Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One”: Will it Save Movies From Virtual Reality? (Updated)

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Photo Credit: Georges Biard

(Author’s Note: Here’s a quick read from when I wrote for Examiner back in 2015. Some of the articles I wrote were about films announced several years in advance, allowing me to re-use them later. It pays to keep things like this in reserve when they become more relevant than ever…)

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It’s long overdue that the movies take on virtual reality in a context where human beings consume it as a complete escape from the real world. If The Matrixfranchise showed virtual reality as a construct against our will, most movies haven’t shown it in a universe where it’s used as a utopia. This doesn’t count Star Trek: The Next Generation” being 30 years ahead of everyone else showing the Holodeck as a form of VR and escapism from space travel tedium.

Now that real virtual reality technology is advancing quickly through Oculus, the timing of Steven Spielberg deciding to take on VR in a movie looks like the celebrated director of old. In the 1970s and ‘80s, Spielberg was far ahead of his peers in disparate genres many found impossible to imitate. Thirty years from now, you have to wonder how we’ll view the book and movie of “Ready Player One”, the title Spielberg decided to take on and just previewed at Comic-Con in San Diego.

As we see from the short stories of Philip K. Dick written 40 years ago, we’re still seeing movies being made from this author’s prescient stories. His tales fit in perfectly now with all of our current technologies and cultural situations. Ernest Cline’s vision in his “Ready Player One” is one easily fitting in more now than six years ago when the book released. It also fits into the idea that virtual reality may soon become a digital escape from the ills of the world.

The above even gives hints to the future of movies. With Oculus already making the first VR movie in history, the movie theater of the near future could look very different. You also have the possibility that theaters becoming empty shells if everyone can find entertainment in a VR headset in their own homes. A VR-equipped theater would maybe be only for interaction with willing strangers around you.

In that regard, you could look at Steven Spielberg’s take on Ready Player Oneas more of a warning tale than cinematic heaven for gamers. Even if gamers and overall tech nerds put Ernest Cline up on a pedestal, the chance for Spielberg to set a more personal statement about VR tech may have strong impact.

Does Spielberg have a covert concern that virtual reality may eventually supersede movies in a theater? Those familiar with the book of Ready Player One know the virtual reality worlds in the story aren’t entirely to anyone’s benefit. Protagonist Wade Watts, his friends, (and foes) mostly realize virtual reality isn’t a coveted utopia when it becomes a permanent part of escaping real life. You can say that, despite all the fun pop culture adds to the VR world as seen in the recent trailer.

Just like when Spielberg once brought more awareness about sharks, UFOs, and a forgotten story about the Holocaust, his take on Ready Player One may bring awareness of VR liabilities. It’s similar to recent movies about artificial intelligence showing enough vivid cinematic evidence of how much it could go awry. Even a movie like recent “Chappie could persuade our present generation to stop taking artificial intelligence too far before reality becomes the most unbelievable sci-fi movie.

It’s obvious Spielberg doesn’t want movie theaters to become archaic. With VR as entertainment at home, this very well could happen within a mere decade. If any of that gets halfway conveyed compellingly in Ready Player One, Spielberg might save the movie theater while also tempering our desire to escape entirely from our own reality.

End Note: Stay tuned for a follow-up piece that looks at the pop culture cross-references used in the upcoming “Ready Player One” film. Is this a sign of film marketing to come to challenge cable at home?