'Ready Player One' Early Reviews: Did Steven Spielberg Adaptation Live Up to the Hype at SXSW?
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The most consistent critical reaction to Steven Spielberg's adaptation is a combination of nostalgia overload and joyous fun.

"Ready Player One" -- Steven Spielberg's love letter to the era that made him a blockbuster filmmaker -- premiered at SXSW over the weekend, and the first reactions suggest the movie will live up to the hype.

While haters will always be abound, early reviews from critics or viewers with Twitter accounts are enthusiastically positive.

Based on the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline, "Ready Player One" is absolutely soaked in 1980s and '90s nostalgia, and based on the trailers alone, the movie adaptation looks to be pushing that even further. It's a blink-and-you-probably-missed-it experience filled with references as wide-ranging as "Back to the Future," "Tron," "Godzilla," "The Iron Giant" and Spielberg's own "Jurassic Park."

Obviously, pop culture references and stellar special effects can get butts in seats, but it takes a lot more than that for them to have a positive experience with the film. Luckily for Spielberg and all the millions of dollars that have been poured into this production, it looks like "Ready Player One" has achieved that rare feat of being a blockbuster-style film with some actual substance as well. There's a message beneath all that CGI.

But most importantly, Spielberg has tapped into that sense of childhood joy that we all have, no matter our age, and presented us with something genuinely fun. Check out some of the early reviews below, followed by the initial reactions from critics and moviegoers who caught the premiere at SXSXW.

The Hollywood Reporter critic John DeFore:

A rollicking adventure through worlds both bleak and fantastic, Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One makes big changes to the specifics and structure of Ernest Cline's best-selling novel but keeps the spirit and level-up thrills intact.

The movie's biggest attractions can't be described here without ruining the fun of mystery-solving and spoiling surprise appearances of characters we treasure from our own childhoods. The trailers reveal the very welcome presence of the Iron Giant, whose role in the climax is sweetly true to the character's nature. But other guest stars play significant roles in the action as well, and they're not necessarily the ones fans of the novel will expect.

In a film and novel full of nostalgia, perhaps the deepest throwback is to the spirit of those early home-computer adopters — many of them trained on Dungeons and Dragons world-building — who deeply believed that wondrous things could spring from the primitive programs they were learning to write. If today's digital citizens could step back from their newsfeed troughs and think about a web they'd actually like to be caught in, maybe there's an oasis worth fighting for somewhere out there.

Variety critic Owen Gleiberman:

In “Ready Player One,” there is plenty of vicarious fantasy combat, notably a war of the worlds that features the Iron Giant as well as the red-eyed, gleaming silver Mechagodzilla. Every time a creature like that shows up (at one point, even the monster fetus from “Alien” makes a kind of palm-buzzer cameo), it’s entrancingly cool. “Ready Player One” tells a breathless and relatively coherent story — essentially, the future of civilization is riding on the outcome of a video game — but the movie, first and foremost, is a coruscating explosion of pop-culture eye candy.

“Ready Player One” isn’t an obnoxiously flashy and hollow indulgence, like “Speed Racer” or last year’s live-action “Ghost in the Shell.” It’s an accomplished and intermittently hypnotic movie.

The contradiction of a video-game/VR movie is that games are, of course, awesomely immersive, whereas a movie about games is more akin to watching somebody else play one. The hoops that Wade and his team have to jump through to win each key feel arbitrary, like rules made up as the plot goes along, and you wish there were a greater sense of intrigue to it. The movie has more activity than it does layers.

“Ready Player One” is set in a dilapidated future where fantasy rules because reality looks hellish by comparison. Yet the movie puts you in a different mindset. By the end, you’re more than ready to escape from all the escapism.

IndieWire critic Eric Kohn:

It runs too long and drags a bunch in its final third, but make no mistake: This is Spielberg’s biggest crowdpleaser in years, a CGI ride that wields the technology with an eye for payoff. It’s also his most stylized movie since “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,” though a lot more fun, with the cavalcade of visuals leaving the impression that he watched a bunch of Luc Besson movies and decided he could outdo them all. The result is an astonishing sci-fi spectacle and a relentless nostalgia trip at once.

The first hour marks some of the most viscerally engaging filmmaking Spielberg has ever done, starting with the moment Wade speeds through a virtual racetrack in a Delorean time machine (Robert Zemeckis gets more than one nod) and continuing into a holographic showdown that pitches into the real world.

“Ready Player One” wants to make people who love its references celebrate them all over again. While it lacks edginess, subtleties or the genuine dread to explore life in a complete technocracy, it does find the Iron Giant battling Mechagodzilla while a rock-heavy soundtrack featuring everything from Blondie to the Bee Gees underscores the mayhem.

As it cycles through dozens of references to past achievements, “Ready Player One” amounts to a frenetic attempt at remaking the past 30-odd years of popular culture by one of its greatest architects. Without seeing the movie, it’s hard to imagine anyone could turn it into a satisfying product; by the end, it’s clear that only Steven Spielberg can.

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