It is likely that 2018 has been a memorable year for those who follow Steven Spielberg’s long-running filmography, for in just a short time viewers have had the opportunity to vibrate with that other side of his career – often vilified – but which proves, in short, a commercial cinema as appetizing and worthy as his other titles of a higher artistic caliber. Ready Player One – The game begins, in its Spanish translation – had already been postponed by Spielberg to set up with The Post: the Pentagon’s dark secrets an “emergency” cinema, however, the creativity of the Hollywood genius did not discourage those who waited just a few months to taste the new post-apocalyptic blockbuster, with its overdose of excitement and adventure.
Ready Player One is the adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name published in 2009 and which has also been a bestseller among gamers of various latitudes. In this book, they are the protagonists of a mega-adventure that takes them through the infinite virtual world Oasis, while searching for a series of Easter eggs hidden among countless puzzles and references to the popular culture of the eighties and nineties. Cline himself and Zak Penn (X-Men: the final decision) would be in charge of dressing this main course with Spielberg’s obvious advice that adds the inevitable cameos to the stage’s most iconic films, some of himself.
In general, Spielberg remains true to the adventurous spirit of this work as long as he walks already in his filmography – Encounters in the Third Phase (1977), the classic Indiana Jones and the Hunters of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T., The Alien (1982), The Empire of the Sun (1987), Jurassic Park (1993), Artificial Intelligence (2001), Minority Report (2002), War of the Worlds (2005) , Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) or The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)– to discuss issues concerning technological developments, their goodness and harmful effects on a global scale. The millennial era is glimpsed as a dystopian universe where everyone prefers to evade a corroded and visibly stratified reality that adds to disadvantaged social classes in the most precarious marginality. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), the protagonist, is the typical character who will carry out a process of metamorphosis in his heroic ascension in a narrative plagued by the most unimaginable adventures that violate the boundaries between reality and fiction. Once again the narrative program of this film validates the effectiveness of the ideological didactism of the myth of the hero, in which the central core supports the classic battle between Good and Evil, and the particularity of an aesthetic message that bets its lessons on friendship, unity and intelligence as weapons of combating a despotic power that signers and threatens the fate of the world.
Right at the end of the film, Halliday (Mark Rylance), the character who devised Oasis, while procuring the Easter egg that will crown Wade as the winner of the race, tells him from an original philosophical perspective that it is intended to sum up the entire ideology of the film: “[…] despite how frightening and painful reality is, it’s also the only place where you can eat decently.” He then places the virtual egg in Wade’s hands that gains a real look in everyone’s eyes in the physical world. Wade understands in this way the enigma of the game, which, in short, aims for a metaphor, since the futuristic dystopia of 2049, of our historical present. A Baudillardian bias tyses in the ideology of this film in its apparent banality, which urges reflection around the inability of social actors to distinguish between reality and fantasy, motivated by excessive consumerism in technologically advanced societies; how vulnerable human nature and consciousness are, too, when it is impossible to find alternatives to resistance to the dictum of programmed obsolescence, while being trapped under the harmful influence of alienation and dependence on new technologies.
What brings us, moreover, outstanding and admirable this new proposal? The way in which authorial intent decides to remain faithful, at least in spirit, to the original narrative, to refer all the prominence to the virtual universe to which it refers. The technological display of this film far outweighs the dynamism of other recent titles – Mad Max: Fury on the Road, George Miller, 2015 – so much creative genius is likely to earn his rewards on the red carpet. By turning this film into endless references to iconic audiovisual works in film history and elements of popular culture in the 1980s and 1990s, the adventure of the journey becomes a two-way experience – for the characters and the viewer – in a dystopian universe in which CGI virtuosity manages to shed the vertigo of emotion.
If in Cline’s novel its just over four hundred pages explore every breath of popular culture and classic video games that made history at the time, in RPO the resource of the pastiche widens the possibilities of expression of a playful narrative that challenges historical memory and makes the viewer an active participant of this virtual universe without hindering in the least the fundamental dynamic motives that give life to the story. Spielberg himself is said to have stated that it takes at least six times to see this film to identify every detail inserted, but it’s enough for a first time to relive memorable passages from iconic titles like Kubrick’s The Glow, vibrate with references to the Goonies and A-ha, or clearly accompany the catwalk for classic characters like Kong, Jurassic Park dinosaurs, He-man, Ninja Turtles, Battletoads, Alien and endless avatars that don’t escape Chucky’s fury, The Killer Doll.
This is the most excessive and extraordinary post-production work in special effects that the Industrial Light & Magic has done in recent years, with which Spielberg not only surpasses himself – Jurassic Park, Minority Report – but also reads us a new title that revolutionizes the history of cinema in this area. Ready Player One also gets the extraordinary feeling of making us forget that we attend computer-created images, honoring the aesthetic message of his film. What is against it, however, of its excessiveness? Perhaps the reproach at the overflow of a virtual adventure that, at times, resents the psychological depth of real protagonics, with avatars more attractive than their physiques and gestures. Tye Sheridan has the freshness that brings us the novelty of a little-known face and although it captivates the innocence of his love for Atermis (Olivia Cooke) – romanticism in the final pose of the kiss is an intentional nod to those silent films lost in the memory of time – he seems obnezed by his avatar version in just over two hours of pure entertainment. That also, unfortunately, happens to the rest of the supporting characters of which Aech/Helen (Lena Waithe) has the merit of interesting us in his lightheartedness, and the scam with his virtual alter-ego makes us pass cat for hare.
This film also grants excessive footage to an adventure that only achieves greater interest in the initial and intermediate segments; emotions like they suffer the condition of those who reach the finish line breathlessly, having run a marathon in unbridled running. Mark Rylance, in his pairing with Spielberg from past titles – Bridge of Spies, The BFG (2016)– is surely the best in this film in terms of character design, an autobiographical remeath with which his filmmaker again throws bold (necessary) warnings, but also tells us about a passion that makes this story an allegory of his inner world. This is the last, in my view, the most relevant thing about the film: the way it shows us the virtual nudity of a filmmaker who is still at the top of world filmography right now. In the face of that, only a genuineness is possible, granting a fat-eyed license to any loss and letting that scrambled river of reality and fantasy drag us and do its thing.
Seventy years into a career crowned by success, Spielberg continues to demonstrate his good form in each installment to give us captivating lessons from good cinema. Ω