“Ready Player One” is a pop culture explosion

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” takes audiences on a nostalgic journey through retro gaming and virtual reality.
Hope Schreiner

Based on the best-selling novel by Ernest Cline, “Ready Player One” is Steven Spielberg’s action-filled science fiction film made for nostalgic nerds. It is a brilliant flash forward and flashback simultaneously, offering a little something for geeks of all ages.

Set in Columbus, Ohio in the year of 2045, this film follows young Wade Watts, better known as his online persona, Parzival. The film bounces back and forth between reality and the virtual reality universe called the OASIS, created by socially awkward genius James Halliday.

This back and forth feels a bit unbalanced at times, but it is all for a purpose. In this future world, reality is so miserable that people end up spending most of their time in the virtual world, which is a significant commentary on technology’s ability to consume people’s lives.

This film is the epitome of pop culture overload. If you blink, you will likely miss about six different references. Some are more subtly tucked away within the characters’ dialogue so that only true pop culture nerds would catch them, while others are thrown in your face with perhaps a bit too much gusto.

The past and future collide in this film with the call back to 80s music, movies, video games and other pop culture references. These references feel somewhat heavy at times, but they are validated by the fact that Halliday grew up during that time, so it is only natural that the virtual world he creates would include his childhood favorites.

The camerawork is smart and keeps pace with the plot quite well. The action sequences are easy to follow, most notably the racing scenes, and the overall graphics and sweeping shots of the world (both virtual and real) are pleasing to the eye.

One of the main problems with this film is the character development. Although he is the main character, we don’t learn much about Wade as a person. We learn more about his friends through the adventures they embark on together.

Wade is an average looking young adult with a fairly average outlook on life. There isn’t much about him that makes him exceptional or heroic. In fact, the female protagonist, Sam (known in the OASIS as Art3mis), seems to be the reason why he changes his original intentions and sets off to save the OASIS from the corporate stiffs.

Also, Wade doesn’t go through a dramatic character arc where he learns an important lesson about friendship or power. He starts out as a generally good and moral person with several friends and a decent life, and he ends up with the same friends, a lot more money and a fair amount of power.

This film merely scratches the surface of many issues, one being identity. The conversation about who you are in reality versus who you are in the OASIS is started but never fully fleshed out. One of Wade’s friends, known as Aech, mentions that Art3mis could be a 300-pound man living in his mother’s basement, but Wade simply brushes this off claiming that he “knows” Art3mis. His refusal to believe anything negative is the film’s refusal to dig into these dense and sometimes hard-to-swallow subjects.

Overall, “Ready Player One” is a fun-filled and nostalgic journey through the evolution of pop culture and how technology has affected the human race. It bombards viewers with references to nerd culture through the decades, but it only scratches the surface of the many social and cultural issues the world faces. Rest assured, anyone who sees this film will leave with a smile on their face and a sense of childlike wonder.