When you think “pop culture,” visions of iconic characters and vehicles from movies, TV shows, and video games will likely come to mind. So expansive has pop culture gotten the past few years, one cannot escape its ever-growing reach wherever you are. In Director Steven Spielberg's latest film, Ready Player One, based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline, a virtual world where people rub elbows with pop culture icons is the order of the day.
Set in the year 2045, there is desolation everywhere on Earth. The only way that people can escape is to use virtual reality software created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance) called the OASIS. In there, people create avatars of all shapes and sizes to pretend to be whoever and whatever they want to be. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) has embarked on a quest in the OASIS to find an Easter egg that Halliday left in his game Anorak's Quest before he died. Whoever finds all of Halliday's Easter eggs first is promised full ownership of the OASIS, prompting a global frenzy among players. As his character “Parzival,” Wade and his friends Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki) join together to solve the clues Hallliday has left behind. Along the way, they meet the mysterious Ar3mis (Olivia Cooke), who has her own reasons for being in the Oasis. This group needs to solve Halliday's clues ahead of Innovative Online Industries (IOI) CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).
This film is basically a love letter to anyone who grew up in the first great era of video games, namely the 1970s to the 1980s. The soundtrack is filled with 70s and 80s hits from Tears for Fears, New Order, Hall & Oates, and others, capturing the spirit of that same age when Spielberg first wielded his cinematic magic. Films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, and Raiders of the Lost Ark established Spielberg as a filmmaker who pioneered the Hollywood blockbuster, but at their core, each of those same films had a sense of wonder and adventure that resonated in kids and adults alike.
Ready Player One could have been directed by any other director, but placing it in Spielberg's hands gave him the opportunity to tap into a well that he probably last touched in 2011's The Adventures of Tintin. For a movie that has the search for actual Easter eggs in the middle of its plot, there are dozens of cinematic and pop culture Easter eggs that nobody will be able to catch in just one viewing. One of the differences that the movie has from the book is that only those properties covered under the wide Warner Bros. umbrella could be seen onscreen. Still, the producers made an effort to go outside that same Warner arm to bring in other properties to make it a pop culture fanatic's dream come true.
Clearly, there are analogues to tech demigods such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in the character of Halliday, and the dangers of living in a virtual world while reality falls apart is explored. Spielberg enters new ground when, in some parts of the film, everything is animated using CGI. Unlike a past triumph of his like Jurassic Park, the computer-generated sections are separated almost completely from the live-action scenes, further underlining the differences between the two realities.
It isn't a stretch to say that this is probably the most fun film I've seen in 2018 so far, and it's definitely made me even more curious about Cline's source material so that I can compare one with the other.