Director: Steven Spielberg
At relatives over Easter so instead of our usual Cineword or Odeon we saw Spielberg’s latest at the brilliantly straightforward Kavanagh cinema in Herne Bay. Tickets £4.00! A ‘4 sense’ ticket at Odeon is now heading towards £14 in Brum. Also the joy of local graphics done with Windows movie maker announcing ‘ The feature presentation’. But I digress…what was the film like? There’s spotters badges for Digbeth’s arches (standing in for post-slow-apocalypse USA) and a building in the City I used to walk past on my way to the Barbican centre. But I digress…what was the actual film thing like. It’s one of Spielberg’s family adventures like ET or Jurassic Park, rather than those aimed at a more grown up audience. So we get plucky teen protagonists versus the man, and a good deal less sense of jeopardy than being chewed by a T-Rex.
At stake is a virtual space world called the Oasis that was set up by Mark Rylance (a film-stealing cameo) and Simon Pegg, and is now the panacea that distracts everyone from the utterly f====d up world of 2040. Evil masterminds the the 101/I O I corporation want to take control of the Oasis for their own general gain (think any of the big tech companies eating up smaller ones). Rylance’s creator Halliday is dead, but has left the virtual deeds to the Oasis to whoever can solve the fiendish puzzles he has set up within the virtual world, and find his Easter egg hidden in the game. Our protagonists have to race against IOI to crack the code and keep the Oasis from the evil capitalists.
If the virtual world’s rules are pretty well set up, with some good riffing on in-game loot and respawns, the plot holes in the real world appear pretty frequently, above all the disjunct between the total freedom afforded by your avatar to kick, punch, run, fly and fall – and what happens to your meat body stuck in a chair or on a treadmill. The backstory of how the real world came to be like this is pretty thin, and our band of teens have a fairly unfocused mash-up of reasons as to why they’re fighting. They’re likeable enough, and the plot motors along. But compared to the depth of world-building offered by the recent Bladerunner this appears superficial.
As ever with Spielberg this has a film nerd joy: there is a terrific sequence that riffs on The Shining, and a bajillion 80s references from A-Ha and Tears for Fears to the Back to the Future Delorean. The denouement hinges on nothing other than an Atari 2600, sitting in the virtual world like a relic of a byegone civilisation.
I wanted more exploration of the disconnect between the virtual and the real world, as Charlie Brooker does so well in Black Mirror with consequences in each for actions in the other. The ‘Loyalty Centres’ in which those who incur debt in the virtual world are enslaved by IOI in the real world to pay it off, deserves more screen time. Spielberg’s general optimistic demenour means the dark potential for the mismatch between online and real world seen in things such as catfishing, online death threats and fake news are rather unconvincingly limited to 11-year olds having adult avatars and women being men. There’s also tonal confusion as to whether VR is a good or a bad thing throughout the film: at one stage it appears the mission is to destroy the Oasis, at other times to save it.
If you rank it against ET, Close Encounters, Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park then it in my mind falls short against the very best Speilbergian action adventure. The ‘sense of wonder’ that all create so brilliantly in Player One is limited to the virtual world, and wonder in the virtual world is both limitless and weightless..so we get ice caves, apocalyptic worlds, zero-g dance contests, all of which evaporate the moment their time onscreen is done. There’s nothing here like the raptors in Jurassic world, like the bicycle ride or the choosing of the cups in Indiana Jones that lingers long in the imagination.
Finally, yet again the 80s is reduced to Jump, Blue Monday, Purple Rain, and so on…would be great to see a movie that leaned on this era to not go for such a blanded out selection.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
Action adventure, plucky kids, not too scary (the villains are not really that villainous) films. 14 and 16 year old liked it a lot, and it was agreed that my avatar in the Oasis was definitely Snake (maybe Old Snake from MGS V).