Although Ready Player One will be rife with references to the culture of the 1980s, it certainly seems like a movie made for the 21st century. Based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 debut novel of the same name, a successful book that won the Prometheus Award, the film will tell the story of a dystopian future in which virtual reality provides escapism and a route to glory, both in terms of prestige and finances. With Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair, Ready Player One is set to hit cinemas on March 30, 2018 and is certain to resonate with audiences whose exposure to gaming cultures is growing.
A Stellar Cast
With Spielberg at the helm, you’d expect the cast to feature some similarly impressive names. That expectation is well-founded. Ben Mendelsohn, the antagonist in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, will recapture that sinister performance as the primary villain of Ready Player One. Mark Rylance, winner of Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for Bridge of Spies and typically captivating in the recent Dunkirk, will add gravitas to the movie. Simon Pegg, star of the Cornetto trilogy and provider of comic relief in franchises Star Trek and Mission Impossible, will presumably bring his inimitable brand of humour to proceedings.
The two lead characters will be portrayed by talented young actors in what could truly be a breakout role. Tye Sheridan plays the protagonist, the actor perhaps most well-known for his recent outing as Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse. Olivia Cooke delivered a gripping and nuanced performance in the eponymous role in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (eponymous in that she didn’t play Earl), and will be opposite Sheridan in a significant role. The book Ready Player One was a huge success, with the novel reaching the 20th spot in one of the New York Times paperback fiction rankings, so fans of the book will be hoping the film can do justice to the plot. Fortunately, there has never been a better time for a film about gaming.
The rise of eSports
Gaming has been a staple of popular culture for the past few decades, although we are yet to enter a world similar to the immersive, high-stakes VR game of Ready Player One. Yet with the rise of eSports, perhaps we are not too far away. eSports shares similarities with the themes presented in Ready Player One: as in the film, eSports is a source of prestige and often great financial reward with some players earning upwards of $2.5 million in their career. In fact, according to calculations on eSportsEarnings, a total of over $356,744,000,000 has been handed out in eSports competitions so far, across 23,090 tournaments. For an unjustifiably long period of time eSports were derided for not being a real sport, but their swelling popularity is impossible to ignore. Part gaming and part sport, fans of eSports may well see some parallels with their games and Ready Player One, although hopefully minus the conspiracy and threat of death that will propel the film’s tense narrative. The mainstream has firmly embraced eSports. The BBC has began to stream live competitions in eSports including Rocket League, which is essentially football but with cars, and the shooter game Counter Strike: Global Offensive. Punters can even bet on the outcomes of eSports competitions, with mainstream bookmakers including Betway offering odds on the aforementioned games as well as a multitude more. Coca-Cola and Red Bull were also early adopters of the eSports sponsorship trend, recognising the appeal of video gaming to millennials early. If the BBC and major brands worldwide are taking notice, then it’s a clear sign that eSports are here to stay.
There is no doubt then that Ready Player One is arriving at a propitious time, with the general public likely to be far more attuned to the world of competitive gaming than they may have been in previous years. Timing can be everything for films; the recently released Bushwick, starring Dave Bautista, is more potent because of its relatability to the current political climate.Spielberg will be hoping that Ready Player One can be a blockbuster that appeals to both audiences and critics in a way that recent movies other than superhero films or Star Wars stories have struggled to. Spielberg is no fan of superhero film, but he will be conscious of the visual spectacle and escapism that they provide.
He will be hoping to emulate this with Ready Player One; certainly, a film about gaming has scope for some amazing visuals, and escapism will be a prevalent theme for both the characters and the audience. The trailer, which Empire have called “impressively overwhelming”, has cranked up levels of anticipation, and fans of films and gaming will be counting down the days until March 30, 2018.