Ready Player One is coming to our screens at the end of March, taking game-based movies to a whole new level. Of course, movie adaptations of video games are nothing new. From Street Fighter and Mortal Combat in the 90s through Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the first of the Resident Evil films in the 2000s to Duncan Jones’s Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed, starring Michael Fassbender, in 2016, games have been consistently plundered for ideas and inspiration. And who can forget the Angry Birds Movie (though many of us wish we could)?
What’s more, this crossover isn’t stopping anytime soon, with a new Lara Croft film due this spring, starring Mrs Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and a new Super Mario film recently greenlit by Nintendo, working with Illumination Entertainment. Even little Sonic the Hedgehog is getting a movie, due out in time for Christmas next year.
Games and gaming have been an inspiration for moviemakers long before Tron first brought video games to the movie screen. Casinos have been a big part of movie culture ever since Casablanca and the original Ocean’s Eleven, and remain a standard setting for the action, with a brand new Ocean’s Eight due out this year.
But none of these comes even close to the level of game references in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. As the name suggests, this film is firmly rooted in retro gameplay and has nods to all your classic favourites, including Halo, Duke Nukem, Super Mario Kart and Tomb Raider among many others in its huge raft of references. Movie magazine Empire describes the film as a “pop culture mash-up of epic proportions” that only someone of Spielberg’s standing could have pulled off.
Unlike most video game films, however, Ready Player One does not come from a specific game, but from a novel about gaming in a virtual reality world called The Oasis. Established as a recreational escape for millions, The Oasis is somewhere that people can be whoever they want and do whatever they want, however poor and hopeless their true existence in the real world.
This idyllic playground soon transforms into history’s biggest game when its creator James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance) turns all Willy Wonka on us. After his death, he offers the ownership of The Oasis plus the small matter of half a trillion dollars to whoever can beat his game and find the hidden Easter egg. Cue an underdog-vs-the-big-evil-corporation story, jam-packed with knowing nerdy references, from Marty McFly’s DeLorean to Jurassic Park’s T-Rex, Donkey Kong to the iconic A-Team van.
It may be set in 2045, but virtual reality and game culture are advancing so fast that Ready Player One feels like a possible, even probable vision of our future. “It doesn’t feel like an entirely unlikely future to me,” agrees one of the film’s stars, Simon Pegg. And who can argue with him when virtual reality is advancing at such a remarkable pace, moving from science fiction to a standard smartphone accessory in just a few years. Gaming too is growing exponentially, with 173,000 fans descending on IEM Katowice in Poland this spring to watch the world’s best gamers play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive while tens of thousands more will join them watching at cinemas around the world via over six hours of live streams.
But whether it is a pure fantasy of the future or a prescient prediction of things to come. One thing is for sure: with Spielberg at the helm, Ready Player One is a must-see movie for anyone who loves games and gaming. Ready Player One? You bet I am.