For Steven Spielberg’s latest trick, he set almost an entire movie in a virtual-reality video game. Ready Player One, based on Ernest Cline’s much-read, much-maligned book of the same name, hit theaters on Thursday, inviting audiences into a world of—as we were endlessly reminded in the marketing material—“pure imagination.” Members of The Ringer staff strapped in and hit the Start button—below are their thoughts about the experience.
1. What is your tweet-length review of Ready Player One?
Jason Concepcion: A fun movie, if highly imperfect (like the book), Ready Player One is about as good as you could hope for. A hopeful dystopia.
Justin Charity: Ready Player One makes gamers look really bad but gaming look really cool.
Rob Harvilla: A fun, goofy action-adventure romp that also feels like watching a cover band consisting of members of the original band wearing elaborate disguises because they’ve grown so afraid of the entitlement of their own fans.
Andrew Gruttadaro: Video games are good … video games are also bad.
Miles Surrey: For a movie about a dystopian future where mankind would rather live in a virtual utopia than save the real world it’s … pretty fun?
Sean Yoo: Although the book and the movie both have their flaws, the movie adds a layer of pure adrenaline that makes it undeniably way more fun to digest than the novel.
Micah Peters: Didn’t hip-hop also happen during the ’80s?
Chris Ryan: Needed more FIFA.
2. What was the best part of the movie?
Peters: The big battle scene that loudly announces itself as the Best Part Of The Movie, in which the Iron Giant and an RX-78-2 Gundam tag-team Mechagodzilla.
Charity: Spielberg pitting a Gundam against Mechagodzilla is a more heart-warming, tear-begging tribute to Japan than all of Isle of Dogs.
Concepcion: Spielberg getting back into kids-coming-of-age-through-adventure mode.
Ryan: The arrival in the Overlook Hotel sitting room. There’s a brief moment when this movie feels like it’s about to go completely off the rails in a delirious way—riffing on isolation and authorship and returning to the treasured Spielberg theme of corpse-humping Stanley Kubrick. Instead it becomes a bit about zombie ballroom dancing and more MacGuffin Keys. But imagine if the High Five group had been torn apart because they had slightly different tastes in movies!
Yoo: As someone who has seen The Shining only once, the recreation scene in RP1 was hilarious yet terrifying at the same time. I would prefer to never play that level ever in my lifetime.
Surrey: If you’ve seen The Shining, it was that lengthy bit in the Shining-verse. It was totally delightful, and definitely the only time I’ve ever thought to myself, “I hope someone enters Room 237.” Now I really want to rewatch The Shining and immediately regret it.
Harvilla: The “death race in reverse” thing was great, in part because it was a shrewd callback to an earlier scene (the dinosaur, King Kong, etc.) rather than a pandering callback to decades-old pop culture ascendent before this movie’s ostensible target audience was even born.
Gruttadaro: When the real-world police finally decided to do their jobs.
3. What was your least favorite part of the film?
Surrey: That the group of workers at the fictional IOI—whose sole purpose is to mindlessly sift through 1980s pop culture and slap ideas on a whiteboard—is what you’ll see inside any major Hollywood studio today.
Charity: The movie’s pathetic attempt to frame Art3mis as unconventionally attractive—worse yet, ugly.
Peters: The ways in which the world is warped when everyone experiences life through VR never being fully explored, probably. The idea that Samantha is supposed to believe she’s “ugly” because she has a birthmark is a close second, though.
Concepcion: The part where Wade/Parzival told Art3mis, a girl he knew from the internet and had known for five minutes in real life, that he loved her while touching her face in exceedingly creepy fashion.
Gruttadaro: How everything really, really works out for Wade in re: Samantha, a.k.a. Art3mis. Not only is she beautiful (the birthmark is cool, not grotesque) and into him for no viable reasons, but she also just suddenly decides that he deserves to win the game more than her? Because … why exactly?
Ryan: The very end. The whole story feels like the Wikipedia version of its own plot, but the yadda-yadda-ing at the end, when the newly-minted trillionaire gamers’ major contribution to society is … two days off … so that Wade and Sam can make out in their cool loft … sucks? I don’t need to see a Social Network about Gregarious Games, but did you get the feeling like society was being liberated from the opiate of VR? And if it wasn’t, or if the VR world is actually a better alternative to real life, wouldn’t that have been a much more interesting idea to interrogate than “and then they kiss”? I know, I know, shut up and enjoy the Iron Giant fighting a Mechagodzilla.
Harvilla: Probably how the dude should’ve spent three seconds mourning the deaths of his aunt and hundreds of other people. Probably, if they were gonna make such a big deal about Art3mis in the OASIS versus Art3mis in the real world, that difference should’ve been a little more pronounced than “extremely minor birthmark.” Probably how repurposing the Iron Giant as a pure ass-kicking machine was missing the point a lil’ bit. Probably how they should’ve used this as the theme song.
4. Who was Ready Player One’s MVP?
Surrey: John Hughes and Stanley Kubrick, who aren’t even alive.
Ryan: Hi, Olivia Cooke. Nice to meet you. Enjoy Hollywood for the next 20 years.
Peters: Is it Lena Waithe? It has to be Lena Waithe, right?
Concepcion: The Iron Giant.
Yoo: My book MVP is Ogden Morrow but his lack of screen time subjects me to vote for da gawd Ben Mendelsohn, who lives for villainous roles like this. Big shout-out to BO55MAN69.
Charity: Mark Rylance, who plays Halliday, the most loaded, most confused, most interesting character in the movie.
Harvilla: I am loathe to say T.J. Miller (though he alone seemed to revel in the inherent absurdity of the movie he was in), so I’m going with Mark Rylance, who brought the very quiet and eerie pathos of the movie he wanted to be in.
5. Ready Player One has approximately 100,000 pop culture references—please choose your favorite one.
Gruttadaro: The first shot of the High Five entering The Shining’s Overlook Hotel actually made my heart jump. A really good way to get me invested in your movie is to use scenes from other movies I like.
Charity: The Shining. I’ve never seen it.
Peters: Considering there was absolutely no need for me to specify “RX-78-2 Gundam” before …
Yoo: There’s a part in the final battle scene where Daito unleashes his RX-78-2 Gundam suit and it is one of the greatest things my anime-loving eyes have ever seen. Despite the fact it only lasts about a minute, it is enough for me to start the petition to get us a full Gundam movie.
Concepcion: The Jurassic Park “must go faster” reference.
Ryan: Chucky and all the Sixers freaking out at him was great.
Surrey: I like the idea of purchasing a Chucky and throwing it at your enemies.
Harvilla: I owned several Madballs, and would’ve asked my parents for even more if I’d have known they could be used as explosives.
6. Is there too much nostalgia in Ready Player One?
Yoo: Yeah, but it’s not surprising because the book was basically nostalgia barfed onto a piece of paper.
Concepcion: Your mileage may vary, but yes.
Peters: I don’t know about “too much,” although it feels emptier than usual. The movie never really attempts an explanation of why movies or TV or comics appeal to us, but it does have all of the figurines and first editions.
Gruttadaro: No. The problem, really, is that the movie takes place in 2045 but is nostalgic for all the things we’re nostalgic for in 2018. That makes me feel good, and like I’m never going to be old—but I know that in 2045, people will be nostalgic for, like, Skrillex, and it’s really going to suck.
Harvilla: Yes? Obviously? This is a movie that crams ’80s culture down down 2018 audiences’ throats while telling a story about a distant future in which ’80s culture is STILL being crammed down people’s throats. The vertical-trailer-park dystopia of the outside world pales in comparison to the OASIS’s cultural dystopia of half-century-plus-old references to barely playable Atari games. I hope future teenagers find the stuff I loved as a kid endlessly hilarious.
Ryan: I didn’t find it that nostalgic! And I’m 40! I think my major issue with the reference points is the idea that Halliday would cast such an enormous shadow over the world—for generations—that nothing that transpired in pop culture between Van Halen’s 1984 and the actual year 2045 would warrant a place in the OASIS. Like, did Wade and Samantha not read Meet Me in the Bathroom?!
Surrey: It is both exhausting to know that there are so many blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pop culture cameos that would require several rewatches to notice, and that Ready Player One is an empty vessel of a movie without these moments.
Charity: The problem isn’t nostalgia. The problem is consumption.
7. What would your OASIS avatar be, and why?
Gruttadaro: I’d be Mark Rylance.
Surrey: I would be open-shirted Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, flying around in Jeff Goldblum’s pleasure craft from Thor: Ragnarok, and able to transform into Jeff Goldblum from The Fly in player combat. I will modulate my avatar’s voice to sound like Jeff Goldblum. In essence, I am the Goldblum.
Concepcion: A Wookiee-sized corgi that walks on two legs. Because that’s what I goddamn want.
Ryan: It me:
Yoo: This is easy: Give me Trunks from Dragon Ball Z during the Frieza saga. Between the dope purple jacket and the badass sword I’m pretty positive I would have the flyest fit in the OASIS.
Harvilla: My first impulse is Totoro, and my second, much stronger impulse is to leave Totoro out of it.
8. If something like the OASIS became a reality, would you play it?
Peters: How could I nottttttttttttt?
Harvilla: Only if there was a playable version of GoldenEye 007 for the N64 involved. (With apologies to James Halliday, “Grenade launchers in the facility” is obviously the best GoldenEye mode.)
Charity: I don’t do big, sprawling multiplayer environments. I’m a gaming isolationist. I’m surprised Halliday dedicated his life to developing a gaming introvert’s nightmare.
Yoo: I would definitely play it but would need to limit myself to a certain amount of gameplay. I normally have a highly addictive personality when it comes to video games so I can totally see a scenario where I never leave the OASIS.
Surrey: I tried VR once, for about five minutes; it was a space-shooter game. I got dizzy and nearly puked. The mind might be willing, but my body will refuse to succumb to the temptations of the OASIS!
Gruttadaro: I think I’d probably buy all the equipment and then feel really sad installing an omnidirectional treadmill in my apartment, so then I’d give up on the OASIS. Then, years later, when it became clear that all of society had migrated to this virtual-reality world, I’d finally join in, way too late.
Ryan: No. I’d be blogging about it for IOI.
9. How do you judge Steven Spielberg at this point in his career?
Charity: Remember Jurassic Park?
Concepcion: A pop cinema genius who’s at his best when simply trying to entertain.
Ryan: He made Jaws and Raiders ... and Saving Private Ryan and Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List and Empire of the Sun and Catch Me If You Can and Minority Report. He’s playing with house money.
Harvilla: Far less harshly than Steven Spielberg seems to be judging himself. Ready Player One gets better the closer it gets to arguing against its own existence, or at least allowing its mythical supergenius to blanche a little at what his genius creations hath wrought. I also wonder if Spielberg has imagined the conversation he’s going to have to have with Stanley Kubrick in Famous-Director Heaven about this.
Yoo: It’s hard to judge someone who has created so many excellent films. Ready Player One is a nice addition to Spielberg’s already prestigious filmography.
Surrey: Spielberg is a living legend. Sure, he’s made bad movies—The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, unfortunately, exists—but they’re exceedingly rare, and he’s played the prestige game quite well in the past decade (Lincoln, War Horse, Bridge of Spies, The Post). But if I’m being honest and a little selfish, I want some more action-adventure romps from Spielberg.
Ready Player One was a good start, but I’d love something that calls to mind peak Jurassic Park or Indiana Jones—heck, even something with the baser thrills of Jaws. I’m not sure a fifth Indiana Jones movie is the answer; an original concept would be great, but as long as Shia LaBeouf isn’t swinging through the jungle with monkeys, it’s a start.