Movie Review with Brandon Yechout – Ready Player One

In film, the idea of an “auteur” refers to the singular, controlling mind behind a film; a person whose influence over a film’s production is so significant that they are considered the “author” of the film. This term is most often used to refer to directors; some American auteurs, for instance, might be such directors as Welles, Hitchcock, or Kubrick. It is ironic, then, considering that Steven Spielberg is arguably the most well-known director in the United States, that his newest film, entitled “Ready Player One,” felt to me like it might as well have been directed by almost anyone. Although there was a fair amount to enjoy, it is easily my least favorite of all of Spielberg’s films that I’ve seen. I’m not sure it would be entirely fair, however, to attribute the blame for a lot of this to Spielberg. I’ll elaborate shortly.

The film centers around Wade Watts, a teenager who resides in the gloomy future of 2045, where most of the Earth’s population has retreated to the OASIS in order to escape the decrepit and unappealing reality that has overtaken their world. The OASIS, a massive virtual world, is home to all manner of different characters and icons from pop culture, and people who inhabit it are able to become whoever they’d like to be. When Wade, under the moniker of Parzival, obtains the first of three keys that will grant the collector of all three total control over the OASIS, a frantic race is set in motion as various parties vie for the remaining two keys, and ultimately, control over the future of the OASIS (and, in turn, the world).

With these reviews, I typically preface the bad with the good, but I’ll be shifting things around a bit this time because there’s one thing that I simply must address before I go any further, as it was the biggest barrier that I faced while trying to enjoy the film. Indeed, it is a barrier I knew I would have to face since the film’s production was announced, and it is likely something that bothered me more than it bothered anybody else in the theater. Though it was difficult for me to remain wholly objective in the face of this personal bias, I feel that I’m also able to make a compelling case for its detrimental effect on the film. So please, bear with me for a moment.

I am terribly sick of anything themed after “80s nostalgia” or “parodying the 80s” or anything else of that sort. So terribly sick of it. Sick of all of it, and I have been for some time. There exist very few jokes worth making within the whole sphere of “80s parody,” and they have all been long expended. All we’ve gotten since is the same old, same old; retreading over ground so already trod upon that it’s been eroded to dust. As far as playing to nostalgia goes, I see nothing wrong with it in moderation, but when it casts a shadow over the entirety of the work it’s present it, like it does here, it becomes incredibly apparent how hollow it is as a substitute for real substance. It feels like it’s there to distract from something, and often times it is, whether it’s done intentionally or not. In the case of “Ready Player One,” it feels as if it’s all meant to distract from the film’s atrocious lack of consistency with its own rules. I’ll expand upon that line of thought later.

Moreover, I also think that this film’s obsession with making references to pop culture is distracting, intrusive, and ultimately soulless. There’s irony here as well; if a virtual world like the OASIS did actually exist, you would absolutely have people running around as Tracer, Master Chief, and other such characters. My problem with this is that the film constantly draws attention to this; there’s a scene, for instance, wherein the main character waltzes into his best friend’s workshop, takes note of a colossal replica Iron Giant, and proceeds to go through a bin of pop culture spaceships (making sure to hold up and name each one as he rummages through the bin). The film did little for me visually, looking little more than passable most of the time. It’s technically impressive, but its lack of a standout aesthetic made that all moot, in my mind. None of the characters were all too interesting either (with the exception of T.J. Miller’s surprisingly funny character of “i-R0k”), and the film’s mind-numbingly contrived “romance” only drapes over the film another layer of insipidity.

Now, back to that statement I made earlier having to do with the film “not following its own rules.” I’d say it’s pretty self-explanatory, in all honesty, but I’ll list a couple of the places where I found this film to be especially careless in this regard. The entire ruleset of how characters interact with its virtual reality world, for example, seems to be in a state of constant metamorphosis. The main character is able to manipulate his virtual avatar by means of a headset, an omnidirectional treadmill, and I believe he had some controllers as well. Alright, that’s fair. But wait a minute, because we’re later shown people running and jumping around in their houses while they have headsets on; a lady is shown jumping over her couch, for instance, and we see that this movement appeared to her to be a vault over a mound of rock in the virtual world. How exactly did that movement register in the OASIS? We are again later shown a crowd of people in the streets standing in one position, but flailing their arms around as they engage in an epic virtual battle. How does any of this register as movement in the virtual world? Some of them don’t even have controllers, only headsets, and yet they’re moving around as if the movements of their body are somehow affecting their virtual avatar. And wait, the main antagonist’s virtual reality rig is just a gargantuan, spherical throne? And he just sits in it and is sent to the virtual world? How does he even control anything? The rules of the OASIS are just as unstable. People produce weapons and other items from nothing, and yet one of the characters needs to shrink down her vehicle to carry it with her, as if it physically needs to be carried on her person. I could easily keep going, but I’ll stop myself here.

Now why, exactly, is this a problem? Well, it depends on the film. If we’re talking something like “Eraserhead” or even “The Blood of a Poet,” then sure, it’s not a problem that those films aren’t consistent with their own rules because those films have no rules. The atmosphere of “Eraserhead” is reminiscent of some sort of twisted, surreal nightmare. That’s not a film where something like this would be important. In the case of “Ready Player One,” which is trying to invest us in and get us to enjoy its story and world, how are we meant to invest ourselves in a world that seems as if its simply doing whatever it wants without purpose? A world that disregards the clarification of important plot elements? How is its story meant to have any amount of gravity when this is the case?

I had planned on eventually getting to the good, but I feel that I’ve said enough. It was somewhat enjoyable, but I really cannot recommend it considering its many faults. What’s unfortunate about this film, really, is that it was ever created in the first place. Why, of all potential book-to-film adaptations that have yet to be explored, would Spielberg choose to adapt something like this? I would be willing to bet a fair sum that the majority of the film’s problems could be traced back to its source material over Spielberg’s direction. Hopefully he’ll be bouncing back from this misstep soon. Brando’s rating? Two out of four stars.