, the film does not fulfill all its potential narratively, but the story it does tell is soaked in the modern culture of video games and geekdom, creating a uniquely relatable adventure for young audiences, while also managing to transmit a wise message about unplugging every once and awhile, a reminder we all need at some point or another.

Consensus: If you’re interested in a visually striking, classic adventure film that, from the steadily guided hands of a great director, exudes nerdy pop culture and transports you to an immersive new world, then “Ready Player One” is the film for you.  3.5/5

About the Writer
Blake Gasner, Film Reporter

Blake Gasner works as the current film critic for the Winonan. He is in the midst of his first year with the paper, but his love for cinema is years in the making. Upon discovering the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films on VHS at a young age, Gasner’s imagination became hooked with the storytelling medium. He decided to attend Winona State as a Film Studies and Creative Digital Media major after seeing “La La Land” as a senior in high school.

Movies have greatly effected the course of Gasner’s life for the better multiple times, and he hopes to repay the art form through his work with the paper and future work as a filmmaker. Alongside his position as a film critic for the Winonan, Gasner is also a Resident Assistant in Lourdes Hall and the Vice President of the WSU Film Club. When not involved in his campus activities, it should come as no surprise that Gasner enjoys watching movies, as well as journaling, exercising, and spending time with close friends.

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