EASTER EGG HUNT
Main Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke
Director: Steven Spielberg
We’re down to the last few rehearsals here at the Yonkers Hampton Inn for my Second National Tour of Hello, Dolly! before we all get on the bus and head off to our grand opening at the Bismarck Civic Center next week. Things had been going fairly smoothly until yesterday when the ballroom next to the one we use as our rehearsal hall became ground zero for the Lower Hudson Valley Funeral Directors Association annual convention. Now I don’t mind taking a wee nip now and then but those boys and girls can really put it away. Last night, while we were attempting to work out all the kinks in the Sunday Clothes dream ballet that I’m having inserted in Act III, a number of them stole our train set piece that was sitting outside waiting for its entrance and ran it up and down the hall past laundry and catering, yelling things like ‘We’re heading for the end of the line.’ The lovely diva in training, La Luker, who is playing Mrs. Malloy, took matters into her own hands, hit a fortissimo high E flat and chased them all back to the hotel bar where they had another few rounds.
I stopped by the bar after we finished to have a little crème de menthe as a nightcap and shared a table with a couple of sweet, but tiddly, morticians from Fishkill who were highly complementary of my makeup in the tastefully subdued lighting of our little boite de nuit. I told them all about my fine line of Lesterene beauty products and how the Avocado/Salmon facial scrub was responsible for my eternally youthful glow that makes me seem younger than my professional age of 39. They seemed to think that they may be able to use my products in their industry. I hadn’t ever considered Lesterene as a way to make the women of America more beautiful for their viewings, but a new market is a market, and I shall have to call Leah, head of my consumer products division and have her get working on some new stickers we can slap on the bottles, relabeling them as Maine’s Mortuary Makeup. She’s going to call Mr. Michael, mortician to the stars about getting them into the new catalogs so funeral homes can stock up for the holidays.
One small crème de menthe turned into three or four and that left me in the mood for a fever dream of a film, so I repaired back to my room and the to-view pile of DVDs that I always carry with me on my travels. I had to fight off the Fishkill morticians who tried to accompany me, saying something about pulling a train but I kindly reminded them that they’d already accomplished that this evening (and stage management was still trying to repair the damage) and firmly shut them out. I pulled off my shoes and hose, got up on the bed, poured a night cap to my night cap of Smirnoff from the minibar and settled in to watch the relatively new Spielberg film, Ready Player One, a homage to all things 80s, based on the celebrated novel of Ernest Cline from a few years back. I had heard that the film was full of eye popping visuals in a virtual reality world, so it struck me as being just the thing.
Ready Player One stars a relative newcomer by the name of Tye Sheridan as a young man by the name of Wade who lives in the not too distant future of 2045 in Columbus Ohio. He shares a decrepit mobile home with his aunt (Susan Lynch) and her cockup of a boyfriend (Ralph Ineson) in a place called ‘The Stacks’ which is basically a vertical trailer park. Wade, like most of the rest of the population, is busy escaping the bleakness of his life through virtual reality computer games which use goggles, gloves and various suits to completely encapsulate a player in a rich alternate environment. Chief among these alternate worlds is The Oasis, a huge multiplayer universe full of diverse planets and experiences where a person’s avatar and identity can be anything they can choose. In a plot stolen directly from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the shy and somewhat mysterious inventor/programmer of The Oasis by the name of Halliday (Mark Rylance), has died and has publicly announced that his share of the company and control of the Oasis will go to the worthy person who can solve three difficult puzzles located somewhere within the game and find the ultimate Easter egg. (For those not in the know, an Easter egg is a clever addition secreted within a computer game by the programmers). Tens of thousands of players have been trying for years but no one has managed to crack the puzzles yet. Wade’s avatar, a sort of bleached blond manga thing who goes by the name Parzival, is certain that the way to figure out the game is by studying Halliday’s life and his obsession with 80s pop culture. Soon he’s teaming up with the young Samantha (Olivia Cooke) and her avatar Art3mis for some PG-13 teen romance and with some other best buds including H, a nine foot tall robot dude (Lena Waithe) and a couple of interchangeable Asian guys (Win Morisaki, Philip Zhao) and the gang of five is racing to capture the magical keys that will unlock the secrets of the virtual universe while their physical bodies are busy battling the hired thugs of a rival gaming company led by the smarmy Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Will our plucky heroes solve the riddles? Will they find unlikely allies and suffer serious setbacks? Will the audience go into sensory overload forty minutes in? It’s a Spielberg film and the answers to these and other questions should be apparent from the opening credits.
As Spielberg is one of the chief auteurs of 80s pop culture, you would think he would be the perfect director for the material. Unfortunately, it pushes him towards his worst instincts for visual excess. The scenes of the Oasis are so overcrowded with visual imagery with nods to practically every film and television show of the Reagan/Bush era that it feels like one is trapped on an overly garish theme park ride. Cameo appearances are made by everything from the Back to the Future DeLorean to Jurassic Park’s T-Rex to Betelgeuse from Beetlejuice. When the film is allowed to slow down and catch its breath, it becomes much better and actually shows the truth of the old adage – less is more. The best sequence is our intrepid heroes entering the world of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining whose sets have been meticulously recreated in digital form. Everything has to move at Kubrick’s slow steady pace of cinematic dread and the result is a brilliant melding of Kubrick and Spielberg, far more successful than A.I.
The visual and sound effects department work overtime and there are many wondrous images to behold. Those that stick around long enough to make an impression include a magical Central Park Bethesda fountain, a nightclub where the revelers dance in a gravity free zone in a sort of Cirque de Soleil aerial ballet and the evil gaming empire where squads of identical employees enter the virtual worlds en masse in attempts to conquer our heroes and the puzzles. That’s one of the story’s better ideas, the monetization of the virtual world with a soulless corporatocracy trying to win by cheating. Their gunters (the film’s shortened term for ‘Easter Egg hunters’) with their identical suits are a nice contrast to the ragtag band of amateurs which we’re all rooting for.
One doesn’t go to films like Ready Player One for great acting as the performances of the humans are secondary to the special effects and visual aesthetic. Young Mr. Sheridan in the central role is personable enough and brings a certain level of cockiness to his avatar which makes a nice contrast between real world and virtual world selves. (The significance of the avatar name Parzival =Parsifal is explained in some rather dopey exposition for those not familiar with the Holy Grail legend – the audience for this film is probably more familiar with Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch plays a small role as itself). Olivia Cooke, who seems to have cornered the market on waif with terminal illness roles in some of her other projects, brings a combination of fragility and spunkiness to her love interest. The best performance comes from Mark Rylance as the peculiar and slightly OCD Halliwell who is seen in flashback and avatar form. He creates a unique and thoroughly human genius whom we could really see as being a gaming guru obsessed with the pop culture of his youth. His timeline doesn’t make a lot of sense as he seems to have been a child in the 80s but looks to be about ninety when he dies sixty years later. Ben Mendelsohn has an occasional good moment as the villain, when he isn’t being directed to be Snidely Whiplash. Simon Pegg, as the ex-partner of Halliwell is done in by a series of increasingly bad wigs that look less and less like hair and more and more like a dead muskrat as the film progresses.
So, Ready Player One has pluses and minuses. Like all Spielberg films, it has flashes of brilliance and it tells its story in an interesting way, but the good tends to be lost under excessive layers of pop culture arcana. Perhaps if they had spent a little less time filling up the frame, and more concentrating on the humans, it could have been great.
Angry King Kong. Iron Giant cameo. Backwards driving. Exploding trailers. Gratuitous creepy twins. Avatar army. Postal truck chase. Mecha Godzilla cameo. Magic force field. Skull holes in chest.
Originally from Seattle Washington, land of mist, coffee and flying salmon, Mrs. Norman Maine sprang to life, full grown like Athena, from Andy’s head during a difficult period of life shortly after his relocation to Alabama.