BREVIEW: Ready Player One – UK release from 28.03.18


Words by Ashleigh Goodwin

Monday evenings are nearly always unbearable. I practically run home, eager to get to the warmth of my house, only to emerge the next morning for work and to start the cycle again. 

However last Monday, I headed to Cineworld on Broadstreet for a preview of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. This was made possible by Film Birmingham – Birmingham City Council’s film office who enables accessible and effective ways for production within Birmingham, ‘done through a number of free services available to the film and television industry including locations and crews as well as filming permissions.’

Film Birmingham has been a supporter and developer of film and TV since 2006, and embodies the rich history of cinema dating back to 1863 whilst connecting Birmingham productions to the wider UK film industry. They also support film events and industry screenings, which is what led me to being packed into Screen 10 of Cineworld instead of curled up at home. You can tell, even before the lights go down and the screen comes to life, that this is something special – whether it’s just the opportunity to preview a high profile film from the comfort of our home city, or the fact that some of Ready Player One’s landscapes were handpicked from right here in Birmingham.

Ready Player One is an adaption of Ernest Cline’s bestselling novel of the same name, and it seems only fitting that Steven Spielberg directs as the novel incorporates a hefty amount of 1980’s references – a time where Spielberg arguably conquered the industry, directing and producing films from E.T. to The Colour Purple. And Ready Player One doesn’t waste time in transferring this nostalgic vibe, opening with Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ and automatically engrossing the audience; the whole soundtrack is perfectly curated to reflect the imagery and content – vital in supporting any film, but especially one interweaving so much popular culture. There’s even a DeLorean.

Ready Player One follows Wade Watts (a superhero sounding reference that he doesn’t fail to mention when introducing himself) played by Tye Sheridan, most recognisable as Ellis from Mud and Scott Summers from X-Men: Apocalypse. Wade is orphaned, living with his Auntie and her partner in a trailer park in Columbus, Ohio – in a future that doesn’t seem too far removed from modern day, but where its occupants spend most of their time immersed in a virtual reality world called OASIS. OASIS offers salvation in this arguably desolate 2045 landscape by allowing the player to take on any reality-defying form they wish, and was created by the eccentric and off-centre mogul James Halliday (Mark Rylance). But there’s a further incentive in OASIS than just escape; before his death Halliday hid ‘Easter eggs’ within the virtual world, and whoever finds them first will inherit his fortune. And so ensues a world-wide race to do just that.

Spielberg has previously stated that as he has grown older he feels ‘a deeper responsibility to tell stories that have some kind of social meaning’, with this ideology being perfectly evident in Ready Player One. The film is set amidst the future of technology and the popularisation of virtual reality, something currently capitalised on within modern society now more than ever.

As a subject for filmmakers and storytellers, virtual reality is increasingly interesting to explore – the possibilities, scenarios and outcomes of a virtual world are endless and limited only by imagination. Plus, as a modern society, with we can plausibly picture ourselves there in the not too-distant future, right alongside those entering OASIS or being captivated by the advancement of technology. Spielberg successfully shows the juxtaposition, yet balance, of physical Vs virtual domains and how slowly but surely the latter is beginning to outweigh the former.

You can’t fault the conventions of Ready Player One either; the blockbuster quality is evident, complete with mind-bending car chases, huge sets and beautiful visuals. And whilst the latter were what I found most enjoyable most about the film, you’d expect nothing less than stunning cinematography from a Spielberg production. Ready Player One proffers a dystopian future through carefully curated shots and angles which solidify the setting for the audience. It seems familiar, by incorporating futuristic touches but remaining on the right side of believable – as though you could pass this landscape on your way to work and not bat an eyelid, with the frames of The Stacks (the estate Wade lives in) being amongst my favourite within the film.

Although Ready Player One is a two hour twenty minute action-packed, surreal ride (this is unassailable) I also feel this is where the root of its problems lie. Despite the sheer amount of content packed into the (slightly lengthy) run time, certain concepts, ideas and storylines still feel underdeveloped and overlooked throughout the narrative. This particularly extended to the relationships portrayed within the film; I feel little real connection with any of the characters, not due a narrative intentionally overlooking any emotional development, but because there are simply so many additional plot points needed to complete the main storyline.

This ‘broken spider web syndrome’ seems to be a running theme across Ready Player One; Wade loses his Auntie at the hands of the film’s villain, yet this is never addressed again – other than the scene directly afterwards where he looks fleetingly anguished. Similarly, Samantha (Olivia Cooke, known for her endearing performance in the TV series Bates Motel) explains she wants to win the coveted prize to avenge her father’s death. This makes for an interesting plot point but one that is never further developed and gradually we lose this side of her character, with the focus on her shifting to being solely Watt’s love interest midway through the film.

This, again, is problematic; Watt’s professes his love after a few short scenes of interacting with Samantha’s avatar, Art3mis, with a short, lacklustre conversation, yet still their relationship intensifies. Watt’s then continues to declare his love throughout the film at arguably inappropriate moments, such as when they’re immersed in battle scenes or during the penultimate moments of action. Which although fits conventions – declarations of love before battle scenes – due to an underdeveloped relationship, feels as though it’s just ticking boxes to say ‘yes, this film also has a romantic sub-plot’.

Apart from a deficit in emotional or character development, I feel Ready Player One has another downfall – and perhaps this one isn’t a fault of the filmmakers, as any book to film adaption can bring challenges of staying true to the nuances of the original text. But in Spielberg’s production, the sheer volume of pop culture references don’t translate that effectively to the big-screen. They feel a little forced – not being an undertone or an influence, but more thrown directly and relentlessly at you one after the other.

There is a particular scene where Wade’s avatar, Parzival, is trying on clothes for a date, moving from Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ outfit to Duran Duran-esque costumes; at one point he asks “am I trying too hard?”, which encompasses my feelings on the amount of pop culture that was supposedly a highlight of the film (and the book). And with Spielberg’s work itself being such a strong staple of popular culture, it seems especially off-kilter that his latest production rides so much on other references that felt neither subtle nor natural within the narrative. Apparently this was even argued by the director himself when the aforementioned DeLorean was suggested, with Spielberg finally acquiescing as he was only Back to the Future’s producer.

Despite these points, watching Ready Player One is an engaging experience. But whilst I enjoyed the concept and the exploration of virtual reality, the visuals, and the soundtrack, there were other, more conflicting factors that I couldn’t move past – making the storyline a little confused and ultimately forgettable. It’s been a week since viewing Ready Player One and I struggle to remember some of the names, places, and certain elements of the plot.

Saying this, maybe I’m missing the mark – but this is the appeal of film, hundreds of people can watch the same piece yet it will produce different thoughts and feelings across the aisles. And whilst the knowledge that Steven Spielberg shot aspects of this film here in Birmingham fills me with immense excitement and civic pride, that fact is more alluring to me than the actual on screen content it turned into.

And the Oscar for best Council film development department goes to…

Ready Player One – Official trailer

Ready Player One is out on general release from Wednesday 28th March, being screened daily at Cineworld on Broadstreet. For Ready Player One show times, alongside the cinema’s wider programme, visit

For more on Ready Player One, visit

For more on Film Birmingham, including upcoming projects, visit

INTERVIEW: Gary Rogers – Birmingham Film Festival @ Mockingbird Cinema 23-26.11.17

Words by Heather Kincaid / Pics courtesy of Birmingham Film Festival

Following a successful debut in 2016, Birmingham Film Festival (BFF) returns this month with an event that promises to be even bigger and better than before. More time, more screenings and new submissions categories are among the things that indie film fans can look forward to this year, with music videos and un-produced screenplays now getting a look in. Ahead of its return to the Mockingbird Cinema, Birmingham Review spoke to BFF co-founder and co-director Gary Rogers.

“We’ve got a mixture of music videos, shorts, features, documentaries, animation – you name it. There’s a bit of just about everything, really. We’ve also added an extra day to the festival this year, so now we’re running for four days as opposed to three. Last year we screened 80 films, so this year there’ll be about 100.”

“Although we accept all sorts of films, in terms of themes, I was saying recently that I’ve noticed a significant increase this year in films about mental illness this year, whether it’s general health issues or things like dementia, which is all very topical at the moment.”

Formed by a group of friends and colleagues working within Birmingham’s burgeoning filmmaking scene, the project began as something of a risky venture. Recognising a gap in the market, Rogers had been toying with the idea of a Birmingham Film Festival for some time before it eventually got off the ground. At the time, however, none of the trio responsible for turning it into a reality had much experience of organising an event of this kind.

“I’d been talking about doing a local film festival for a long time, and in my head it was only going to be quite a small affair. But while I was out shooting a film called Enter the Cage, I ended up mentioning it to the director and stunt coordinator Dean [Williams] and Kevin [McDonagh], and it just went from there. It seemed amazing to us that as the second city, Birmingham didn’t already have its own film festival. I went home and Googled the URLs just to check they were available and somehow even they hadn’t been snapped up, so we decided to go for it!”

Small-scale, themed festivals such as last month’s Screening Rights Film Festival do exist in Birmingham, of course, but the Birmingham Film Festival is unique in its approach and scale. The closest thing the city has is perhaps Flatpack Festival, but even that has a distinctly different remit.

Birmingham Film Festival @ Mockingbird Cinema 23-26.11.17“Flatpack work in a different way to us – they’re mobile so they move around between different venues, and they’re also like a self-contained little company, hiring out equipment and things like that. They do a lot of themed evenings and mainstream film screenings, whereas our screenings are 100% new, low budget, indie films, submitted directly by filmmakers. And when I say low budget, I think the biggest budget feature I’ve seen so far was made for about £160,000, which is nothing really.”

Happily, things seemed to fall quite quickly into place, thanks in large part to widespread support from the local film community. Some of this was down to the strong network of industry contacts that the organisers had built up over the years, but backing also came from more unexpected quarters.

“Sindy Campbell from Film Birmingham has been great. It was funny because she actually got in touch with us. Somebody had heard about us and asked her in a meeting what she thought about Birmingham Film Festival, and at the time she didn’t know anything about it. So she got in touch to find out what it was all about, and since then she’s been behind us 100%. We’ve also got [Peaky Blinders creator] Steven Knight as our official patron. Hopefully we’ll get him appearing this year – last year he was too busy but it would be great if he’s available this time.”

“We’ve had some support from local colleges too. Because I do a bit of work with Pauline Quirke Academy on Saturday mornings, they actually sponsored us last year, and this year we’ve been speaking to BOA and Birmingham University as well.”Birmingham Film Festival @ Mockingbird Cinema 23-26.11.17

“As far as the venue goes, we came straight to the Mockingbird, and they’ve really helped us out a lot. We did get in contact with some other cinemas in Birmingham, but most of them cost a fortune. This place was perfect for us – not only was it affordable, they’ve also been really sympathetic and keen to be part of what we’re doing. And I think it’s been good coverage for them as well; everybody who came last year said how much they loved the venue and the artistic nature of it.”

In consequence, the festival flourished, attracting huge numbers of submissions from diverse genres and countries around the world.

“For our first year we kind of had the philosophy of go big or go home, and it worked out really well. We ended up with 400 films submitted from 30+ countries, so it was really international in reach. We also organised a nice, big gala for the awards, which sold out really quickly. Last year there were 120 people at the awards, so this year we’ve gone even bigger and hired a venue that will seat up to 200.”

But as with any major undertaking, it hasn’t quite all been plain sailing, particularly since everything has been a learning curve for its creators. Along the way, there have been creases to iron out, and of course, there’s still some way to go before they’re likely to start attracting national attention.

“The first year was really scary to be honest, with it being our first time and having so many people submitting. We had people travelling in from overseas – there was even a guy from Israel who came over with his own film crew – and we were constantly worried in case things didn’t work. Mostly everything went fine, but there were some hiccups. There was one foreign language film that we decided to show which turned out not to have any subtitles on the version we tried to screen, so in the end we decided to move on and leave that one out.”

Birmingham Film Festival @ Mockingbird Cinema 23-26.11.17New features this year have also required new methods of planning and implementation. For example, the Birmingham Film Festival 2017 is accepting submissions of un-produced screenplays as well as finished films, and at the time of writing it wasn’t yet confirmed if or how these might be presented to the public. That said, things are settling into their own natural rhythm, with each director finding his own niche based on individual strengths and experience.

“I think we’ve all got a little area that we mostly look after, although we do cross over. Because I’m normally a cameraman and techie, I tend to look after a lot of the admin relating to submissions, so once we know which ones we’ve chosen, I’ll get in touch with them and chase the forms and copy, as well as sorting out the schedule for the day.”

“Dean’s [Williams] speciality is stunt work and fight choreography, and he’s very much a people person. He has lots of contacts and he’s been going around trying to get people on board, particularly celebrities. He’s also the one that’s sorted out the hotel and venue for the gala evening.”

“Kev [McDonagh] is similar in that he knows a lot of people, but he’s been mostly focusing on getting us funding and sponsorship. Obviously it’s all self-funded, so we’re really reliant on what we get from submissions and sales. But last year we did at least manage to cover the costs and still have a little bit left over, and this year we’ve got some big backers, including Birmingham Bullring, which is brilliant.”

Better still, delegation has also been possible this year, with the recruitment of more people to help out with assessing submissions and public promotion, as well as a growing number of volunteers signing up to help out at the event itself.Birmingham Film Festival @ Mockingbird Cinema 23-26.11.17

“This year we’ve got a guy called Mikey who runs Mikey’s Movie World giving us a lot of coverage. We’ve also been speaking to the local media company Think Jam, they’re really keen to get on board as well.”

“We’ve also now got a little group of people going through submissions and sort of flagging them and rating them before we watch them, whereas last year we just did all of that ourselves, which wasn’t easy. It sounds great watching 400 odd films, but wow it’s a killer when you’re actually doing it!”

“And we’ve got no shortage of volunteers. Most of them are media students but we do get people emailing us all the time and it’s getting to the stage where we can’t actually take everybody! It’s great that we’ve got so many people who want to help out, but of course you don’t want them just sitting around bored when they arrive.”

Emboldened by early success, Rogers and his collaborators are now ambitious for the future of the festival, already looking into possibilities for expansion and further diversifying the range of events on offer in years to come.

“Through my involvement in the indie film scene, I have worked with people operating on slightly higher budgets – around the £400-500,000 mark, which is big enough to have known actors in them. For example, I worked on a film last year called Milk and Honey which had people from The Bill and Emmerdale and Coronation Street in it. I think the next step is to start bringing in premieres of some of those higher end indie films, which means you’ll also get some of the stars coming in and raising the profile a bit.”

Birmingham Film Festival @ Mockingbird Cinema 23-26.11.17“One of the things we haven’t really managed to do so far is fit in Q&As. A lot of the filmmakers were asking us if they could do them after their screenings, but because time has been really tight in terms of showing everything we wanted to, even just having 20 minutes at the end of each one really eats into the schedule if you’re showing eight films in a day. So it’s been tricky, but we’ve been looking at the possibility of getting a dedicated networking space for meet and greets where filmmakers and audiences can interact.”

“On a similar note, we’d really like to put on extra events like workshops – on lighting and camera work and things like that. But again it’s all dependent on space, and renting extra space costs money. This year it will be fairly light on that side, but because we’re now in dialogue with the Bullring and they’re developing new spaces, it may be that we’ll be able to find a place for things like that next year.”

“Ultimately we’re aiming to make it a big deal in the vein of Sundance, Raindance and all those big festivals that people know – that’s where we want to be.”

Birmingham Film Festival runs at the Mockingbird Cinema from the 23rd to 26th November. For more on Birmingham Film Festival, visit

For more information about the Mockingbird Cinema, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit