Reviews of Ready Player One are already emerging analyzing the film as either a commentary on over-commercialization and pop culture obsessiveness, or the inevitable outcome of such. That's understandable. This is a Spielberg film after all, and given that he is one of the premiere filmmakers of our age, surely any work of his must be worth picking apart. Right?
Eh, maybe not. As illuminating as such intellectual explorations of the movie may be, they might be missing the point. Simply put, Ready Player One is just Spielberg having some fun. This is the type of film where a bunch of folks got together and said, "Hey, wouldn't it be neat if Batman and Hello Kitty walked by each other on the street?" And you know what? It is pretty darn neat.
Sure, that's about all there is to it. The story of a poor kid who has to solve a virtual reality riddle before the obligatory big evil corporation does in order to save the world’s favorite MMPOG is dirt-simple. It never really gets more complex than the video games upon which it is modelled. In fact, the narrative pretty much plays out just about the way you expect it will after watching one trailer. And as for the characters, both in their real world and digital forms, they are not what you would call deep. Not even a little.
Not much of that matters, though. In the end, it's all just Spielberg and his crew having a blast, and it's contagious. Anytime the story drags, there's plenty going on at the edges of the frame to keep your mind busy. Come on, you know you want to see Marty McFly's Delorean race Kaneda's motorcycle and the Bigfoot monster truck as much as the next person. However, if that just doesn’t sound artsy enough for you, don’t worry. There's an amazing Kubrick-centric centerpiece that's worth the price of a ticket all by itself.
You know, there’s a cool old story about about St. Teresa of Avila regarding having fun. She and her fellow nuns were assembled for their daily recreation time when one of the sisters spoke up and criticized the whole relaxation thing as a waste of time. They should be in their rooms doing something more productive like praying, the nun insisted. “Go to your cell and contemplate then,” St. Teresa retorted, “and we will make merry with the Lord here.”
Ready Player One has much that same attitude. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” isn’t just another reference the movie drops, it’s a guiding philosophy. If you want serious adult Spielberg, he’s still out there in Schindler’s List, Munich, and any number of other films, and no doubt he’ll show up again in the future. For this movie, though, the old auteur just wants to make merry. You can either stay in the theater and make merry with him, or you can go back to your cell and attend to more serious matters. Go ahead, I’ll join you there when fun-time is over.
(NOTE: I have not read the book, have no intentions of reading the book, and so have no vested interest in how much the film differs from the book. If you have read the book, your mileage may vary.)