With Van Halen’s “Jump” blasting loud and proud at the start of the film, following the Amblin Entertainment logo which takes most of us back to the early days of The Little Rascals and Hook, Steven Spielberg wastes no time in igniting all the throw-back feels in his latest film, Ready Player One. Though set in the future, there are endless throwback, pop-culture easter eggs hidden throughout this stimulating, virtual adventure.
Based off the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline, the film takes place in the year 2045, where virtual reality has essentially replaced the real world, substituting the now slum-like cities for a place “limited only by a player’s imagination.” Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is one of the many trailer apartment residents who finds his escape in the loving arms of the OASIS, created by gaming and software genius, James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Following his death, Halliday left behind clues to a hidden game within his program, which promises the winner full ownership of the OASIS. Watts joins forces with several allies to beat the game before video game conglomerate “IOI” claims ownership of Halliday’s online universe.
Spielberg must have been like a kid in a 1980s candy store when bringing this movie to life. Sure, there’s deep, highly intentional themes of not being afraid to take life’s leaps, finding just as much beauty in the real world as in the one we create in our imaginations, so on and so forth. However, one of the greatest aspects of this film, aside from the philosophical messages, is noticing all the references to the games, music albums and films of our childhood such as Star Trek, Minecraft, Back to the Future, Beetlejuice, Voltron, Halo, Batman, King Kong, Jurassic Park, Monty Python, Mortal Kombat, The Dark Crystal, and dozens upon dozens more.
There are over 130 pop-culture references in the film, according to IGN, but some could be as small as a Hello Kitty sticker on a motorcycle or as big as a battle-ready Iron Giant. It may be impossible to catch them all, but it’s a game-within-a-game that audience members of all ages will likely have a blast playing. That is, if they’re not distracted by the intensely detailed and texturized CGI and Spielberg’s seamless playing with scale, movement and gravity as the movie continuously shifts between the real world and the virtual. Though the film was based off an already published novel, it’s evident that Spielberg was bold in adding his own flare and childhood nostalgia to the aesthetics of Ready Player One.
The character development may be a bit shallow and the villains are arguably weak, but Ready Player One still strikes an emotional chord, not only in the its desperate cries for people to not neglect the treasures of the past while moving forward to the future, but also through stimulating flashbacks for all those 80s and 90s kids to the days of Etch A Sketches, View-Master Sliders, and Looney Toons. It’s a film made up of not only gorgeous digital landscapes, where battlefields shimmer in the software sun, but also sincere fun that speaks to the importance of enjoying playing the game even more than winning.