April 10, 2018
Over the weekend, I went to see the science fiction film Ready Player One, a movie adaptation of the 2011 book by Ernest Cline. Having never read the book, I was immune to the claims that major changes were made from book to screen. I was free to enjoy the film as a 1980s nostalgia-ridden trip through virtual reality. If you haven’t seen the film, then consider yourselves warned that spoilers are ahead.
The film takes place largely in a VR world known as the OASIS, the brainchild of James Halliday. The film picks up five years after Halliday’s death, but his legacy is still very much alive. Shortly before his death, he announced an “Easter egg” hunt. The first person to complete three challenges are bequeathed the entire OASIS. The film focuses in the city of Columbus, Ohio, now a dystopian society. The main character is teenager Wade Watts, who lives vicariously through the OASIS. His avatar is known as Parzival. His main competition in the contest is Art3mis, later revealed to be in the charge against the villain, IOI Industries, led by Nolan Sorrento. His best friend in the film is Aech, who also competes in the contest. The three comprise the top of the leaderboard.
The film is OK, but what really drives it are its constant references to pop culture. Unlike the original book, the movie borrows not from role-playing games, but from films and video games. Back to the Future’s DeLorean is the vehicle that Parzival drives within the OASIS. In the first challenge, the avatars racing have to face many obstacles, including a rampaging T-Rex from Jurassic Park, and the original King Kong. A major plot point is aided by a version of the famed Rubik’s Cube, the Zemeckis Cube. And if the name Robert Zemeckis is not familiar, then his film is: Back to the Future.
The second challenge is covered with references to one of the horrifying films of the 20th century: The Shining. This sequence in the film is the strongest, while also the most scariest. Also, while searching for the next challenges, Parzival and Art3mis wind up at a dance club, where references to the 1977 disco classic Saturday Night Fever are clearly-and at times painfully-obvious. Art3mis also gives him a disguise to avoid him being mobbed by crowds that view him as a hero for winning the first challenge: Clark Kent glasses, a nod to the Superman franchise.
That isn’t to say they shied away from 80s references. There is a memorable scene with Wade and Sorrento that has the duo name-dropping John Hughes films in a effort to prove who was more of a geek. The Breakfast Club and Fast Times at Ridgemont High were among those mentioned. The final battle scene between the protagonists and Sorrento’s avatars introduced two final familiar characters: the Chucky doll and Aech’s avatar of choice, The Iron Giant, from the 1998 film of the same name.
Another one of Ready Player One’s hallmarks was the music, picked specifically to play as a nostalgia trip. The film opens with the classic Van Halen tune “Jump”, while songs played later in the film include the much lauded “Everybody Wants to Rule The World” by Tears For Fears, “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister, and many more.
Overall, I liked the film. I thought it was a good nostalgia trip, and the plot was well thought-out, putting in its own Easter eggs in a film about Easter eggs. The characters are fleshed out, and the setting is clearly established. By the end of the film, I felt like I had taken a trip through the OASIS myself.