Ready Player One - Spielberg's Worst Film?

April 11, 2018

 

My grade - 4/10

 

Obligatory warning - spoilers ahead...

 

The spirit of Musezoo is born of 80's pop culture. Ronen can probably qualify to a Guiness world record for repeat watching of Terminator on his old VHS player (and that Iron Giant thumbs-up demise is, of course, a reference to the ending of Terminator 2). I used to code Commodore 64 demos in machine code and assembly (and when James Halliday is looking for the Easter egg in his room you can spot a Commodore 1541 - the slowest floppy disc drive ever).

 

So yes, we are certified nostalgic geeks. Why is it than that I was so indifferent and bored by Spielberg's Ready Player One (I'll call it RPO for shorts.)

 

What made Speilberg one of the greatest directors of all times is his incredible ability to create genuine and relatable characters that drive the story with their personalities and aspirations. Even in some of his most fantastic outings the human element is usually in the core of the events.

 

But RPO is so un-Speilberg like with its personality lacking binary depth characters. Wade Watts, the protagonist, tells us he lives in the Stacks (like thousands others) and escape reality to the Oasis (like billion others), defining himself as generic gamer at best. Than it's off to the races. Later we learn he can get shy and excited around a (virtual) girl like any stereotype geek. He stands up to Nolan Sorrento for a moment showing he at least has principles. But other than that the movie never explore his character. He lacks true motivation, desires, flaws, or any traits of a true living and breathing human being.

 

Samantha Cook, the female protagonist, is a bit better. She has a vauge motivation derived from the death of her father (which is never really substantiated). She is conscious about her look because of her birth mark but enjoys flirting with Wade in the Oasis.

 

Still it wasn't enough for me to care about her. And certainly not about Wade. They are just there to facilitate the plot without really being important to it. They never evoked any emotions in me. You can replace them with any two other players from the Oasis without missing a beat. When you don't care about the protagonists, a film is more or less dead on arrival.

 

To make things worse there are no real stakes for them. If they die in the Oasis they will bleed coins and get zeroed out, having to start over as a weak powerless avatars. As a big fan of power-ups style shoot'em up arcade games I know how frustrating this can be. But far from tragic or urgent. There is nothing here like "you die in the matrix, you die in the real world". It will just be that if they die it will be harder for them to accomplish their goal.

 

And what is this goal?? To prevent the capitalistic IOI corporation from taking over the Oasis? But why is the Oasis even so important? Well because it creates an escape from the desolated reality. But the problem is that Spielberg doesn't establish well enough why this reality is so bad in the first place. Yes, we see the Stacks, certainly not a cheerful place but not much different than any other slum. Later this whole "horrible reality" concept is completely undermined when Wade tells Samantha he forgot how peaceful it is in the real world. So is reality really so bad, or as some pointed out, just a place that Wade and Halliday find hard to deal with?

 

This in turn made the players of the Oasis in the film appear more like addicts than escapists. Much like the stories about those kids in Asian video gaming parlors who collapse from exhaustion and lack of sleep. At least the Oasis players have to use their muscles to get around with that nifty omni-directional treadmill. But it's still hard to find much sympathy for people who escape not only reality, but their own identity in such manner.

 

The whole chain of events that lead to Wade's triumph depends on him seeing the note with Sorrento's password. Such a coincidental and unrealistic solution always deflates a movie for me. It wasn’t such a hard password to memorize anyways and are we really to believe in such a technological wondrous world a password is even still used and not ,say, a retina scan. Now I do like that the script didn't go for the corny solution of finding a genius hackers to do the work for them. But if it's going to use a password, why not make it something personal to Sorrento that Wade is able to deduct from something he sees in Sorrento's office. In a movie that is just a big excuse for Easter eggs hunt, figuring out the password as an Easter egg would have been so much more rewarding and in spirit of the story.

 

So is this Spielberg's worst film. For me it is certainly up there (or rather down there). It's biggest problem is how much it lacks soul - a heartless pop culture trivia eye candy extravaganza. Strangely it is also very rewatchable. When you don't care anymore to care about story or characters you can still enjoy the stunning visuals and hunting for references and Easter eggs. Sadly these are the wrong reasons why we love to rewatch Terminator and other 80's classics.

 

-Dror

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