Steven Spielberg’s hotly anticipated retro-fest Ready Player One will send audiences back to the future when it hits Cineworld this March.
Based on Ernest Cline’s bestselling book, the story takes place in an online world where the key to unlocking the future lies in the pop culture of the past. The film is set in 2045, but it actually promises to be one big nostalgia trip, thanks to the opportunities granted by a virtual universe known as the OASIS.
The trailer is bursting with retro characters and iconography, which had us scouring every frame for characters we know and Googling those we don’t. But there is much more under the surface of Ready Player One than just nostalgia…
It’s a world of pure imagination
While you will see plenty of retro video game references in Ready Player One, the story is actually about the future of gaming.
As mentioned, the central conceit revolves around the OASIS, a virtual simulation designed by eccentric pop culture aficionado James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Following Halliday’s death, it turns out he has left clues to uncovering his vast fortune within the game. It is up to our hero, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), to uncover these hidden Easter eggs and inherit the keys to the kingdom.
Fully immersive technology seems closer to our own reality than ever, and the film realises the potential of such gadgets. Just a VR headset and some haptic gloves and the movie’s characters can enter the OASIS, an online world in which practically everyone is a patron, and its possibilities are endless.
The trailer’s culture collision of 80s references hints that this universe is a toolbox of endless opportunities. (The likes of Lara Croft, Duke Nukem, Freddie Krueger and Back to the Future’s DeLorean all feature within the OASIS.)
Cline describes the movie as the following: "If Willy Wonka was a video game designer instead of a candy maker and he held his golden ticket contest inside the worlds greatest video game — that’s the essence of what the story is."
It's not hard to see why Ready Player One is the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory of our time. Quite apart from Cline's reasoning, it’s about an underdog winning the biggest prize of them all, and can resist a story like that?
It goes back to the future
At the same time, Ready Player One is a film about the future, granting Spielberg an opportunity to use his movie equivalent of a crystal ball for the first time since 2002’s sci-fi thriller Minority Report.
Set in 2045, Ready Player One portrays a world where a virtual universe is used as a refuge to escape a dystopian reality. With the effects of climate change biting, the future is one of overcrowding, energy and food shortages, and this is where we find our main character Wade.
What will be interesting is seeing how Spielberg alternates between the online utopia and the grim realities of futuristic reality.
It has something to say
The film isn’t just about honouring a procession of pop culture references, although that is pretty cool. It is also Spielberg’s comment on society and technology.
It’s about a free world versus business interests. The film’s antagonist, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), is intent on getting control of the OASIS first so his company IOI (Innovative Online Industries) can commercialise it. It’s up to Wade to uncover the secrets first.
The film allows Spielberg to explore the difference between people living in a limitless digital world versus those real-world tyrants who wish to exploit the technology for their own ends.
It’s directed by Steven Spielberg
Arguably the biggest director of the 1980s, Steven Spielberg is responsible for creating much of the culture that Ready Player One celebrates. Whilst he has been quoted as saying he won’t include any references to his own work, we all know from his filmography that he makes great films with indelible imagery.
From Jaws through Indiana Jones and Schindler’s List to the newly released The Post, few directors tap into the big screen’s potential quite like Spielberg.
It won’t be the first time Spielberg has brought CGI worlds to life either. Both The BFG and The Adventures of Tintin were computer-generated adventures bursting with creative action sequences and inventive visuals. Ready Player One has all the hallmarks of another hit for the legendary director.
It has a great cast of characters
Mark Rylance is no stranger to working with Spielberg, having worked with him to Oscar winning effect on Bridge of Spies and The BFG. The two will be reunited in Ready Player One as Rylance steps into the shoes of OASIS creator James Halliday.
X-Men Apocalypse’s Tye Sheridan will be starring as our hero Wade Watts, joined by Bates Motel’s Olivia Cooke as fellow gamer Samantha Evelyn Cook/Art3mis, Deadpool’s T.J. Miller as i-R0K, a Star Wars geek who idolizes Boba Fett, and Rogue One’s Ben Mendelsohn as baddie Sorrento.
Shaun of the Dead’s Simon Pegg will be also adding to his geek credentials playing Ogden Morrow, sidekick to the OASIS' creator. All in all, that’s a tremendous and varied cast able to do justice to Spielberg’s vision, mixing up veteran actors, established comic stars and relative newcomers.
It reminds us that being nerdy is a good thing
Ready Player One is a celebration of geek culture but that doesn’t mean you need to dust off your VHS player and start watching 1985 fantasy film Ladyhawke. (Google it.)
The movie will be a rich tapestry of recognisable references, homages to retro video games, music and film but you won’t need to be a complete anorak to enjoy the film, and not everything will hail from the 80s.
The trailer shows it actually has a few modern references too. We spotted Deadpool, The Joker, Harley Quinn and characters from video games like Overwatch and Halo.
We cannot wait to dive into Spielberg’s movie. We know the film is more complex than just a homage, but the reason it is one of the most anticipated films of 2018 is these multi-layered references. Honestly, who wasn’t excited to see the DeLorean in the trailer?
You can immerse yourself in the virtual playground of Ready Player One when it hits Cineworld on 30th March. However, it might need repeat viewings to spot all of the references…
Tom Nightingale is an Unlimited card holder who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.