Wade is a technology-crazed teenager living in a technology-crazed world.
This world, though, is much different from modern-day America. The year is 2045, and Wade is fighting for survival in a depressing, dystopian world where people have forgotten how to work.
He lives with his aunt in a rusted, high-rise trailer park in Columbus, Ohio, and he passes his time doing what most Americans do: playing in an interactive virtual reality world called the OASIS, where people can be who they want to be and where the limits are – you guessed it – your imagination.
In 2045, this is what people do when they’re not eating or sleeping. They don a virtual reality headset and explore a fake world. Everyone has an avatar, but – here’s the catch – no one knows whose avatar is whose. The reason for the secrecy is simple: They are racing to find a hidden “Easter egg” within the game that was placed there by OASIS creator James Halliday – a find that would net the winner ownership of OASIS and presumably wealth, too. If someone is getting close to finding the Easter egg – and if other players know who that person is – then he or she might be hunted down and killed in the real world.
For Wade (avatar: “Parzival”), the race to find the Easter egg is going great. In fact, he’s in first place. But then he falls in love with a female avatar. And then he unveils his real-world name. And then a bad guy who heads a company called Innovative Online Industries tries to locate him in the real world and kill him.
It’s all part of Ready Player One (PG-13), which opens in theaters this weekend and is based on the 2011 bestselling novel by Ernest Cline. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse) as Wade/Parzival, Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) as his romantic interest Samantha/ Art3mis, and Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) as the head of Innovative Online Industries.
Here are five things parents should know:
1. It has a great message. That is: Get off your high-tech devices, spend time with your friends and family, and live life in the real world. The movie shows comical-yet-disturbing scenes of people addicted to OASIS – such as a mom engrossed in the game while the stove is on fire. When her child tells her about the situation, she shouts: Get your dad!
The film delivers lessons on the dangers and pitfalls of technology, the limitations of a virtual reality world, and the need to stay grounded in reality.
2. It has tons of language and a few sexuality problems. There are about 36 coarse words: s—t (14), h-ll (8), a—(3), d—n (1), f-word (1), d—k (2), GD (2), G-d (1), OMG (2) and p-ssed (2). That’s a lot for a movie aimed at an audience that includes tweens and teens. It seemed the writers placed some of the words in scenes just for effect – to make the characters sound “cool.” They sound out of place.
Art3mis wears a skin-tight virtual outfit that shows her back. Later, she wears a quite-revealing dress when she and Parzival dance provocatively in a nightclub. The most concerning scene involves a real-world woman getting out of a bathtub and walking toward a male character (she turns into a zombie). She’s nude, although due to camera tricks the viewer only sees her head, back and legs. In the film’s opening scene, we briefly see an overweight, dressed woman wearing a virtual reality headset and dancing on a pole.
3. The violence might disturb children. It’s not as bad as modern-day violent video games – there’s not as much shooting — but it could be quite intense for kids and tweens. The movie begins with scenes of Fast and the Furious-type cars racing and crashing in city streets. King Kong and a T-rex try and smash the cars. Later, we see the boyfriend of Wade’s aunt punch him. One specific avatar has a skeleton for a chest. The family of one of the main character dies in an explosion. Guns are pointed and often shot. A massive war-type battle takes place. We see more punching and fighting. We see lots of zombies. We see an alien-type monster explode out of an avatar’s chest. Perhaps the film’s most disturbing scenes involve a re-creation from parts of the horror film The Shining. We see the spooky girls, blood spilling down the hallway, and zombies chasing and trying to eat the good guys. Much of it is played for chuckles, but I’m not sure children will be laughing.
4. It’s too long and a little confusing. It’s two hours and 19 minutes, and the story can be complex at times. Give me less CGI and more plot.
5. The worldview is worthy of discussion. Technology has one primary purpose – to make things easier and convenient, and above all, to improve our lives. Washing machines did that. Dishwashers, too. The list is long.
But if we’re honest, can we truly say that the latest wave of technology – smartphones, tablets and high-tech video games – has been a net-plus for society? Consider: A 2015 study by Microsoft showed that our attention spans have fallen in recent years, from 12 seconds to eight seconds. This means we’re more distracted than ever from the more important things in life: Nature. Friends. Family. God. We don’t want to deal with real-world problems. We’ve got to check Facebook! And we haven’t even discussed the addictive nature of these devices. Some researchers argue they can be as addictive as drugs.
The Bible tells us to “be still” and worship him (Psalm 46:10), but is that possible when our smartphones are constantly beeping with alerts and texts – and we’re engrossed in social media? Nielsen tells us that the average American stares at a screen 10 hours a day.
Wade said it best at the end of the film: We need to spend more time in the real world.
Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language.