By John H. Foote
Released earlier in the year to strong reviews and great worldwide box office, Ready Player One (2018) was an awe-inspiring movie which drew on the last thirty years of pop culture, bringing them to vivid life in a mysterious virtual world called the Oasis. Thus far this year, this might be the best film I have seen, though John Krasinski’s brilliant hushed horror film A Quiet Place (2018) is up there too. With Ready Player One (2018) Spielberg created something truly unique in his filmography, something we have not seen before, and an adventure that is a non-stop thrill ride, exactly like riding a rollercoaster.
When it ended, I wanted to see it again, right away to see what I might have missed. It is that kind of movie, filled with moments that are astonishing in their brilliance, so good you might be still thinking about them and are distracted thereby missing something that comes next. It is a bounty of treats from beginning to end.
I loved it when I saw it in March and loved it more on this second viewing. I hope the early release does not impact its chance for Academy Award nominations.
Why would they release it so early in the year? Should every Steven Spielberg film NOT be automatically considered a potential Academy Award contender? I think so. Through the course of his extraordinary career his films have been Best Picture nominees eleven times, and frankly at least four, perhaps five others should have been in that race. Jaws (1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. – The Extraterrestrial (1982), The Color Purple (1985), Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Munich (2005), War Horse (2011), Lincoln (2012), Bridge of Spies (2015) and The Post (2017) were all up for Best Picture, while Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Empire of the Sun (1987), A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (2001), and Minority Report (2002) certainly should have been. Catch Me If You Can (2002) makes a strong argument for its inclusion to the Best Picture category as well.
Films that can be considered seriously as Oscar contenders are almost always released from September through December, though I concede in recent years that has changed a little. Get Out (2017), an overrated film from last year was still being discussed nearly a year after its release, and ended up a serious Oscar contender, however over praised it might be. Ready Player One (2018) is vastly superior to that film.
Set in the future, 2045, in this overpopulated world of intense poverty, people live in trailers stacked upon one another, soaring high into the skies. Stackers they are called in this bizarre ghetto, and they do little but barely survive. Their only escape from the drudgery of the world they inhabit is the Oasis, a virtual world they enter and become someone and something entirely different. In the Oasis you can be whatever you want, whoever you want, and return time and time again as that avatar.
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is a hardcore visitor to the Oasis, his avatar is Parzival. He is hunting for Easter Eggs in the Oasis because the creator has left a gift to whoever finds the last one. The gift is ownership of the Oasis which will make the finder of that last egg fabulously wealthy, and given the popularity of the world, all powerful. In the Oasis he encounters the avatar he loves, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), but when he confesses his love for her, she pushes him away. She too seeks the egg that makes the Oasis hers, along with some very bad, very wealthy people who look to expand their wealth and will do so by any means necessary.
The Oasis is teeming with seventies, eighties and nineties pop culture references, moving through it you are likely to encounter movie characters, TV characters, popular songs of the era, it is quite extraordinary. Among the many references Wade encounters are The Iron Giant, King Kong, Batman, Freddy Krueger, The Shining, Star Trek, Alien, Jurassic Park and Back to the Future to name just a few. They pop in and out of the narrative, some in cameos, some having something important to do with the plot. Created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) quite literally anything you desire is possible, provided you can stay connected.
Watching the film, you cannot escape the sense and steady influence of video games on both the film and the narrative. The characters move from being flesh and blood live action to animated avatars within the Oasis.
Sheridan and Cooke have a lovely chemistry together, and you get the sense that Miss Cooke has a huge career of her. Her fine work on Bates Hotel made clear she is a major talent, her work in this film shows she can more than hold her own in a blockbuster of this magnitude. IN a supporting role, T.J. Miller is outstanding as a nasty bounty hunter and the ever-effective Rylance is terrific as the creator of the Oasis.
Once in the Oasis it feels like everything is moving at hyper speed, but that is just the nonstop action Spielberg is throwing at you. The film barely stops to allow a breath, it is relentlessly exciting and fun, throughout. It has been a long time since Spielberg made a film that was both pure escapism and wildly exciting from beginning to end. When the final credits for Ready Player One (2018) roll, we are both sated and more than a little exhausted by what we have experienced on the screen. Electrifying and awe inspiring, it is an absolute knockout. One of the very best films of the year.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.