For everyone else, "Ready Player One" may seem a little daunting, a little confusing and a little unusual.
At the film's SXSW premiere, Spielberg introduced "Ready Player One", based on Ernest Cline's 2011 best-seller, as a "movie", not a "film". The film takes a weird turn, however, when it re-creates key scenes from Halliday's favorite movie, 1980's "The Shining".
We caught up with Sheridan while he was in Toronto recently to uncover the best bits of making Ready Player One. The film is set in 2045, with the world on the brink of chaos and collapse. Do we want to exist in reality, or do we want to exist in an escapist universe? The only standout is Mark Rylance as Halliday, who nails the awkward asocial pioneer of the book. Upon his death several years earlier, it was revealed that Halliday hid an Easter Egg in the OASIS. The first one to find the keys and follow them to the end will win the rights to the trillion-dollar company. Wade has several virtual reality besties that help him search, none more important than Art3mis (Olivia Cooke). "People want to escape in the movies". Olivia Cooke (Samantha) is especially wonderful as Wade's friend and co-Gunter (easter egg hunter).
The amusing, sometimes awkward irony of "Ready Player One" is that Spielberg isn't just making a movie like his old movies; he's making a movie awash with his old movies.
Oh, and the real draw here: those pop-culture references! Some are easy to spot and integral to the story, like the DeLorean.
Now that Black Panther is finally slowing down at the box office, other movies are starting to come into the frame. Overall, every character is either likable or hateable in the best ways and the performances, dialogue, and settings are superb so that nothing detracts too much from the film. The auto, like the one driven by Ready Player One's hero, now boasts a KITT scanner (Knight Rider), an Oscillation Overthruster (Buckaroo Banzai), Ghostbusting equipment, and a Flux Capacitor.
Ready Player One has a fairly large ensemble cast that we never explore.
"I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice it".
The plot is driven by a weird treasure hunt that will give the winners a multi-million-dollar prize and control of the entire VR kingdom of Oasis. This is where they discover the clues for the quests. Of all the characters, the one that resonated was Halliday, a sweetly sad misfit who created digital worlds on his computer because he couldn't fit into his own. His bad perm hairstyle and near autistic demeanor is a flawless puzzle to be explored. Wade wishes he'd grown up in the lost paradise of the 1980s, so the film is saturated with pop-culture nuggets from that most synthetic of decades, from the music (Van Halen's "Jump", plus Prince, New Order, A-Ha and adoring nods to Duran Duran) to references to Ferris Bueller, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and filmmaker John Hughes. That theme is consistent throughout the whole book, but there are so many places we could have taken the book. You're essentially watching a ton of CGI.
Retro Atari video games appear in this movie. But it becomes suitable for mature viewers only once key scenes from the inventor's favorite movie, 1980's "The Shining", are re-created. They seem stale and less creative. It could be that the pop novelty has worn off by hour two.
For fans of the book, go into the film realizing this is NOT the book.
But Spielberg sees a brighter side to our desire to rediscover those pop culture icons. He glosses over issues that I would surmise are covered sensibly in the novel. Life in the real world is very bad (think futuristic, Dickensian poverty) but there is an opiate all are addicted to in order to escape: The Oasis. This is a philosophical choice by Spielberg. In that sense, Wade's adventure is sort of rote, even with the shiny bells and whistles.