Ready Player One (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Spielberg's return to youth-oriented, science-fiction adventure has a lot of people excited at the potential that Ready Player One could be something special.
Once the movie begins, it becomes very easy to understand why Spielberg was drawn to the project. Spielberg's tropes and trademarks are everywhere in Ready Player One.
The movie is dazzling to watch, the near constant visual effects work seamless and the action sequences impressive, custom made for the biggest screen you can find.
When you strip away all the nostalgia, the impressive technical aspects, and really look at what exists here...this is a rather simple movie we have seen before that leaves very little in doubt.
Fans of the book have started expressing dismay that the screenplay largely, or at least significantly, deviates from Ernest Cline's source material.
It is a bit of a bummer that Spielberg, a tried-and-true tour guide we have trusted and relied on so many times in the past, struggles to effectively navigate us through a thrilling world of his own creation..
Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One draws on so many pop culture references and dizzying adventure sequences, one might forget that the filmmaker is 71 years old. At times, he feels as energized as he's been in years, and in other moments, he seems as if he is stumbling, curious to figure out and understand just what all you crazy kids are into nowadays.
And during Ready Player One's overlong 140 minutes, we get the good and not so good, which comes with Spielberg's breakneck, gamer's dystopia, set in 2045, but with roots embedded largely in 1980's pop culture.
Bringing Ernest Cline's polarizing best-selling novel to the big screen was no easy task for Spielberg and his production team, who spent years attempting to gain the numerous clearances required of Cline and Zak Penn's screenplay. As a result, for everything referenced and Easter Egg'd on screen, there are countless things missing and modified which appear in the source material. For PG-13 ratings reasons, other elements of Cline's novel have been ignored and left behind. Some seem to rejoice with this news, others have become frustrated.
All things acknowledged, we meet protagonist Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who lives in a trailer park-slash-junkyard in Columbus, Ohio, circa 2045. Columbus, we learn, is the largest growing city in a depressed United States. Traversing through the wreckage and the remnants of hollowed out memories and discarded materials almost entombing he and his neighbors, Wade spends his time escaping into OASIS, a virtual reality world where everything and anything is possible. Emulating gaming and competition-style challenges, and an obsessive/compulsive 1980's nostalgia vibe, people fight, work, game, and exist in a world apart from the dingy and desolate realities of what's around them.
Wade's avatar likeness, a blue-tatted, blond-haired Parzival, has started competing in Anorak's Quest, a game where participants must conquer levels and decode clues to earn three keys, left behind by the deceased creator of OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance). The first individual to win all three keys becomes the ruler of OASIS, able to do with it whatever they please.
And if you're suddenly thinking about Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp, Oompa Loompas, fizzy lifting drinks. Charlie Bucket, golden tickets, and lots of other Willy Wonka-esque concepts, believe me, you're not alone.
Be that as it may, Parzival becomes smitten with a female competitor known as Art3emis (Olivia Cooke), and together they embrace their roles as "Gunters", a slang term for "Easter Egg Hunters." After some flirtatious back-and-forth, they decide to try and work together with three other competitors and friends, Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki), all agreeing to collaborate in an effort to claim OASIS as their own.
Standing in their way, IOI - Innovative Online Industries, an organization led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who has populated OASIS with hundreds upon hundreds of Sixers, employees of IOI whose sole purpose is to try and win OASIS for the company's possession and control.
Within OASIS, Spielberg has embraced the video game/virtual reality look of his film with zealous ambition. The film's initial action sequence, a car chase involving Gunters attempting to acquire the first key, is a whirring, dazzling feast for the eyes and ears. Although the scene lacks some of the Spielberg polish we are used to seeing, Ready Player One reaches a high-water mark early on, the sequence full of unexpected surprises, twists, and turns, as Wade and others race towards the finish line.
Throughout the film, the sound mix pops and the visual effects look flawless in execution. Ready Player One also features some of the best VFX and CGI action sequences I've seen in recent memory and Spielberg's film is seldom, if ever, still, quiet, or complacent.
However, it also expends a ton of energy, and ultimately lessens its impact and dulls its sense of wonder the longer it goes. There is one brilliant, extended homage to an iconic 1980's film (no spoiler here, though others have and will ruin the surprise), which hints at what the film might have been if Spielberg had not taken so much of Cline and Penn's screenplay so seriously.
In the live-action sequences, he draws on old habits, giving us solid scenes where Sheridan and Cooke's connection in the real world prospers and matures. Cooke really is the best thing about the movie, and Sheridan generates some nice chemistry with her, even if we pretty much recognize that we are getting yet one more story of an unassuming guy, overcoming the odds, with a feisty, spunky, but supportive girl right there at his hip.
Occasionally regressive from a storytelling perspective, there are some great moments where Parzival, Art3mis, Aech, Sho, and Daito form that alliance ("The High Five") and vibe and riff with each other. Scenes where they fight Sixers work well, but scenes where we find ourselves watching the over-the-top, goofy OASIS version of Sorrento, and/or wisecracking henchman i-R0k (T.J. Miller), grinds the film to nearly a complete stop.
Ready Player One is a mixed bag, a film trying very hard to be appealing to as many people as possible. For fans of 80's nostalgia, there's a lot here to enjoy and look for. If you like the idea of a video game/virtual reality landscape brought to life on the big screen, the water is warm, dive on in.
Just don't look too closely at what lies below the surface.
Ready Player One may seem fresh and new to younger viewers, and admittedly, it is really tough to not enjoy considerable elements of the film as a whole. However, to anyone familiar with, say, Roald Dahl, or any number of recent young adult science-fiction stories, or even some previous Spielberg films, you will likely recall films and stories far more memorable than this one.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, Lena Waithe, Simon Pegg, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen, T.J. Miller, Susan Lynch, Ralph Ineson, Letitia Wright, Lulu Wilson, McKenna Grace.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Adapted from the novel "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline
Release Date: March 29, 2018