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Ready Player One


Stars: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Lena Waithe, Win Morisaki, Philip Zhao, Susan Lynch, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Ineson, McKenna Grace, Letitia Wright.

Director: Steven Spielberg

Back in 1975, Spielberg's directorial career was kick-started by Verna Fields who rightly won the Oscar for Best Editing for Jaws.

Here Spielberg sensibly selected two editors (Sarah Broshar, Michael Kahn) to ensure that the narrative line of his inescapably special effects-driven version of Ernest Cline's best-selling novel (screenplay by Cline and Zak Penn) makes sense and isn't overwhelmed by Oscar-worthy movie magic.

The year is 2045, the location Columbus, the world’s fastest-growing city, and all over the world people escape their harsh lives by escaping to the immersive virtual universe the OASIS where they can do anything or everything they want.

There teenager Nade Watts (Tye Sheridan) finds happiness and ease, limited only by his imagination - and sets out on an amazing virtual adventure when he embarks on a 'reality-bending' treasure hunt through OASIS to win a three-part contest created by OASIS inventor Halliday (Mark Rylance, excellent) who, we are informed, 'hated making rules'.

Unsurprisingly, Ben Mendelsohn, first-rate as OASIS's evil boss, is determined that Nade should bite the dust rather than live to crack the eggs...

For the record, the cast and their avatars fit the bill. Even Simon Pegg is mildly less irritating than usual.

And the prize? Inheriting Halliday's fortune and control of OASIS.

Essentially it is youngster versus Big Business, with our young hero having to face everything and everyone from King Kong, Godzilla, the Millennium Falcon, Zombies, a Giant Robot and even Chucky, as her/his gamer girlfriend Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and fellow gamer friends help as he hunts for the three complex 'Easter Egg' clues that will ensure he wins.

Gamers will have a ball watching the tsunami of avatars and game/movie references that infest the narrative. Where else could you see credible zombies dancing in mid-air, hear a reference to Rosebud, monster-bursting, John Hurt-style, from a person's stomach and a robot with a posh English-butler style accent?

And I wonder who came up with that memorable line 'He's alive!'.

Homage or fromage? You decide.

Presumably because it's a Warner production, Spielberg invades the Overlook Hotel with a wild, witless riff on The Shining, complete with the Maze, the Undead and the best line in the film, acknowledging as it does the fact that Stephen King rightly hated the film (The Shining, that is, not this inevitable money-spinner).

The Oscar-worthy special effects imagery is compelling (non-gamers need not try and follow the narrative and simply watch and wonder) but unfortunately it’s also drenched with Alan Silvestri's increasingly irksome musical score which seemed sufficient for a couple of seasons of the Proms; my advice, for what it is worth, is to indulge in paracetamol rather than popcorn.

Oscar nomination for Noisiest Film? A cert!

Spielberg should worry. Viscerally and visually his film cannot fail. Let's face it, it should be critic proof and a sure-fire hit.

Any and every gamer will want to see this, as well as all sensation-seeking cinemagoers who, while (like me) may not know their avatars from their elbows, will recognise a surefire seat-selling trailer when they see it.

Intriguingly, at the London premiere of his film, director Ang Lee rightly (and generously) thanked the more than a thousand people who made The Life of Pi and so neatly punctured the overuse of the word 'auteur'.

For me, the huge number of people deservedly credited for joining Spielberg in bringing his film to the screen confirms Lee's wise comment.

Indeed, had every one listed there paid to see Ready Player One, then it would probably already have been a financial sensation without needing regular cinemagoers.

Alan Frank

USA 2018. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Colour.
140 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 31 Mar 2018