Why did Steven Spielberg sign on to Ready Player One? I’ve wondered that since seeing the film last week, and I haven’t landed on an answer yet. Spielberg’s latest films haven’t been for everyone, but it’s very strange to widely consider Spielberg’s own blockbuster-defining history and specifically consider the technical mastery of The Post, with its building sense of tension and the way it exceptionally leads us into the events of All the President’s Men, compared with the muddled and unsatisfying Ready Player One, which was drowning in dim CGI and very obvious references to Warner Bros. properties. Just … why?
Maybe it was because Spielberg got to direct that one admittedly great section in the middle of the film, which took place in the world of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, complete with creepy ballroom photo, creepy bathtub lady, and creepy outdoor maze. But that sequence was also the most coherent of the entire film—all the other world-building and character development is sloppy, even though the movie drags over two hours.
Ready Player One is divisive as hell, and I get that. Its masturbatory treatment of pop culture nostalgia is not for me. But can we just acknowledge that this movie inspires so many questions and musings and ponderings about its construction and its interior logic? Because I have a bunch. Possibly too much.
+ Other tech luminaries like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs exist in this world, right, because some of the media that obsessed teen fan Wade (Tye Sheridan) has collected about Halliday (Mark Rylance) compare him with those men? (There are no women breaking ground in tech, huh?) But do people still use the creations of Gates, Musk, and Jobs? Do people still have computers and phones, or is everything just VR headsets now? If Halliday created a whole new genre of tech, did he also destroy or dismantle what came before? And everyone is just OK with that?
+ Wade/Parzival says that in 2045, there is “nowhere left to go”—does this literally mean no one goes anywhere, because people all over the world are retreating into the Oasis? Or is the Oasis really only an American thing? The first car chase challenge happened in a fictionalized VR version of New York City. Does the Oasis include other Earth countries or cities? Follow-up: Can you, when in the Oasis, hang out in another real-world place that has been reconstructed in VR? Or is the Oasis only for fictional places?
+ If the Oasis is only for fictional places, are there media or pop culture past the 1980s? References include the aforementioned The Shining and Batman, plus The Breakfast Club and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (but their modern-day look, not the original art style from decades ago), but there is also the T. Rex from Jurassic Park and modern video game characters. Who makes the cut of what gets included in the Oasis? Why no more modern films or TV? And why no media for whom the primary intended audience is girls or women? Could someone VR as vampire Bella from Twilight, or as Hermione Granger, or as a My Little Pony?
+ Related: At the end of the film Oasis co-creator Morrow (Simon Pegg) reappears, saying he had been watching Wade/Parzival the whole time. So does Halliday’s company still have employees who are maintaining the Oasis? Has anyone asked them if they want some random teen to be their new boss? Do they have a union rep?
+ Related, again: Who decides what to add to the Oasis? Has it remained the exact same since Halliday’s death, or is it updated every so often with new worlds, new characters, new options? Who facilitates that? If the winner of the game was supposed to be the person who knew Halliday the best and who is most worthy of his fortune and ownership of the company, why wouldn’t that person be the one already running the company? Shouldn’t that person be acting in Halliday’s best interests anyway?
+ When Halliday was alive, we see potential hints of regret at what the Oasis has changed into being, given his disagreement with Morrow about great power vs. great responsibility. But while alive, did Halliday do anything to try and make the world a better place? Was he philanthropic? What was his legacy? Or did he basically build an empire, horde it until the world went to shit, and then scheme up this game to prove who liked him the best? Because that’s pretty fucked up.
+ What is the government role in all of this? At the end of the film, when a few police cars rolled up right before IOI CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) was about to murder a bunch of teenagers and kids, I literally laughed out loud—where had they been before? Do the police basically just turn a blind eye as IOI essentially kidnaps customers who are in debt and then carts them off to loyalty centers/work camps? Or when they try to assassinate people in the streets? That’s just totally fine?
+ How does the physicality of being in the Oasis actually work? When Wade/Parzival wins the prize for solving the challenge’s first clue, he buys a new VR suit, and when he and Samantha/Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) dance in the second challenge’s nightclub to the Bee Gees, we see Wade in the real world and how her touch affects him in said suit. In contrast, all the other violence that occurs to him in the game doesn’t seem to affect him physically at all, and when he shoots Art3mis, that doesn’t affect her, either. BUT when Lena Waithe’s Helen/Auch is driving them around in the film’s final sequence, the movements of the van cause Parzival to move around inside the game, causing him difficulty when he tries to insert the final key into the third challenge. What are the rules of how movement and touch work? Are there rules? How can people experience touch, but not injury?
+ What is Samantha’s deal? Does she have a mother? We get a tragic backstory involving her father’s death at an IOI loyalty center, but what about her other family members or relatives? Who is the team of random dudes that live with her in that warehouse, and who also get captured by IOI and taken to loyalty centers? They’re supporters of her attempt to solve Halliday’s quest, so why does no one think to save them?
+ Related: WHAT ARE THE ACTUAL CHANCES THAT EVERYONE LIVES IN COLUMBUS? It’s mentioned in the beginning of the film as the fastest-growing city in the world because of IOI having headquarters there, but really?You’re going to create a world in which all these people can be anywhere through the VR Oasis, and yet you still have them congregate in one physical location? How coincidental!
+ People must have jobs and physical money, because they are somehow buying IOI products. What other economies are still around? And why the hell did the Halliday experts at IOI have to wear those awful khaki-and-sweater uniforms? Just to underscore how lame they are compared with Samantha’s Joy Division shirt and cut-off jean shorts? That’s just clunky.
+ WHAT IS UP WITH BEN MENDELSOHN’S VERY OBVIOUSLY FAKE AND HUGE TEETH?
+ What was the hatred against IOI really motivated by, before they start killing people? Just because Nolan Sorrento was an awkward intern for two tech guys who were so caught up in their own interpersonal drama that they refused to talk to him and forced him to get coffee? There is some talk in the film of IOI wanting to commercialize the Oasis (I think Nolan in one scene mentions advertising potential), but the virtual world already is essentially commercialized because practically everything inside of it was from some other commercial property. If you’re presenting yourself as a character from a movie, a game, or television show, I think the argument can be made that you are in some form an advertisement. So why all the hatred for IOI and the presentation that the company was taking away everyone’s freedom? You’ve already signed up for a capitalist, commercialist enterprise; Nolan Sorrento’s plan to put ads inside that world isn’t really so surprising.
+ People who live as non-human creatures in the Oasis—what’s that like?
+ Sex in the Oasis—what’s that like?
+ Wade praises the Oasis by saying “You can climb Mount Everest with Batman.” Which one? Ben Affleck? Nah, I’m good, actually.
+ Why would Samantha ever fall in love with Wade? Why would she acquiesce to his persistently exhausting nice-guy thing? She was just as capable and skilled in the Oasis as he was, if not more; it was her missions and videos that Parzival admits to having watched when he fanboys at her the first time they meet. Why would she step aside in her quest for him? Aside from the fact that the movie thinks we should want her to?
+ So, the ending: Wade wins the challenge, takes over the Oasis, and then shuts it down on Tuesdays and Thursdays, allegedly so people can live in the real world, like the AI Halliday told him to after the third challenge. But … for what? The world has already been established as really shitty, and at no point do Wade, Morrow, or anyone else in a position of authority or power say they’re going to try and make the world a better place. There is no addendum to Wade’s analysis that people in 2045 stopped “trying to fix problems” and “just started to outlive them.” So Wade and Samantha just make out in the real world on Tuesdays and Thursdays while everyone else continues to suffer, and that’s supposed to be a triumph for society? Oh, okay. Cool. Got it.