We like to complain that there’s nothing new—everything we see is a retread of something else: a remake, a sequel, an adaptation, a reboot. And while this isn’t completely true, a look at the box office winners for any recent year will tell us that this is mostly true.
So I have to give credit to Steven Spielberg for having the audacity to present us with a movie in which literally nothing is original.
Ready Player One takes place in the year 2045, when everyone on Earth is obsessed with a video game world called the OASIS. It’s a place where you can put on some virtual-reality-type glasses and be transported into an avatar and a seemingly endless universe where you can be anything you can possibly imagine.
But it turns out that all anyone can imagine is stuff from already existing pop culture—we see the DeLorean from Back to the Future, Freddy Krueger, Sonic the Hedgehog, the Iron Giant, and on and on. And while it is believable that most people would have such a lack of imagination, it also becomes extraordinarily tedious. Seeing a pop culture reference here or there in a movie can be fun—it makes us feel in on the joke. Seeing thousands of such references turns it all into noise. And all of Ready Player One functions this way. EVERYTHING is purposely derived from something else: the plot, the characters, the music, the props. It’s not nostalgia so much as a hyperactive computer algorithm.
The movie makes a nod to complex issues like the monetization of culture and the perils of living a life filled with regret. And if we follow Ready Player One’s world to its logical end, we find a dark and disturbing conclusion. But Spielberg never lets any of these ideas breathe, choosing instead to fill each minute with a dozen more references. By the end, I was so saturated with pop culture that I frankly never wanted to see any of it ever again.