ready player one halliday

Rosebud 

In Ready Player One, others have spent years trying, and failing, to find Halliday’s keys. Wade is able to start making some progress thanks to his obsession with all-things-Halliday. Within the OASIS exists a museum dedicated to Halliday’s entire life; a place where one can go and watch video excerpts depicting various events from Halliday’s history. Wade is one the few people who still bothers to plumb the depths of the museum. Here, he obsesses over every frame of every video like a film nerd obsessively studying the work of their favorite filmmaker (like, say, Steven Spielberg). Here, perhaps, Spielberg is throwing a bone to his fans – a way of saying that all those long, nerdy hours pouring over Raiders of the Lost Ark might pay off in the end and lead to riches.

Or perhaps Spielberg is doing the opposite – telling his fans to get a goddamn life; to stop spending so much time staring at the screen, and see the world outside as well. It’s kind of muddled, and the film’s conclusion doesn’t shed much light on the matter. Perhaps Spielberg is trying to find a middle ground; a way of saying that nerdy obsessions are fine, but it wouldn’t kill you to spend some time in the real world, too. There’s nothing wrong with that particular message – in fact, I’d say that’s even pretty good advice. But Ready Player One is so confused about what it’s trying to say that you walk away uncertain of the answer.

One thing Spielberg does seem to be saying, however, is that you really can’t separate the art from the artist. By studying moments in Halliday’s life – including painful moments, like his split with his longtime friend and business partner, played by Simon Pegg, or his regrets about the girl who got away (more on this below) – Wade is able to solve puzzles within the game world of the OASIS. Halliday has, in effect, used his real-life experiences to create the virtual world. In short, without Halliday’s life, there would be no OASIS.

This scenario creates one of the most problematic elements of the entire film. As we learn more about Halliday’s history, we learn he was the generic representation of what everyone assumes nerds to be – the socially awkward dweeb who couldn’t even talk to girls. He apparently only went on one date in his entire life – with a woman named Kira (Perdita Weeks). The date went wrong, and Halliday lived with the regret that he never got to kiss Kira. As a result, he turns Kira into one of the OASIS’s game challenges – to grab one of the keys, the player has to find Kira and ask her to dance. Halliday has literally turned a woman into an object – a puzzle to be solved. “Kira is Halliday’s Rosebud!” Wade/Parzival proclaims, comparing a human being to a child’s sled. It’s icky, and it doesn’t sit well, at all. Some clever writing could’ve remedied this, or even fleshed it out a bit. Instead, the script just presents it as-is, and never once gives an indication of how fucked-up it all is.

The one element of Ready Player One that should work is the world of the OASIS. After all, that seems to be the selling point of the whole dang movie – a world of pure imagination, where anything is possible, and where pop culture figures run rampant. Yet the look of the virtual world almost never inspires. It’s all so patently fake, bathed in grey and dull blue, and filled to the brim. No corner of the frame goes unused. The end result feels like we’re stuck inside a MAD magazine fold-in, or a comic book splash page. While it might be fun for some to pause the film on Blu-ray and obsess over which pop culture figures are running rampant, on the big screen it’s all a blur.

Spielberg is a master of visual language, and can craft stunning, clear, concise moments of action. Yet these moments have always, up until now, existed in the “real” world. Spielberg has employed digital trickery for years now, yet his previous work has always found a way to make it all seem grounded. There’s a sequence in War of the Worlds, where Tom Cruise is driving a minivan down a highway, his kids in tow. Spielberg’s camera spins in a circle, going in and out of the van as the characters yell at each other. It’s stunning to watch, and while it was clearly created with digital effects – the van was stationary on a greenscreen set – it still managed to look like it was happening in the real world. The world of the OASIS, however, isn’t supposed to be the real world. As a result, there’s a glossy, fake sheen over everything. This sheen robs the world of its power. There are no stakes here – why should we care about what’s happening when none of it really matters? Even if a character dies in the OASIS, they can just re-enter the game.

Because of all this, there’s almost no sense of wonder. There’s a recurring motif in Spielberg’s films – the Spielberg Face. It’s the moment where a character stops and looks upon something unimaginable with utter awe. Perhaps the most famous example is the moment in Jurassic Park, where the main characters lay eye on a dinosaur for the first time. Think of those tight-shots on Sam Neill’s face as he pulls his sunglasses off, or the slightly wider shot of Laura Dern, her jaw agape as she stands up through the open roof a jeep. The Spielberg Face is present in most of Spielberg’s work – Richard Dreyfuss seeing the spaceships in Close Encounters; Tom Hanks looking out at Normandy Beach on D-Day in Saving Private Ryan; Harrison Ford seeing a beam of sunlight pinpoint the exact spot of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. With these moments, Spielberg is able to convey the sheer wonder of something with little more than someone widening their eyes. There’s never a single moment like that in Ready Player One. Not one moment where we get a sense of how wondrous this all is. What a waste.

The only truly stunning sequence is a lengthy moment where our heroes wander into the Overlook Hotel as seen in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Spielberg and his crew have eerily and accurately created the look of Kubrick’s film, and it was during this sequence that I began to perk up and think that maybe Ready Player One still had some tricks up it sleeve. But after spending several minutes recreating Kubrick’s film down to the letter, Spielberg then takes an axe to it all, literally. Knife-wielding zombies begin running rampant, and giant axes begin falling from the sky. “This doesn’t happen in the movie!” characters shriek. No, it certainly doesn’t. And it probably shouldn’t happen here, either.

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer and critic for /Film, and the host of the 21st Century Spielberg podcast. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net