Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s wildly successful book hits cinemas this week and as expected many are holding it up as the first proper film for gamers about gaming.
Well, first off, that statement is bollocks of the highest order – regardless of whether or not Spielberg made a great film, about a virtual world, there have been many other films that dip into the world (admittedly with varying degrees of accuracy) not least War Games and Existenz.
Secondly, it is endlessly frustrating for me to see films like Ready Player One and Pixels be held up as films ‘for gamers’ as if ‘gamers’ are some weird breed of wildebeest sauntering around on a digital Savannah. What Ready Player One *actually is* is a film that happens to have a shit tonne of pop culture references, but it is not a film about gaming – or at least not as a whole – and it is MOST CERTAINLY not a celebration of gaming so much as a typical dystopian cautionary tale. What Ready Player One does very, very well is to portray the isolation that can come hand in hand with online gaming. I doubt I am alone in feeling crushing sadness after a madcap online session ends, the chat goes silent and the hive of activity you were once part of is a memory already. It’s like being on the late bus when everyone else has gotten off. It is easy to feel close to people, but in fact they could not be further away – something the film touches upon when two characters realise that they actually lived a walking distance away from one another.
Another thing that Ready Player One is – that is at odds with this whole ‘gamer movie’ thing – is a fucking excellent movie about the impact that media can have on our outlook on life, our experiences and – ultimately – our regrets. Now without going into deep spoiler territory there is a MAJOR diversion from the events of the book and the events in the film (in fact most of the film is more ‘relevant’ to a modern audience than the original book was) that sees the hero characters end up inside a movie that is handled so very well that I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. The film in question is a *perfect* fit for a film about isolation, insanity and regret and the sequence had the somewhat unenviable task of following the much hyped ‘Trackmania’ sequence (which is visually stunning and will certainly require a few more viewings to grab more details). After such a bombastic sequence, and with more like it promised, it took a lot of balls to take the foot of the gas, change gear into ‘What the Actual?!’ mode and take trip into one of the most famous hotels in cinematic history (no, not the one from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York).
That is also not saying that the film is perfect. It’s – as Spielberg said – a movie not a film. the amount of narrative convenience was almost irritating (a carry over from Cline’s source material if truth be told) and I would have happily had the film delivered as a deeply detailed trilogy, but the biggest gripe I have is the clunky opening narration which has a lot to do in terms of exposition revealing, but feels dated and dull.
But the film was enjoyable for the vast majority, there’s a great gag involving a password and a few *oh so perfect* uses of licensed characters – “It’s Fucking Chucky!” – that really hit the endorphin switches in my head. Sure it is overstuffed with cameos (although I guess they are not really cameos in so much as they are avatars and digital replicas) and at times it gets a bit much, but when it scales down it is clear that a) Spielberg gets the world he is showing; b) sales of 4K BluRays should be through the damn roof and c) Birmingham makes for a perfect dystopian shit hole.
So Ready Player One is not the Holy Grail of Pop Culture that the book was hailed as, but instead it is a blast of a ride with a superb performance from the always great Mark Rylance. See it, see it in 3D if you can, but make sure you go in expecting a good popcorn movie. Don’t go in expecting Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Because it is not that film, it is Ready Player One. You idiot.