Ready Player One

 

            This is the kind of movie you either love or hate.  There's not much in between.

            Those of us who did not grow up playing video games will have to work harder to find a point of reference.  The film takes places in 2045, when the world has become a pretty sad place. It's years after people forgot how to make things, or fix things, so junk is all over the place.  People live in trailers stacked on top of each other, and they're miserable.  The only escape seems to be the “Oasis,” a virtual reality where you can put on the headset and be transported to a world where you can be anybody, do anything, go anywhere.  It's so compelling that people spend all their time in “virtual” reality, and as little time as possible in the “real” world.

            Wade (Tye Sheridan) is an orphan kid who lives in one of those high-rise trailers with his not-so-doting Aunt and her latest worthless live-in.  Wade, too, loves being in the “Oasis.”  His avatar, or alter ego, is Parzival, who sports a David Bowie kind of look.  He races his DeLorean (yes, it's a reference to “Back to the Future”---be prepared for many such pop culture nods) along a dizzying course, but he's become somewhat distracted by meeting Art3mis (pronounced like “Artemis”), a girl he would like to get to know.  They're both competing in a popular contest set up by the founder of Oasis before he died.  It seems that he's placed an “Easter Egg,” or hidden prize, somewhere in his Oasis.  The prize is supposedly the copyright to the whole virtual reality playground.  But first a player must find three keys, and the clues lie somewhere within the biography of the founder.  Wade likes to think of himself as a solo player, but really, he's made several friends in the virtual reality world, whom he would like to somehow meet in the “real” world, but of course they're going to look very different.

            Naturally, there's a bad guy.  Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) heads up the big company that is running “Oasis” until somebody wins the contest, but Sorrento wants to keep the power of that patent for himself.  We also find out that the company encourages people to spend their “real” money paying for devices to help them play the game better, and they get so addicted they fall into debt and can't get out.  Then the company steps in and invites them to pay off their debt---with virtual slave labor.  So of course we're rooting for the resourceful kids.

            The graphics are mind-boggling.  The scenes inside the “Oasis” make the viewers feel that they are themselves inside the virtual world.  But ironically, the movie points out how much we geeks have become enslaved by our electronic devices, with an increasing personal isolation, and a steady decline of social skills.  The trouble with not living in the real world is, well, it's not real.

            There are plenty of high-tech afficianados who will revel in this film, and they will probably enjoy the nostalgic romp through 1980's pop culture, as well.  There are also a lot of people who have no interest in video games and certainly no desire to simulate being in one for an entire feature-length movie.  So, chances are, you'll either love it or hate it.  With this one, there's little in the middle.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association