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Parzival's Easter Egg Hunt: Ready Player One
Gaming, in the year 2045, has become the chosen form of escape for many people worldwide. One of the big attractions to the game in that time is the opportunity for a prize of instant riches, as well as full control of the gaming universe known by the acronym OASIS. This is the pursuit of the gamers in the movie Ready Player One. Tye Sheridan stars as Wade Watts, a young orphan living in the impoverished section of Columbus, Ohio, with his aunt and a series of her abusive boyfriends. For five years, no gamer has completed even one of the three necessary steps to change their lives. Using the handle Parzival, Wade has formed a friendly rivalry with two of the better players: Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe). All of them think they have the ideal vehicle that will guide them to victory in the road race that nobody has completed. Wade also ventures into virtual reality to research the life of this game's creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who had died five years earlier and become the world's first trillionaire. Halliday, however, left no heirs. After scouring the video clues of Halliday's life with the assistance of an online android known as The Curator (Simon Pegg), Wade interprets one of Halliday's remarks in a way to achieve victory, as well as a key that allows him to buy other items he believes will assist him in the subsequent stages. Art3mis, Aech, and two others follow Parzival's lead to successfully complete the road race as well.
This win gets the attention of Innovative Online Industries, who makes virtual gaming equipment and wishes to acquire Halliday's old company. Its CEO, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) has a cadre of gamers, gaming experts, and debt collectors who look to derail the quintet, who are now known as the High Five. Sorrento even has his own virtual spy, i-R0k (T. J. Miller), to find out the identity of Parzival behind his avatar. When Parzival reveals his real name to Art3mis at a virtual club, i-R0k takes the information to Sorrento, who makes Wade an offfer to join IOI and end this quest. When Wade refuses, he targets Wade for death. The assassin attempt, however, comes when Wade is not at home, and kills his aunt and her boyfriend. In the real world, Art3mis, whose real name is Samantha, comes to Wade's rescue, but she gets captured and sent to an identured servitude camp with others who have overextended themselves financially. Wade then meets the other High Five members in person, devising a plan to rescue Samantha while attempting to finish the contest.
Ready Player One is based on a novel by Ernest Cline, who also co-wrote the screen treatment of his work. That work is quite capably brought to life by Steven Spielberg, and includes plenty of 1970s and 1980s gaming and pop culture references. The car used by Parzival, for example, looks like the DeLorean from Back To The Future (which Spielberg executive produced). The High Five is, in essence, a generally older group of Goonies. Spielberg wrote The Goonies story (but not the screenplay) for the 1985 film about a group of kids trying to save their homes from big business. The quintet in Ready Player One looks to do something similar in the realm of virtual reality. The movie may be set in the future, but speaks to present day concerns. Affordable housing and amenities have been a concern for as long as I've lived - and have seemed to grow as some affluent people buy property they seldom occupy. Wade lives in a section of Columbus called The Stacks, where trailers are stacked on top of one another to form apartments of sorts. The quest for massive riches brings out the determination in Wade and in everybody else. While I enjoyed much of the hunt, I think the second and third clues should have come a little faster to show the intense stakes at hand. I also had a hard time buying that a bunch of people into gaming and the very revered James Halliday would need five years just to decipher one clue. Weeks or months would have sounded more plausible.
The lead performers are enjoyable enough, but the real star of this movie is Rylance. He steals his every scene as Halliday, an eccentric who created a place so many enjoy, but never found that same happiness outside the OASIS. He and his former partner, Ogden Morrow (also Simon Pegg), whose shares Halliday bought over a personal issue, never expected this creation to be what it became. Halliday wanted the OASIS to remain fun in perpetuity, and not a place where virtual losses translate to real life consequences. In the OASIS, Halliday assumes the avatar of Anorak, a wizard with Halliday's spirit who rewards players and understands their intentions and concerns. Mendelsohn is also good as the conniving Sorrento, who really doesn't care for gaming beyond its profit margin. Nolan may have is own OASIS avatar, but needs the expertise of others and written notes to navigate the place. Miller is funny as the mercenary i-R0k, a capable spy with a Darth Vader-like online presence whose help comes with a price.
Gaming can be both relaxing and obsessive, as witnessed by the events of Ready Player One. The movie also speaks to the difference between friends in cyberspace and friends in the day-to-day world. The High Five get quite the surprise when they see each other without their avatars to mask them. In either arena, they become allies against those who look for the monetary value in everything. Profitable business is certainly important, but many things that matter come with a greater and immeasurable value.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Ready Player One three stars. On your mark, get set, play.