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“Ready Player One” rife with easter eggs

Olivia+Cooke+stars+in+Steven+Spielberg%27s+new+epic+film+set+in+a+virtual+reality.%0A%28Image+courtesy+of+IMDB%29
Olivia Cooke stars in Steven Spielberg's new epic film set in a virtual reality.
(Image courtesy of IMDB)

Olivia Cooke stars in Steven Spielberg's new epic film set in a virtual reality. (Image courtesy of IMDB)

Olivia Cooke stars in Steven Spielberg's new epic film set in a virtual reality. (Image courtesy of IMDB)

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Easter weekend is never complete without an egg hunt and “Ready Player One” delivers the most cinematic one ever. Director Steven Spielberg takes audiences on a visually stunning journey into the not too distant future where the Earth’s resources have been mostly used up.  To paraphrase the film, people stopped looking for ways to solve problems and looked for ways to avoid them.  That avoidance took the form of the “Oasis,” a massive virtual reality game where anyone can be and do anything. And it’s free.

  It becomes so big it develops its own economy comparable to that of Earth’s.  In fact, many people spend more time in The Oasis than in reality. The creator of the game, James Halliday, dies five years before the beginning of the film.  He leaves a video message saying that there is an easter egg hidden inside the game, and the first to find the three keys and get to the egg gains control of the Oasis. Now, as the films starts, someone has found the first key. Our heroes, the “High Five,” must find the egg before the evil corporation, IOI, does and save the Oasis from destruction.

Diehards of the Ernest Cline book the film is based on will likely come away with a bit of a sour taste due to the many departures this film takes from its source material.  Though, if anyone was expecting a perfect transformation they were kidding themselves. Length aside, the book contains references that would leave most people digging out their phone in the theater to try and figure out what they just saw (PSA: Don’t be that person. Phones in the theater are never okay.). Additionally, the plethora of easter eggs in the book is simply not possible on the big screen due to copyright issues.

Still, the movie uses the brands it was able to license as best as it can.  For example, we don’t get a run through of the 1983 sci-fi film “War Games,” but we do get to see the High Five placed in the universe of an equally notable film.  While the book took a deep dive into the 1980s, Spielberg instead takes a shallow dip into several decades.  To broaden the audience we get references from “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad” to “Halo” to “Overwatch.”  While it is still a spectacle seeing characters from these properties fight side by side, it may take away the glamor from those who loved the book for its intense and niche ‘80s focus.

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The characters mirror that shift of focus to a wide audience.  Parzival/Wade Watts becomes an everyman hero instead of a chubby, awkward guy.  Same goes for the female lead, Art3mis/Samantha.  While this may bother those who related to the characters in the book, the bigger problem for the movie is that the characters have little to no depth. For a film all about pop culture, we learn very little about what these characters’ favorite movies or games or shows might be. There is nothing that distinguishes them from any of the others searching for the egg.  Wade is a classic hero that saves the day just…because.  Characters tell him he’ll be the one to find it because “they can feel it” or “he’s special,” but the audience doesn’t really get that feeling.

There is a romance between the two leads because, of course.  It plays perfectly into the tropes of the hero genre.  They have probably been together for a week at most and by the end of the movie they can’t get the camera out of their room fast enough, so they can start having some non PG-13 action.  Two members of their group, Daito and Sho, get absolutely shafted in the character department.  The film touts them as part of the High Five but they scarcely grace the camera and even in the scenes they are in they make an insignificant impact. None of the main characters are outright boring; rather, they are just like many other heroes we have seen before.

Still, one could argue that it was never the plot or the characters that made the book a New York Times bestseller.  It was this idea of a fully realized virtual world, the infinite possibilities and – let’s be real – sometimes we all need a good, cheesy story.  When it comes to these aspects, Spielberg delivers in full.  The Oasis is brought together in a visually stunning way. The effects take a perfect angle, being obviously fake and yet still believable in every way. The Oasis doesn’t just seem cool, it really feels like somewhere you could spend the rest of your life.  The moment when Wade first enters the game is a truly memorable moment, especially when underscored by Alan Silvestri’s (“The Avengers,” “Back to the Future”) music.

Seeing so many properties crammed together becomes an easter egg hunt on its own, as viewers can try to figure out how many outside influences they can spot.  Ranging from the incredibly obvious to the nearly imperceptible, they are everywhere.  After all, It is hard to be annoyed with poor characters when you are watching Gundam and the Iron Giant double team Mechagodzilla.

This movie may be hard to enjoy for those not interested in the video game and film culture this movie is trying to represent.  It would become all to easy for it to become just another sci-fi heroes tale, with characters who are supposedly experts on this game constantly explaining how it works to each other.  But for those looking for a pop cultural-filled visual orgy, “Ready Player One” delivers in full on that promise and is well made enough in its other facets to make it a truly enjoyable experience, if maybe not quite as good as it could have been.

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“Ready Player One” rife with easter eggs