The world of Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” novel is full of popular culture references and callbacks that to get them all, footnotes need added for some chapters. For the long-awaited movie adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg, you will need multiple viewings to catch them all. Thankfully, the story that serves as the main skeleton to all the pop culture tributes is one that is a universal story of acceptance and love.
The story follows Wade Watts aka Parzival (Tye Sheridan), an 18-year-old who like most of the world, spends his free time away from the stresses of the real world in “The Oasis”, a massive multiplayer online game universe created by James Halliday. Halliday’s death triggers a massive search for an “easter egg”, a hidden surprise in the virtual world that when found would give the finder complete control of The Oasis and all of those assets totaling half a trillion dollars. Halliday is compared in the film’s world to that of Steve Jobs and other tech giants, but is really a kid at heart, and has set a scavenger hunt of sorts to find the three keys needed to unlock the easter egg.
Watts, like some in the virtual universe, is a ‘gunter (egg hunter) and after five years of millions of people trying, he finds the first key. Not only does that give him online notoriety, but has also put him at odds with IOI and their CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who is willing to stop at nothing to take control of The Oasis and fill it with spam advertising and make people pay a high price to play there in order to turn a profit. It is up to Parzival and the other ‘gunters he meets, including his friend Aech , a mysterious woman named Art3mus, and others to not only find the egg, but to keep him safe in the real world.
The film, while overloaded with special effects to create the vast world of The Oasis, is rooted in a story that plays into Spielberg’s strengths: a story that centers around people that feel amazingly real and relatable that have strange and unusual circumstances happen to them. It was seen in E.T., Jaws, Hook, Jurrassic Park and other films that he’s directed or produced, and that in itself is probably the biggest pop culture callback in the film.
That’s not to say that those immersed in movies, games, television and all forms of entertainment will not enjoy seeing callbacks ranging from The Iron Giant to Freddy Kruger, from Buckaroo Banzai to Back to the Future. Also, it may be interesting to note that Spielberg did not allow any references to his own directed films in the final product. Before you say anything about a Delorean Time Machine being used in the film, we know that it’s in the film, but “Back to the Future” was produced by Spielberg, not directed, so he allowed it to stay. There are some other times that the movie strays from the novel, as far as something being substituted for another entity. This was because of rights issues and other complications with the acquisition of some pop culture properties, but Cline worked with screenwriters to make sure the finished product was truly his vision.
The music soundtrack and score was also a great throwback to the films from the eighties, as Alan Silvestri was brought in to score the film, using some trademarks from other movies he scored. The licensed music ranges from classic 60’s R&B to 80’s punk, and lets you ride the wave of emotions and excitement as the search for the egg reaches several tension-filled moments.
Cinematically, Spielberg has experimented with digital actors before with “The Adventures of Tintin”, and improves on that work significantly. You can feel for the digital avatars of Parzival, Art3mus and Aech as if they were people in the real world.
While certainly filled with pop culture references that go beyond what Cline originally put down in the novel, the film itself is a roller coaster that is enjoyable for those who are gamers or those who love retro pop culture. Others who see the film may be curious as to the references and may search for their own easter eggs to find something they may have forgotten or new interests they may have, but while surrounded by the all-too-familiar, “Ready Player One” delivers a solid movie-going experience that Spielberg is best known for.
Author’s Bio: Josh Widdowson still plays an Atari 2600 on occasion. He is from Western Pennsylvania and loves movies, games, Pittsburgh Sports, his girlfriend, cooking and travel, but not necessarily in that order. He is a frequent guest contributor for The Inscriber and will soon start a series on vacation survival.