The year is 2045 and the place is Columbus, Ohio. Our hero, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), fills in the details while climbing past the grungy homes of his town, “the stacks,” where trailer parks are piled sky-high on top of each other. Things are so miserable in Wade’s world, everyone escapes to play in an immersive virtual reality game known as the Oasis. Its founder, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), is worshipped like a god until his death some years earlier. However, before leaving the mortal world, the creator left behind a series of games that would reward the winner with keys to his virtual kingdom.
Let’s be straight here: I’m a nerdy guy and this is an extremely nerdy film, so take what I have to say with a pinch of salt. Now, having said that, I LOVED every second of Ready Player One and I can’t wait to see it again.
If there is one criticism that fans have had about Steven Spielberg’s latest film, it’s that it seems like he has gone away from the fantasy genre that began his career. He has been very focused on making more serious and relevant films, and has kind of left the sci-fi and fantasy genre on the sidelines. However, when it was announced that he would direct Ready Player One – a sci-fi novel by bestselling author Ernest Cline – I was very excited, because it was a way to get Spielberg back into the world he’s best in. I have since read the book and have come to love it to extreme lengths, which just upped my excitement for whatever Spielberg was cooking for us. I can happily say that I wasn’t disappointed by anything in Spielberg’s newest film, because it is a return for him. The final result is a spectacular visual journey that needs to be experienced in the cinema. And I loved EVERY… SINGLE… SECOND of it.
It’s hard to compare this film to the novel because it is vastly different; only the overarching story is the same. An Easter egg has been hidden somewhere inside OASIS, and finding it is anyone’s game. Like the novel, an evil corporation is also planning to find the egg so they can commercialize OASIS and make it into something it was never meant to be. It’s a great premise that is translated beautifully to this film, partly by Cline himself, who wrote the screenplay alongside Zak Penn.
I think the changes they made were necessary to make the story flow better on the big screen. There are some big differences, mostly in regard to the tasks they need to complete to get the three keys, but most of the original tasks were clearly meant for readers, while the changes made for a better viewing experience. There are some other differences, mostly related to the characters, and I liked all of those as well. I still prefer what I read in the books, but I also realize that those things wouldn’t work on screen, so I can’t complain.
I like how the antagonistic corporation IOI was portrayed in the film. Very true to the novel in that they are after full control of the world’s population to help their market value. I think they posed more of a threat in the film, showing that they were not afraid to make some rash decisions, while not being as dark as they were in the book. They also expanded the role of Nolan Sorrento and I think that was a good decision, because he has a very limited appearance in the novel.
The visual effects are tremendous. Most of the film takes place inside OASIS, which means that a lot of it is CG, and I think it’s some of the best I’ve ever seen. I personally believe it is worthy of a nomination for the Academy Awards in a year’s time; I just hope it’s not so early that it’s forgotten. The movements of the characters looked so swift, and it never felt chunky or unnatural. It made for some very satisfying scenes, including a race towards the beginning, which was simply a visual treat. I was afraid that the amount of CGI was going to bother my eyes, but instead it enhanced the experience so much.
This movie is also littered with great pop culture references, most of which are Westernised in comparison to the novel, which, for a Philistine like myself, were gobbled up with pure glee. There are great performances; Tye Sheridan is the lead and he gives a very honest performance as Wade Watts. There is something subtle to his character, and I like the way Sheridan portrays his development throughout. One of the most impressive performances is Olivia Cooke as Art3mis/Samantha Cook; she brings good emotion to a film which is lacking in it, even if her relationship with Wade is non-existent. She’s a courageous character whom I adore. Ben Mendelsohn is a really good villain. He’s so full of himself and contemptuous that his appearance in-game as a muscular brute in a business suit dealing with mystical things he cares nothing about is a blast. And when he’s cornered he can be hilariously practical. His online minion i-R0k is also priceless, the sort of super badass dude living in his mom’s basement that you can only find in video games. But the performance that impressed me most is Mark Rylance as James Halliday. He is one of the best portrayed characters in any novel-based film, because it’s the exact character that I imagined. Rylance has such an awkward nature about him for this role, and it fit perfectly. He is not on-screen that much, but all the scenes that he was in were among the most memorable.
It’s great to see Spielberg heading back to his family blockbuster roots and I couldn’t think of a better story for him to return with. It’s a great adventure punctuated by a LOT of references to nerd culture, but thankfully I never felt like these got in the way of the plot. The book is far from perfect, and while the movie changes a lot, I think every change is for the better. The biggest one is probably a section with an homage to a classic horror film (which I will not give away because of spoilers) that deserves a special shout out, as it’s near perfection and it completely blew me away. It’s not often I hear actual gasps in the theater, but that scene delivered them.
All in all, I believe Ready Player One is one of Spielberg’s best films and I think he has managed to find a part of himself that he had not seen much of for a long time. He was able to take another great novel and turn it into a film that surpassed any expectations I could have had. I have nothing but love for Spielberg and his amazing storytelling craft, and I can’t wait to experience what he throws our way next. A slightly shaved ending could have rescued an extra half star; some of the romance feels a bit clunky and forced, and there are two or three points where they could have wrapped it up a bit quicker, but my complaints are minimal. This film won’t be for everyone, but personally I can’t wait to jump back into the OASIS as soon as I get my Delorean up and running. Go and see it in theaters as fast as you can; it’s well worth the price of admission. Ready Player One is easily one of my favorite films of the year.