Spielberg plays along with tech in terrific style

by Shane Dillon
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Videogame related content largely continues to be a tricky issue for directors, with plenty setting their sights on films based around games, but rarely delivering anything more than mediocre movies.

For all the narrative richness and depth that can be found in plenty of games now as the medium matures, capturing the same potential complexity and core essence of a great game continues to prove difficult.

With Ready Player One (Cert 12A, 140 mins), director Stephen Spielberg takes a stab at capturing some of the giddy excitement and individual engagement at the heart of much of modern gaming, and for once the medium gets a decent cinematic presentation,
RPO is about much more than gaming, mind you – it’s a packed potpourri of pop culture references, liberally sprinkling about a dizzying range of nods and winks to all kinds of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them easter eggs that refer to cinema, TV and other cultural themes.
Many of these were present in the 2011 book that the film is based on, but seeing them on screen is a different matter.

While the trailers have made heavy use of The Iron Giant, for example, eagle-eyed culture vultures will find a long, long list of classic (and some contemporary) characters and icons popping up in overt and subtle ways alike.

The end result is something of nerd heaven, given the amount of gaming and pop culture elements to spot, with many flashing by in very subtle ways.

Still, as fun as it is to spot all these things they’re largely incidental to the film itself, which is very on-trend in serving up largely contemporary tech (extrapolated a little further down the road), alongside some classic Spielbergian themes.

Set in the near future, an American youth, Wade (Tye Sheridan), is pretty much like everyone else living in now commonplace slum-like conditions, using tech to escape the modern, messy world by jumping into the Oasis – the crazily complex global virtual reality that most people spend a lot of time in, where people can be or do pretty much anything.

Apart from just escaping impoverished reality, many Oasis users also know that its late creator, James Halliday, left a hidden easter egg legacy – there’s a Halliday secret hidden somewhere in the Oasis, and whoever finds it can take control of the entire network, as well as finding riches galore.

The fate of the (virtual) world is potentially at stake, but in the real world nobody’s even been able to get off the starting block in the particular game that leads to Halliday’s legacy, with the high-octane race featured extensively in the trailers the first stumbling block that they can’t get past.

Now, what are the odds that Wade will find a way?
Throw in an evil corporation with indentured players doing its bidding, real world danger versus the virtual world drama, and something of a classic hero’s quest for Wade and his allies to take in both realities alike, and RPO delivers a high-energy, high-stakes tale that’s highly entertaining in parts.

The eye-popping visuals can be overwhelming, but then again they should be, given the nature of Oasis. Still, Wade/Sheridan successfully drives the film – including in the most literal sense – under Spielberg’s masterful control.

As a result, even if you don’t know your augmented realities from your global neural networks, you’re virtually guaranteed to enjoy the often spectacular ride.
Verdict: 8/10

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