Film Review: Ready Player One

I’m a big Spielberg fan. This perhaps isn’t such a controversial statement. Saying that I like the work of the director of Jaws, ET, Jurassic Park, and Schindler’s List – to name but a few – isn’t really putting myself out there. Added to this is the fact that the world seems to be undergoing something of a Speil-issance with Spielberg nostalgia at an all time high. But consider this, Spielberg has lost a little of his sparkle with the years; Tintin, The Post, and Lincoln, didn’t quite reach those early Spielberg peaks in popularity. One area I had become slightly agnostic on was the Spielberg action flick. Sure, this is the guy that brought us Indiana Jones one through to three, but here’s the thing, he also brought us Indiana Jones four. Now I love Indie, but when you have him surviving a nuclear blast in a fridge, reduce his explorers garb into something comparable with a Marvel superhero’s outfit, and have him battling dimension-jumping aliens, then frankly you’ve lost me Spielberg, along with half your audience.

Unsure as I might have been on Spielberg’s more recent action adventures, I’m still a big admirer of his work. I really enjoyed The Post. Spielberg decided to make a pared down actor centric movie, in which Hanks and Streep performed admirably, but occasionally Spielberg would throw in a dynamic, beautifully conceived and executed piece of camera work that would just remind you of exactly who was behind the wheel – camera. I like this new matured actorly Spielberg, so it was without a huge amount of expectation that I prepared myself for his revisit to the action adventure genre in Ready Player One.

I mean sure, it was supposed to be visually pioneering and whatnot, but would Spielberg be able to deliver in the action format? And why should her really have to? Spielberg has done all of this, he’s proved himself more than capable when he was young and fresh and vital, if he just wants to make esoteric films about past US Presidents, then that is perfectly ok by me. Much like a Led Zeppelin reunion, those older guys have done it and taken it just about as far as they could go. Now where is the sense in revisiting past glories all for a petty buck. Spielberg’s later career is not without delights, The Post and Lincoln are great examples of an older wiser more restrained Spielberg; he doesn’t need to give it those full Spielberg chops anymore, he’s proven that. Much in the way that Robert Plant’s solo work is restrained and reflective, why squeeze back into a tight pair of jeans to relive those Zeppelin glory years. Older artists can provide a vision as unique and arresting as those fresh bursts of creativity were in their youth.

It was a surprise then to find that Ready Player One was excellent. It was really very good fun indeed. The story takes place in a future in which people deprived of a meaningful future have taken to online lives of escapism in a giant virtual reality simulation named the OASIS. The creator of the OASIS has since died without leaving an heir. Instead the new owner of the OASIS is to be determined by who will be the first to discover an Easter egg, or rather solves a quest consisting of several Easter eggs, embedded within the game. This is the starting point from which we travel through multiple reference heavy environments, from races with King Kong to treasure hunts on the set of the Shining, as the hero Wade Watts seeks to resolve the quest and seize the glory.

The OASIS by its nature was very digital effect heavy and littered with pop culture references, which was the film’s great charm. Spielberg was able to take this entire artificial spectacle and ground it in the film’s characters. It was done with a considerable degree of fineness. This wasn’t all budget and no brains. On the contrary, it had sufficient brains to justify the budget, which is an increasingly rare thing.

This has left me thinking that perhaps a Led Zeppelin reunion isn’t such a bad prospect. If Spielberg is still able to squeeze himself into an unforgivingly tight pair of retro jeans and relive his youthful heyday, then why can’t they? But then again, for every Spielberg-esque success story there is a Ridley Scott revisiting Aliens, and who knows what James Cameron will come out with in his pre-filmed Avatar quadrilogy. I’m not sure we’re ready to see Rick Wakeman squeezing into a pair of ill fitting flares any time soon either. Perhaps the Speil-issance is best left to only the man himself, but it is with substantially refreshed optimism that I await Indiana Jones five, radioactive fridge and all.

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