12A – 140mins – 2018 – 3D
Cineworld were in full alert last night with bouncers at the doors of their latest Unlimited Preview Screening to physically watch you switch off your mobile phones before you entered for an exclusive viewing of young adult sci-fi action adventure adaptation Ready Player One. This didn’t, however, stop the projectionists from messing up and starting the film too early, so we got to watch the opening five minutes twice in the space of a quarter of an hour.
Steven Spielberg’s latest blockbuster – and his second theatrical roll-out in just a few months – is a dizzying visual buffet, gorging greedily on a feast of computer-generated wizardry to bring author Ernest Cline’s homage-heavy virtual reality-set novel to life. In securing the rights to many of RPO‘s innumerable pop culture references, Spielberg may well have made the least original and least ‘Spielbergian’ film of his prolific and enviable career. Honestly, were you to play a drinking game every time a nod was made to a film, show, musician or video game from the 70s, 80s and 90s, you’d be plastered within ten minutes!
In the near future, parentless teen Wade Watts (Tye Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse Sheridan) is one of the millions of citizens escaping the chaos and depression of 2045 slum life by suiting up and plugging in to the simulated digi-verse known as the OASIS, created by brilliant introvert James Halliday (Mark The BFG Rylance). After Halliday’s death, Watts – under the online identity of his avatar ‘Parzival’ – is one of many players known as “Gunters” who bid against one another in a series of pop culture-based contests in order to unlock the eccentric inventor’s Easter Egg and claim Halliday’s immense fortune for their own.
The first contest is a convoluted, gravity-bending, multi-level race track where the drivers must traverse a near-impossible course with dangers including moving roads, sudden cliffs, the T-Rex from Jurassic Park and King Kong himself to reach the finish line! My initial concerns as my brain struggled to take in every busy detail on the screen was that the cavalcade of effects and homages might overshadow the story and the characters. Predictably, the characterisation of some of the secondary players is as two-dimensional as their avatars, but thankfully the three main Gunters (Sheridan and fellow online friends Olivia Cooke and Lena Waithe) are breezily charming both in pixels and in the flesh, while Ben Rogue One Mendelsohn is suitably malevolent without being cheesy as company man and devious CEO Nolan Sorrento.
Ready Player One is undoubtedly a ballsy and fun popcorn movie which you can’t help but have fun with (heck, there’s a whole quest entirely based within Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining!), but given how it owes a lot of its entertainment factor to how clued up you are on nostalgic media (Michael Jackson! Space Invaders! Prince! Buckaroo Banzai! Back to the Future! Mario Kart! The Bee Gees! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Chucky from Childs Play! The Iron Giant! Atari cartridges!), I can’t see it being a perpetually-enduring classic of the genre in its own right, regardless of how financially successful its imminent cinema run becomes.
CR@B’s Claw Score: