PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Where moviemaking is concerned, he’s the readiest player there is.
What more can you say about the artist-entertainer who gave the world Jaws, E.T.: the Extraterrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, Lincoln, The Post, and Saving Private Ryan?
As a director – in some ways, as THE director — Steven Spielberg has on many occasions offered escapism and on other occasions captured reality.
In his latest directorial outing, Ready Player One, he gets to deal with a virtual reality that offers an unequivocal escape from reality, one that allows folks to experience anything they can dream up.
Set in 2045, Ready Player One is a futuristic fantasy adventure, adapted from the 2011 Ernest Cline novel by Cline and Zak Penn, about a time when the reality of a polluted and impoverished Earth is so unpleasant, and virtual reality so advanced and beckoning, that people opt to spend most of their lives in it.
It involves the creator of a virtual reality world called the Oasis. James Halliday is his name and this Steve Jobs-like character, played by Mark Rylance, could also be seen as a Spielberg avatar if you think of Spielberg’s body of on-screen work as comprising an Oasis of its own.
And why not?
Anyway, when he is about to die, Halliday issues a challenge to Oasis participants in a video that challenges them to find his Easter eggs in a three-part quest and, in so doing, gain a fortune – his fortune – coming his or her way as if to a crowned worthy heir.
As you can imagine, the competition is intense right from the get-go.
And there is a rebellion, which is where we find our unlikely protagonist, one Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan, pursuing this irresistible quest with the help of a group of friends.
RPO is an energetic popcorn flick, a treasure hunt, and breathless roller coaster ride that is obsessed with pop culture and fandom, and never quits scattering bunches of references, some visual, some aural, some both.
But while fans may find the film energetic, detractors will find it frenetic.
And as is so often the case with movies that are in any way connected with or focused on video games – but as is not usually the case with Spielberg – the movie itself too often resembles, or even turns into, a video game.
So, given the film’s video game lineage, it’s no surprise that characterization is so exasperatingly thin. And Spielberg, usually the consummate storyteller, fails to protect his story, allowing the technical razzle-dazzle – which is admittedly impressive – to overwhelm and even suffocate the narrative and the characters, even though the film cuts seamlessly between the two worlds in a thriller that also attempts to register as a cautionary tale about gaming and our reliance on technology.
Ultimately, we remain distanced from the proceedings, yearning for the level of emotional investment that we expect from a Spielberg film, but, alas, it never comes. Nor is our nostalgia for the relatively recent eighties that the film highlights strong enough to pay us off.
So we’ll ready 2 stars out of 4 for Ready Player One, an immersive experience from Spielberg that attempts high-tech movie magic, but finds the world-class director off his game, offering plenty of motion but precious little emotion.