By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
- Spoiler Alert
The virtual reality (VR) interfaces we have today has not drastically changed in Steven Spielberg‘s adaptation of the book, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Futurists have to believe advancements in neural interfaces and holo projection will fill in the gap instead of advancements in the hardware used today. The former is vaguely suggested and the latter, none is even considered. This movie is not comparable to The Matrix or The Congress. Amusingly, a joke is made when nature calls. Unplugging is required.
Even in the future 30 years from now, folks are still wearing those darned headsets! I am having neural seizures since not everyone is going to have full command of their senses to believe the world they are jumping into is real. The IMAX 3D presentation hardly jumped; much of the visual treatment was flat. The music featured, however, was amazing and it spoke to me. Although for this glimpse into virtual reality, when my first exposure into this discourse is with William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the bar is set high. This work is neither at Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell level of exploration, even though the story offers a fleeting tease of what could be.
As this film bounces between two different types of reality, the games Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), Samantha (Olivia Cooke) and their team “Aech” Lena Waithe, and brothers Daito Philip Zhao and Shoto Win Morisaki play are inspired from Pole Position and perhaps also Haunted Mansion. The OASIS is from TRON. I get the feeling villain Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) owes a debt to Decker from this movie. When he knows he’s screwed, he owns up to it.
When real life wakes these players up, they will realize they are not walking on air and neither are they truly free. When the truck from the A-Team is visible, I expected a particular bushy-haired red-suited individual to appear next. This work is more intent on jamming in as many pop culture references as possible than to wax philosophy. Whether that’s with a name reference, movie moment or cameo, the home video release better offer a pop-up video reference guide. The music offers better clues to where the tale should go. Some songs are featured in the film and others are not explicit; I am more impressed in the latter approach. Spielberg wanted this work to celebrate everything geek from the 60’s onwards instead of full-on cyberpunk. Because of that, the presentation is very overwhelming. I went to see Ready Player One twice. The first time was for the story. The second was with a notepad to see what I can pick out from the cameos. Eventually, I gave up and decided I am better off looking the tech and the musical direction.
If I decide to see this film for the third time, I might explode into a fountain of coins because of the sensory overload! Cyber Currency is real, and the fact it’s tied to the avatar, I have to wonder how much is lost every time they “die?” One scary fact is in how i-R0k (T. J. Miller), one of three antagonists, revealed that he has over ten years worth of bling on him. When he goes, he loses all the coins he accumulated, and he no doubt has a lot.
In the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), Big Brother does not exist. Anorak, the Dungeon Master (James Halliday, played by Mark Rylance) does and he made this realm. I question if he is real or software. This Second Life world lets players do whatever they want here, and it more or less goes unmoderated. Instead, a software intelligence may exist dictating the rules of this realm which is studying mankind and the decisions they make. Choosing wisely is important, and Spielberg ought to know since he directed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
In this realm, people can fashion an alter-ego to let them escape the depression which plagues their real life. Whether that’s caused by the fact much of the world has fallen into disrepair or their own financial situation, everyone is able to come in anytime they like, and some opt not to leave, Hotel California-style. This internet is also not freely given. The slums exist because these folks are barely getting by. Wade’s aunt wants a better life, but with everyone tossing money into VR, there’s no escape. This context is barely explored.
A clever nod is made about how hamster-balls make for the best VR experience. It should not be a chair. To suggest movement is handled with treadmills is a step backward. It does not matter it’s omnidirectional; this tech exists now but is used in military simulations than available to the public.
Writers Cline and Zak Penn have a few ideas to suggest advancements in the tech. Haptic suits are here, but it’s hardly affordable for the casual gamer to own. Items to “enhance pleasure centers” was the first toy to get developed since the introduction of VR interfaces, and to see them integrated into a suit is definitely the next step. People can buy gloves, which are cheap enough, but to experience a full-on sensory experience requires tricking the brain to believe other inputs. One problem real VR has is with motion-sickness. As much as I wanted to see Atari’s Tempest recreated, I understand bringing this game to cinematic life is hard. Instead of a third person perspective, I doubt a first-person look from the cockpit can work. The experience needs to explode similar to how Daniel and Jack slid through the Stargate. (NOTE: I took on this handle when I was young because of my love for this vector graphic game. It was not because I’m an uncontrolled force of nature.)
Spielberg crafted a fun film which entertains. However, he’s not making any statement with Ready Player One. He tries to with where the VR tech is at now, but one big issue barely touched upon is with net neutrality. Innovative Online Industries (IOI) is a conglomerate who wants to monetize this intranet (all of virtual reality), and not everyone is going to recognize this jab at current affairs.
The hero’s journey is the focus. When Wade compares himself to Peter Parker, this superhero story hardly stands out. When he undertakes the challenges, he is venturing into the subconscious of another to find clues. His own fears never get touched upon. Hints of the original author’s design from the book exist, but it’s not looked at with Spielberg’s panache. At least the last act offers hope. One challenge addresses the emotional response versus a reasoned one. The finale is straight out of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. At least the answer will have many smiling than feeling sad. I am very curious about the sequel if the suggestion of Halliday surviving in a different sense is true. Sadly, no date is offered to when this book will arrive (or if a sequel is being considered).
3 Stars out of 5