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When James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.

Review by Louise Keller:
Being brave enough to take the leap is the theme of Steven Spielberg's visually dazzling fantasy that seamlessly morphs from its apocalyptic reality into a world limited only by our imagination. To some, the notion of watching a society that lives through its fantasies in a virtual world may be disturbing, but this rollicking futuristic adventure makes sure that in the end, it is reality that holds all the aces.

In discussion with two aficionados of the genre, the question was raised about how such a visual film could be described on the page. Perhaps that is why writer Ernest Cline has adapted his own novel (together with collaborator Zak Penn) and delivers a dense screenplay in which character is paramount within the richly described visual world. Inventive ideas punctuate the exposition in this fun popcorn movie that sucks you into its reality as well as the plight of its two compelling, heroic protagonists.

The film begins by describing the world in which the action takes place. It is 2045 and Columbus, Ohio is the fastest growing city in the world and one in which the virtual universe of OASIS is integral to its population. Take-away pizzas may be delivered by flying robots in the real world but it is in the virtual world that you can do anything, go anywhere, be anything - even climb Mount Everest with Batman.

Things start to get interesting when Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) meets Samantha (Olivia Cooke) in their Avatar guises of Parzival and Art3mis, during the first thrilling set piece: a chaotic and thrilling obstacle course-filled car race. Parzival is oh so cool but is still intimidated by the shapely, courageous Art3mis, whose red spiky hair tipped with white flecks is reminiscent of a striking hedgehog. Their push-pull relationship has plenty of traction, but is at its best when Parzival and Art3mis leave the fantasy world and Wade and Samantha take on their human forms.

Central to the plot is a quest to find three keys, which will unlock the fortunes of the late James Halliday, the geeky, rule-despising visionary who hates his own creation. It's a good role for tousled-haired, stammering Mark Rylance and our curiosity is aroused, as Halliday's past life becomes the focus of attention. Ben Mendelsohn is good at playing bad; he plays Nolan Sorrento, the exploitative company head that uses the proletariat society to its own advantage with relish. Simon Pegg is appealing in a small but crucial role.

Highlights include a first date in a virtual nightclub (watch for the Saturday Night Fever reference); an attention-grabbing revisiting of Kubrick's The Shining (the naked girl in the bath will haunt you!); and a wonderful zombie ballroom scene in which the zombies dance suspended in mid air. The way Art3mis leaps from one zombie partner to another is hilarious. There are some good lines: No man is a failure who has friends; hacking your heart to get to your head; I laughed when T.J. Miller's monstrous I-ROk explains the meaning of 'voila'.

It's a bit long and some of the digital gee whizzery is overplayed but overall the film delivers for the genre, held together by a fluid, thrilling score by Alan Silvestri.

Take the leap; kiss the girl; think outside the square. Ready; play; leap.

(Note to Australian readers: Ernest Cline's fictional James Halliday has no connection to Australia's best known wine critic of the same name.)

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(US, 2018)

CAST: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Weite, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki

PRODUCER: Donald De Line, Dan Farah, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Steven Spielberg

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

SCRIPT: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline (novel by Ernest Cline)


EDITOR: Sarah Broshar, Michael Kahn

MUSIC: Alan Silvestri


RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes



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