“Going outside is highly overrated.”
This is a line from Ernest Cline’s 2011 dystopian novel Ready Player One, where a future generation is caught up in an all-encompassing virtual reality gamescape called the OASIS.
“Outside” is the real world, which has been reduced to dirty shanty-style dwellings stacked upon one another like Jenga. Quality of life has been turned to dust and corruption is rife.
Inside the game is where the action takes place. An entire population spends their days strapping on their VR goggles and getting lost within the vast universe, which is only limited by one’s imagination.
Users can choose their avatar’s identity, find riches and even form relationships — yet they wouldn’t know their special friends if they were to pass them on a real-world street.
Today, this kind of technology already exists, albeit on a more basic level. So it seems prescient for Steven Spielberg to release his bombastic film adaptation as a thinly veiled warning about the pitfalls of living a digital existence.
Guiding the on-screen narrative is teenage geek Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who is one of many trying to crack a secret quest buried in the OASIS while cloaked as his avatar, Parzival.
Before his death, creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) hid an “Easter egg” that would bequeath the victor sole ownership of his company and fortune but it is a seemingly impossible task, with not even the first of the three challenges close to completion many years later.
Also hunting for the egg is Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the chief executive of a rival organisation hell-bent on using the OASIS as a means to control humankind, and his henchwoman F’Nale (Hannah John-Kamen).
John-Kamen confesses she was an original follower of Cline’s cult-status novel long before production on the movie began.
“I was a huge fan of the book; I read it and I was like ‘Wow’,” she says by phone from Los Angeles.
“When I found out it was going to be a film and it would be directed by Steven Spielberg, my jaw dropped.”
Funnily enough, F’Nale does not even feature in the original work. She was created by Spielberg for the screen and is the only major character who does not have an alter-ego in the OASIS, making her the sole identity firmly rooted in reality.
“F’Nale doesn’t need an avatar, she’s strong enough without one,” John-Kamen explains.
“She doesn’t need the OASIS to do what she needs to do. She gets the job done in the real world.
“I don’t mind that she’s a villain — I always like to play characters who have a reason for what they are doing.
“F’Nale is loyal and efficient and she’s good at what she does. She’s just such a tough cookie.”
And for the young actor, working with the legendary director on a project she was passionate about was everything she imagined.
“It was like making movie magic,” John-Kamen gushes. “It was so inspiring to see Steven get excited about certain scenes or something you’re doing. We would even sing show tunes together in between takes.”
Spielberg’s willingness to collaborate with the cast of up-and-comers is also echoed by Win Morisaki.
The Japanese singer plays self-styled samurai Daito, one of Parzival’s fellow egg hunters, and Ready Player One represents his first foray into English-language cinema.
Morisaki says Spielberg was “so kind and generous” with his time.
“He was really open to our ideas and gave us a lot of freedom to perform,” he recalls.
“I had suggestions for my character and he took them under consideration, so it was a great experience working with him. It really felt like we were all making the movie together.”
The cast underwent extensive fight training for weeks ahead of shooting, including traditional Japanese movement for Morisaki.
While John-Kamen got to do all her own live-action stunts, those whose characters moved through the OASIS had an extra layer of complexity to their scenes.
Motion-capture technology was used for everything that takes place within the gamescape and filming occurred inside an abstract set that resembled a huge empty white box.
For the actors to understand where they were within the OASIS at any given time, they were fitted with virtual-reality Oculus goggles so they could inhabit the digital landscape.
Morisaki says it was an out-of-body experience.
“There was a separate virtual reality room and there were animators who developed certain scenes for us,” he says.
“We put on VR goggles and we got to experience it firsthand, and that helped us get into the mood.”
The fact that this movie was actually made using the kind of high-tech wizardry the plot revolves around is an interesting point to consider.
It becomes clear that Ready Player One’s subject matter isn’t as far-fetched as it perhaps seemed when the book was first released seven years ago.
Should it be considered a cautionary tale for the future of technology?
John-Kamen wants to assure viewers that’s not the case.
“The movie isn’t doom and gloom; it’s an amazing observation of where life could go,” she says.
“The message is about not losing touch with reality, but I also think it is about realising that people work better as a team.
“When you band together with friends and are united, it’s better than giving in to greed.
“Also, we are so driven by our devices. We aren’t there yet in terms of having something as all-consuming as the OASIS, but it reminds us not to rely too much on technology.”
Morisaki agrees Ready Player One reminds us to focus on reality.
“Technology is moving so fast and people can’t live without their social networks,” he says.
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but people must not forget real life.”
Ready Player One opens on Thursday.