MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke.
Picture, if you will, a lonely guy in his parents’ basement, spending hours immersed in a role-playing video game in which his closest friends are people he knows only through their avatars; he can’t even trust that their gender identity matches that of their online character.
Now imagine a future in which the world is so messed up that millions of people are locked into a virtual reality that takes them out of their everyday despair, giving them adventure as well as opportunities to profit from their game playing skills.
Now – think about what a great time you could have if this alternative reality was totally based on 1980s pop culture trivia!
Yes, I know. It’s a horrible future. But in the eyes of Ernest Cline (who was a kid during the eighties), this is the world that he knows, so he wrote a book called Ready Player One which became a huge bestseller, with film rights sold the day after the book was published. Cline co-wrote the screenplay with Zak Penn, and Steven Spielberg was excited about directing a movie that was pure escapist entertainment.
This may be one of the most ironic movies ever made. I’m all for a couple of hours in a movie theater (or a computer screen) getting away from an anxiety-ridden world, but the concept of exchanging one for the other as a preferred choice is tantamount to handing the keys of the kingdom to the Dark Overlord.
Spielberg knows how to make a movie, so the film has its pleasures, including a top-rate cast committed to the weak material (with four of the leads from Great Britain and Australia, doing good American accents). The film takes off early as young Wade Watts (Sheridan) enters a virtual reality Easter Egg hunt to win control of OASIS, the alternative universe created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), now deceased but very much in control of the game through his programmed avatar Anorak. There’s a media network also in the race to add OASIS to its corporation and a brainy girl (Cooke) destined to become the love object of our hero. (That’s an eighties throwback, for sure!)
Ready Player One is one strange story. It’s a Young Adult book that was marketed as adult science fiction, written for pre-teen boys but loaded with stuff that only their parents would understand. If the church is often rightly criticized for its nostalgic love of the 1950s, pop culture seems stuck in the 80’s. If that’s the world that you prefer, this is your movie. I would rather revisit anything cited in this film (including E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Raiders of the Lost Ark by What’s-his-name).
But then climb the stairs out of the basement, put your grownup pants on, grow a moral conscience, and make a difference. The world is a mess, but you can help make it a better place. If Ready Player One can be viewed as a cautionary tale, its geeky premise may be of some value after all.
Three halos: An entertaining film about escaping reality that holds back from saying anything particularly significant.
Three pitchforks: PG-13 swearing; some intimations of virtual reality sex going on somewhere; a bleak future is somehow accepted as the status quo.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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