Of all the filmmakers working today, Steven Spielberg has been fortunate enough to stay relevant and beloved. In a career of over forty years, he has rarely put a foot wrong and still makes films to this day, tackling every genre imaginable and captivating the minds of millions. Everyone has their favourite Spielberg (mine is and will always be Jurassic Park) and his rare ability to effortlessly switch from serious drama to fun spectacle is what makes him a cinema giant. His recent films have mostly been more focused on slower, more mature historical dramas, which is why his return to big budget, spectacle driven film making has been so anticipated. I could not wait for this film to come out, although I was slightly worried that it would just become “Nostalgia- The Movie”. Well, Spielberg made sure it was a lot more than that.
In 2045 (tune in when that year actually happens to see if we have the OASIS. It’s 2018 and we don’t have Jaws 19, replicants or crazy Mexican scientists who look like Patrick Troughton) the world has advanced to the stage where virtual reality is the norm, and the OASIS is where the world’s population to escape the grim real world. The OASIS was built by James Halliday who built the simulation around his childhood nostalgia. After his death, his avatar reveals to the gamers that he has hidden three keys in the OASIS that will lead one gamer to unlock an Easter Egg that will allow them control over the OASIS. Parzival, real name Wade Watts, wants the Egg desperately, and his quest to find it leads him to come into conflict with the sinister Nolan Sorrento and IOU, who want to commercially exploit the OASIS.
First thing first- it’s clear what film will win Best Visual Effects at next year’s Oscars. This film has highly innovative and amazing visual effects that show how Spielberg is the master of innovation. Not content with jump starting the blockbuster and revolutionising CGI, he and his team of effects artists create a fully realised world made entirely of computers that both looks real and does not suffer from uncanny valley like motion capture. The OASIS looks amazing and I have a hunch this is the start of a revolution of technology in film. It’s worth watching this film on the big screen.
Like Jurassic Park before it, this is a very loose adaptation of the book. It’s not completely different, rather it takes the plot and characters and changes them to fit the film format. The references are toned down a lot, which is a good thing. Here, the references are more subtle. There’s the Delorean (I only watched Back to the Future this year so I actually get the reference), DC heroes, Godzilla, even a sneaky Jurassic Park reference (nice one Spielberg) and a great Serenity appearance that I missed but got told was there. My favourite reference is the Holy Hand Grenade from Monty Python and The Holy Grail. I won’t spoil anymore, but it’s a great reference nonetheless.
Despite all the references, the film is still strong even if you don’t understand all of it. The action scenes and dynamic direction make the film hugely entertaining, and despite the characters not being too complex, they serve the functions of the plot well. The third act gets really good and emotional, as Spielberg effortlessly turns the film into something deeper than it appears. The film is also surprisingly funny, especially iRoK, a snarky weapons expert who helps the villains but clearly cannot be bothered with it. The plot is different from the book but very clever, and I loved seeing the characters work everything out through clever investigation. Even though I’ve read the book, I was left guessing as to what was going on and there were several great twists that I didn’t see coming. The film builds and builds to an epic and bonkers final fight. I didn’t get all the references, but my screening did.
There are many interesting questions raised about whether or not nostalgia is good and how people can be corrupted by it. Sorrento is a great villain who isn’t just pure evil- despite his actions you understand who he is as a person. This is juxtaposed with Halliday, who is given a lot of depth for a character who dies before the film begins. I like the central conflict between Parzival and Artemis, as one treats the quest as a game whilst the other is more serious about it. My favourite character in the film is Ogden Morro, played by one of my favourite actors, Simon Pegg. He’s not in the film too much, but his scenes have big impact and are very entertaining.
In conclusion, if you were unsure whether or not to check this film out, I recommend it. Even if you don’t understand all the references or in-jokes the film is entertaining enough in its own right. Spielberg still has his touch and I hope the success of this film will lead him to more innovative blockbusters like this (though not Indiana Jones 5. Please not). If sci fi isn’t your thing I don’t think this will change your mind, but if you are interested in checking this out because of Spielberg then it’s worth it. I can’t wait to see what he does next.