Many of Steven Spielberg's movies are chapters in a long tome on lost innocence, broken families yearning to be repaired and nostalgia for a past when certain warm and fuzzy values meant something. In his frenetic new film, "Ready Player One," the director finds much of that wrapped up in a slightly judgy exploration of the vast universe of video games.
The movie centers on a young gamer named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who lives with his harried aunt and her scuzzy boyfriend in a place called "The Stacks" somewhere in Columbus, Ohio. "The Stacks" are tall structures that allow mobile homes to be arranged on shelves that stack one upon another.
The year is 2045, and times have become so rough that everyone has pretty much given up on changing things for the good. So, they immerse themselves in the massive online simulation of "The Oasis," where they can look and act like any avatar they want and wander around through adventures bold, beautiful, dangerous and bizarre.
"The Oasis" was invented by the ultimate nerd, an eccentric tech-head named James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who seems part Stephen Hawking, part Howard Hughes and part video game developer Richard Garriott. Before Halliday died, he created a game-within-the-game.
It concerns the discovery of a hidden Easter egg that, if found, would give the winner his entire multi-million dollar fortune and master control over "The Oasis." To find the Easter egg, players have to navigate a near-impossible series of three levels after each of which they win a special key.
Of course, none of this is easy. First, they have the evil former associate of Halliday's, a creep named Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who is bent on finding the Easter egg himself and preventing anyone from getting past the initial challenges.
Then, there is the game itself, which is so busy with lightning-fast images and pop culture references, you'll spend decades doing slow-mo to see what little gems Spielberg splashed across the screen. And, then there are the avatars themselves.
We know who Wade really is from the start because it is through his eyes we experience "The Oasis," but within this universe are characters with whom he's made friends. As the action gets more serious, we soon discover who it is behind those pixelated eyes.
The thing is, even though his movie is set in a not-too-distant dystopian future, the gaming universe that occupies the impoverished teeming masses called "Oasis," seems more rooted in games culled from the 1980s and 90s. And, it never ventures into the more edgy corners of that universe where the very adult-oriented denizens of "Grand Theft Auto" might dwell. Otherwise, Mr. Spielberg's whole raison d'etre might fall apart.
Of course, there is violence, but it's of the kind from which the audience is confident everyone will walk away, mostly anyway.
"Ready Player One" is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language.
It is showing daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.
Also showing in Taos
The following was edited from press materials.
A Fantastic Woman
MPAA rating: R for language, sexual content, nudity and a disturbing assault
Movies at the TCA
Somewhere in Santiago at a dimly lit nightclub, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), the kindly and well-off owner of a textile company, locks eyes with Marina (Daniela Vega), a hopeful transgender singer and the roughly half-his-age love of his life. But, unfortunately, after Marina’s birthday celebration and a night of passion, Orlando falls gravely ill — and by the following morning — he dies in the hospital.
In the wake of her companion’s untimely death, Marina will soon realize that, from now on, everything is brought into question: her involvement in Orlando’s death, their unconventional relationship; and above all, her right to mourn her deceased beloved. In the end, what was Marina’s crime: a deed so hideous that would rob a fantastic woman of her respect, her dignity and ultimately, her identity?
Chilean director Sebastían Lelio, who cowrote the screenplay with Gonzalo Maza, brought home an Oscar this year for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. The film costars Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim and Nicolás Saavedra.
According to imdb.com, the main actress, real transgender woman Daniela Vega, was hired as a script consultant. Even though she had no prior experience as an actress, after some time working with her, director Sebastián Lelio offered her the lead role, which she accepted.
This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (April 8), and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (April 9-11).
Movies at the TCA film series, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.