Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Gamers, pop culture fans should love virtual reality of Spielberg’s ‘Ready Player One’

By Steve Crum
How appropriate that Steven Spielberg’s exhausting but fun sci-fi/adventure film, Ready Player One, is opening this week. Easter is Sunday, and the movie is packed with Easter eggs. Bear with me as I explain. 
Director-producer Spielberg and writers Zak Penn and Ernest Cline have used dozens of pop culture images and sounds that are strewn among the busy, mostly CGI sequences that frame Ready Player One. Many of them are shown so briefly or so nearly hidden that it would take multiple viewings to catch them all. A few of them are showcased—like The Iron Giant, King Kong, the DeLorean from Back to the Future, Chucky, and a Jurassic Park T-Rex. But you will have to look closely to spy Batman, the pod from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and more. 
Inclusions of such images from movies, TV, and video games mainly from the 1980’s to present are called “Easter eggs,” since one has to sometimes search to pick them up, per se. Spielberg has said that “the movie isn’t really about nostalgia,” but he is not entirely correct. The nostalgia is firmly there, feeding a plot that opens in 2045 Columbus, Ohio. 
Teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in a pretty decrepit apartment building, one among many slum castles that dot the downtown. By this time, most of the entire world lives substandard, for reasons we never know.  However, the owners of the Oasis corporation corner the riches, and rule its citizens’ escapist desires. Oasis, you see, nearly monopolizes the virtual reality market with software viewed through a VR headset. People wear their headsets at work and play to escape their grim surroundings. This is a step up (or really down) from constantly using one’s cell phone. 
This also means that we, the audience, view most of the movie through what various characters are seeing through their headsets. Remember 1982’s Tron, wherein Jeff Bridges is pulled into a computer grid, and has to deal with life or death situations? Ready Player One employs 2018 state of the art graphics, which means vivid color and smooth, lifelike imagery. Now fantasy looks real. The effects are dazzling. 
Enter more Easter eggs. This time they are well defined within the plot. The owner/founder of Oasis, James Halliday (Oscar winner Mark Rylance), has died, and willed his company to whoever finds the Easter eggs he has hidden somewhere in his vast VR grid. Anyone wanting to enter the race for the riches has to don a headset to find three keys before anyone else. Our hero Tye is on board as well as gamer Samantha (Olivia Cooke), and dozens more. Stacking the odds against them is the CEO of Innovative Online Industries, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelssohn), who desperately wants to take over Oasis. There we have the central conflict. The predictable plot of typical good guy vs bad guy is handled well.
Alas, there are just too many computer game references populating the 140-minute movie that are foreign to 70 year-old me. But I am not the target audience for Ready Player One. It is for the millions born years after me into a culture of computer gaming. They should get a kick out of this nearly non-stop racing movie loaded with familiar pop culture images. 
Wait a minute, there was one gaming image I did recognize...the granddaddy computer game, Space Invaders

At least that's something. 

GRADE on an A-F Scale: B