Ready Player One

Movie Information

The Story: A boy living in a dystopian future must win a virtual reality video game to save his escapist nostalgia pit from an evil organization that wants to put ads in it. The Lowdown: 140 minutes of computer-animated pop culture name-dropping masquerading as a movie.
Genre: Junk
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg
Rated: PG-13


In theory, I should be squarely within the target demographic for Ready Player One; I was born in the early ’80s, grew up on Spielberg movies and engaged heavily with pop culture throughout my youth. The nostalgia miners that seem to be green-lighting movies and TV shows these days should be making a fortune off of me. But the fact of the matter is, I’ve never been able to view past entertainments through the rose-colored glasses that seem to be de rigueur these days, I’ve grown too jaded to be impressed by overblown CG spectacle bearing no meaning, and I’ve hated Spielberg ever since I watched Amblin’ and realized that not only did the emperor have no clothes, he was also a hack.


That brings us to Spielberg’s magnum opus of style over substance, the adaptation of Ernest Cline’s best-selling novel Ready Player One. I haven’t read Cline’s book, so I don’t know if he ever addresses the fact that people in his dystopian 2047 obsessing over media from the ’80s would be equivalent of people today fawning over Dragnet and Gunsmoke — a phenomenon that, thankfully, does not exist. What I do know is that when you have a Pizza Hut product placement in the first two minutes of your film, you’ve got problems. I know that when Zak Penn is one of your screenwriters, you’ve got problems. And I know that when your 2 1/2-hour cartoon pandering to fanboys includes some Battletoads but leaves out Star Wars, you’ve got serious problems.


Yes, I know that Spielberg selectively omitted certain intellectual properties, most notably many of his own, but to what end? So he could namecheck John Hughes and Robert Zemeckis a few more times? So he could make a mockery of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for 20 minutes instead of 10? I’ve always struggled to understand the strange relationship between Kubrick and Spielberg that led to the latter taking over at the helm of A.I., but watching him strip away everything that made The Shining such a masterpiece in a few short, derivative minutes, everything clicked: Both men saw in the other something they could never be. Kubrick was pathologically incapable of directing the potboiler pabulum that made Spielberg a household name, and Spielberg probably couldn’t aspire to directing Kubrick’s coffee order adequately.


Since we’re here, I guess I could talk about the movie. Approximately 80 percent of the film is computer-animated, and it’s every inch the ugly exercise in sensory overload that you might fear. The script is heavily laden with expository dialogue that does nothing to establish themes or atmosphere but makes great strides in reminding you that 30-year-old movies and video games did, in fact, exist. The story goes exactly where you’d expect but takes twice as long to get there. Mark Rylance gives the only thing remotely resembling a performance in the entire film. And through it all, Spielberg casts an inescapable pall of aggressive mediocrity that only serves to make me nostalgic for a time when I didn’t recognize what an exploitative filmmaker he actually is. My hatred for Ready Player One won’t derail it’s box-office success — in fact, it’s already his highest-grossing opening weekend in 10 years. But when you realize that the opening this one beat was that of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, you might be swayed to sympathize with my antipathy toward the man who took a decade to realize that replacing the guns in E.T. with walkie-talkies was a bad idea. If I can convince even one of you to declare “game over” on Spielberg’s shenanigans, then I’ve won. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language.

Now Playing at AMC River Hills Classic 10, Carolina Cinemark, Grail Moviehouse, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville, Strand of Waynesville.


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5 thoughts on “Ready Player One

  1. Marcianne Miller

    Ah, Scott, come on, it wasn’t that bad! I’ve never played a video game in my life, but I enjoyed this brainless, spectacular mess. Awesome sets, wild avatar costumes, goofy humor, adrenaline-pounding car races, a super-nasty gorilla monster, teenagers not kissing until the end and then very sweetly—aw shucks. The dreamy scene in the nightclub, where the couples dance in mid-air, was worth the price of admission. I fell asleep during the endless boring battle scenes—but when I woke up there was enough fantastic eye-candy to remind me I was getting my money’s worth. I’ll never see it again (like I would Black Panther) but I recommend Ready Player One to anyone who wants to totally escape from reality for 2 hours and 20 minutes.

  2. Big Al

    I was actually old enough in the 1980s to examine and enjoy the pop culture referenced in RPO and I can tell you that having all of these symbols and figures reproduced in CGI does nothing for me. It is merely another symptom of the laziness and lack of originality in Hollywood. I wish the powers that be would leave the 1980s alone and give us some fresh ideas for a change. Ditto the 1990s, although that is more because it was a period of mediocrity that is best left in its’ own grave than dug up and defibrillated.

  3. Dave

    To give that movie 1.5 stars tells me that you’re a complete HACK as a writer, or movie critic. I often give you guys the benefit of the doubt for all the 4 star, 4.5 star, or 5 star ratings you’ve given to movies that are completely irrelevant, but this just really ticks me off. When I was watching this, I was comparing it to Star Wars, Star Trek, and every other great special effects movie out there. You really blew it on this one, and you’re doing a disservice to fans out there. To all reading this…keep in mind that these are the same jokers who gave Snowpiercer 5 stars. What a disappointment that was. I would give that 2.5 or 3 at best. RPO deserves at least a 3 star rating. Here’s hoping you wake up soon!

    • Mtndancer

      ” these are the same jokers who gave Snowpiercer 5 star”
      Even critics who work for the same publication can have differing views. Scott did not review Snowpiercer. He wasn’t doing reviews for Xpress when it came out. Obviously you disagree with his review. I sometimes do as well. But a review is more than a number of stars and that will often let you know if you share the same criteria or appreciation of values in film making as the reviewer. Obviously, many agree with you and it keeps Spielberg rolling in the money.

      • Dave

        I know Scott didn’t review Snowpiercer. that’s why I said, “these jokers.” I may have been a little harsh as well. I was trying to edit my post and the darn thing timed out. That review just really put me over the top. It was the straw that broke my back. These reviewers hand out 4 stars like it’s no big deal at all. To blatantly give RPO 1.5 is like saying this is one of the worst movies of the year, which simply isn’t the case. Ernie Cline is an old friend from Ashland High School, so maybe I do root for him a bit more than other folks would. I went into the movie as an objective observer though, and was amazed at the final product. The Shining sequence should have made it 2..5 stars on its own. Friends of mine have said they really enjoyed the book more, because it went into such great detail. Problem is, you really can’t fit the book into a single movie. I don’t know if Scott was having a bad day, or if the theater was too hot, or if the movie was too long, but it definitely was at least 3 out of 5 stars. I personally would give it 4 stars. I thought it was a cool story, with an awesome Spielberg touch. Can’t wait to see what Universal does with Ernie’s follow up…ARMADA. Should be awesome too!

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