Ready Player One
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Ready Player One

Among all the roles required to create and maintain a culture, there is one that is among the most crucial to the health and growth of the society is the storyteller. From their original function of maintaining the oral history of the culture to the over the top blockbuster films so popular today, those telling stories have always played a defining role for their audiences. In the modern world, we live in many storytellers have risen to popularity. Thanks in large part to the technological explosion that has provided a new means of personal expression. Among the most influential of these new bards is Steven Spielberg. He began with modest teleplays for television, moving on to movies that heavily influenced the zeitgeist of his generation solidly extending it generations that followed. His immersive love for popular culture carried him to someone that has created an incredible number of tropes and archetypes that define the world in which we live. His latest film, ‘Ready Player One,’ the film contains many of the trademark stylistic choices that have helped define his movies as a substantial influence over a couple of generations. Plot elements encompassing such themes as the generational gap between adults and children and how technology can never supersede the wonder and power of the human spirit. A dismal post societal collapse world is a very common theme explored by a myriad of novels, movies and television series. It takes a visionary of extraordinary talent to craft a narrative of the level of entertainment. Approaching the movie the perspective of a film critic or professor of cinematic studies. It would be possible to dissect each frame identifying numerous perceived misstep; it is crucial to remember that Mr. Spielberg is a filmmaker for the people. His primary audience is rarely critics or academics. He is a lifelong cinephile who sat through hundreds of hours of movies in neighborhood theaters, influenced by the same licks we enjoyed. The difference is, Mr. Spielberg has the talent to create his work.

The story takes place in the year 2045 when most of the world has collapsed leaving rampant unemployment, slums, and despair. Life is so devoid of even an iota of hope that most of humanity routinely escape into virtual reality. Dealings in the real world are limited to eking out a minimal existence sufficient to provide rudimentary food, housing and the all-important net access and devices necessary to connect to online virtual reality. The overwhelming most popular VR program is a massive, fully immersive world called Oasis. Any desire can be fulfilled within that virtual world from violent first-person shooter games to an extreme version of some perennial favorite video games. Each person is represented by their avatar, that can be modified, and equipped using monetary units called coins. It is possible to purchase a real-world item such as googles, gloves and full body interface suits to master the VR environment. If you die, in the simulation, your possessions, items, and coins are removed leaving your avatar back to the beginning. Some forms of death result in your coins spilling out subject to being gathered by a nearby player. The main protagonist and the eponymous "Player One’ is a 17-year-old orphan, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), also known as in in-game personae, Parzival. Along with his best friend, Aech (Lena Waithe), whose Avitar is a rather large robotic a male first-person shooter expert and virtual mechanic. So many people live predominantly in Oasis to the extent that friendships formed in VR are as true and significant as any forged in the real world.

The Oasis was a co-founder of the company hosting Oasis and actual genius behind its creation was the late James "Anorak" Halliday (Mark Rylance), who, like most movie geniuses, is quirky with a defining personality obsession. In his case, it was a pop culture with an emphasis on the history of video games encompassing the gamut from Pong to Oasis. Before his death, Halliday inserted a complex Easter egg hidden deeply in the code. The first person to uncover it will inherit all of Halliday’s controlling shares in the company, Online Industries, granting the winner to receive full ownership and control of OASIS. This also comes with a fortune exceeding $500 Billion. The prize is located behind a gate in Oasis requiring three keys to open. Obtaining each key requires overcoming a challenge testing the worthiness of the person. Years have passed, and despite the first challenge being common knowledge, one has ever succeeded. It is in the form of an elaborate Death Race, so deadly most contestants zero-out, losing all accumulated items, experience, and coin. This hapless player to create a fresh avatar, devoid of equipment and coin before rejoining the simulation. Wade, in his Parzival personae, enters the race with his simulation of the DeLorean from ‘Back to the Future.’ I watched the film with my best friend finding a new level of enjoyment in being the first to identify the constant progression of Easter egg references to pop culture trivia.

The race annihilates most of the competitors, but Parzival manages to make it further than most, until the infamous King Kong knocks him off course, at the start of that iteration of the race Parzival notices an Avatar of a pretty yang woman, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), riding a tricked-out motorcycle. He manages to prevent her from zeroing out. They become friendly adversaries at first but soon a partner in the game. Thousands have been searching for clues to the keys. A resource was created to help the hard-core Easter egg hunters, known as Gunters, the Archives. It is a massive VR construct containing every journal, photographs, interviews, and minutiae concerning the late genius. The Curator of the facility is an Avatar made in the image of Halliday’s business partner, Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg). The prosthetic makeup and digital rendering were incredibly done, nearing unrecognizable yet leaving a lingering feeling of familiarity. After years of failures, most Gunters have stopped searching through the vast piles of data. Parzival, was obsessed with Halliday, devoting every spare moment to research. He has become the greatest authority on Halliday, and it pays off. Random comment made by the man provides him with a strategy to win the first key. He became globally famous as Player One, the First key Holder. Soon, Aech and Art3mis soon follow along with other future members of the elite ‘High Five.’

The biggest rivals in the quest are hosted video game conglomerate Innovative Online Industries (IOI), headed by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who employs many researchers, top gamers and indentured servants called "Sixers." These circumstances permit the introduction of an ancient theme, the little guy versus the undefeatable giant, David, and Goliath. In the hands of the cinematic Master, Mr. Spielberg gave this perennial favorite new life with a modern technological spin. The search for the remaining two keys progress with Wade’s unrivaled understanding of Halliday’s life gives him a substantial advantage over the small army of IOI researchers they had all the same core facts, but Wade understood the nuances of Waller’s life and what made him such a distinct individual. This is a theme that frequently repeated throughout the amazing oeuvre of this generation’s greatest storyteller. Mr. Spielberg always champions humanity over technology. It was demonstrated in ‘Artificial Intelligence: AI,’ ‘Minority Report,’ and ‘War of the Worlds.’ His belief in the supremacy of the human spirit is reinforced in Non-Science fiction films like ‘Amistad’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ One of the most emotional uses of this directorial styling is evident in when Wade meets the High Five in real life. Each one is significantly different from their Avatar, but best noted with Art3mis, otherwise known as Samantha. She lives in Oasis to conceal her greatest source of embossment and shame, a large port-wine birthmark covering one side of her face. She wears her hair in the fashion of Veronica Lake. Kids rather than going to Google talk to your grandparents about this actress. In fact, it’s a good idea to do this more frequently.

The action sequences that define the trails for the other keys are extremely well crafted and full of their own meta Easter eggs reflecting the movies, games and television shows that fascinated Halliday and has become such an integral part of his personality that is natural that it completely infiltrated his magnum opus. Only Wade’s deeply personalized connection to his hero permitted him to decipher the enigmatic clues to win the ultimate prize. The most elaborate example is with the second key, it involved his favorite horror movie. Staley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining.’ The detailed recreation of the most infamous scenes of that iconic horror movie taps into your primitive fears incurred during your own experience of the film. Although Mr. Spielberg’s films are very special and personal for his fellow Baby Boomers, the sheer power of its presentation makes it enjoyable for all ages.

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Posted 07/24/2018

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