John’s Take: “Ready Player One” Directed by Steven Spielberg

The apex of pop-culture cinema or a depressing look at a,
not so far-fetched, possible future? Well, I guess it really depends on who you
are. I’ll get this out of the way first, I was a BIG fan of Ernest Cline’s
novel from which the movie is pulled, it really is a great read. Needless to
say I was psyched for the movie to come out even that I knew, no matter how
good it was, people were going to hate on it for being to different from the
book. First off, yes, it’s massively different from the book but they maintained
the spirit of the source material perfectly. Second, even if they were
magically able to clear the rights for all of the major plot points references,
there’s no way they could adapt a 15-hour (that’s how long the audio book is)
novel to a two-hour movie. It just doesn’t work. So, if you’ve read the book or
not, go into this ready to enjoy it for the marvel it is.
Now that the book to screen disclaimer is out of the way let’s
get down to it. Ready Player One
follows Wade Watts in 2034 America, who goes by the gamertag Parzival in the
Oasis, a massive multiplayer virtual reality environment where most of society
spends their days. Thanks to climate change, an energy crisis, and all of those
other things Leo DiCaprio is always warning us about, the real world isn’t much
to see, so humanity ventures into a virtual one. Following the death of the
Oasis’s eccentric creator, James Halliday, a video is released with his will
which reveals a contest, a contest for which the winner will receive his untold
billions and a controlling stock interest in his company, Gregarious Simulation
Systems; they will control the Oasis itself. A worldwide rush ensues where
millions rush to find the three keys, which will grant them access to Halliday’s
‘Easter Egg’. The movie picks up five years after the start of the contest, no
one has found anything yet and interest is waning. That is until Parzival
decodes a hint that gets him the first key and instant celebrity. Joined by
fellow egg-hunters, or “Gunters”, Art3mis, Aitch, Shaito and Daito,
Wade/Perceval races through the Oasis to find the remaining keys and win
Halliday’s Easter Egg before Nolan Sorrento and his Sixers employee’s of multi-national
conglomerate IOI. Sorrento and his sixers want to ruin the Oasis with
advertising, prohibitive cost, and all around dick moves, not something in
which our heroes are interested. Parzival and the rest of the “high-five” have
to battle and avoid the IOI sixers in both the Oasis and the real world as the
goons at IOI begin hunting them in the real world; it all leads up to one
massive battle for Halliday’s easter egg.
I think the most impressive thing about the movie is how it could have gone. This thing has all of
the makes of a cult-classic that subsists only on pop-culture references. I
mean, the story isn’t all that novel, it’s essentially a futuristic Willy Wonka
with a disturbingly not unbelievable look at our future. The fact that it
transcends that can be held to one key factor, Steven Spielberg. Kids today may
not know the gravitas that the name Spielberg holds as well as my generation,
but they will now. Stevie has always put out high quality material but the
magic he brought during the 80’s and early 90’s has been somewhat missing. Ready Player One brings that back.
While most top directors have an identifiable style, like Tarantino’s out of
order storytelling, or Micheal Bay’s propagandistic camera movements, Spielberg
doesn’t have a visual style, he delivers a feeling. It really is amazing when
you catch him at the top of his game, the mixture of childhood adventure,
breathtaking visuals, and sweeping scores that he blends to deliver a
biological reaction that forces you to get lost in his world and recapture that
feeling you’d get playing Indiana Jones in the woods as a young boy or girl.
That’s exactly what I got while watching this flick. I judge a film by it’s
ability to engage me, to make me totally forget any real world stressors and
get lost in it’s narrative for a few hours. For the 2 hour and 20 minute
runtime of this film, I was IN the Oasis, and while the film did fire on all
cylinders I have to give credit to the captain at the helm, this is what made
him a house hold name, his ability to take anything and have it transport you
to a world of wonder.
All that being said, even Spielberg can’t make a delicious
meal with expired ingredients, thankfully all the bits of Ready Player One were farm fresh. I usually start with the cast and
I guess, in a way, I still am, but I would be remiss if I did not talk about
the visuals first. They. Are. Amazing. Seriously, totally sick. At least 60% of
the movie takes place inside the virtual world so the movie was going to hinge
on it’s quality. Seeing films like this really makes it a head scratcher when
you see big-budget films with bad CGI (Looking at you Justice League!), because this shows you what Hollywood artists are
capable of. There are large chunks of the Oasis action wherein the only things
you can identify as directly CGI are the characters, the sets and backgrounds
appear totally photorealistic, specifically one scene that takes place in a
certain classic horror movie. The shear detail of references and character
depth make this a movie that you will have to watch 7 times in slow motion in
order to catch every reference. The physical cast stands up to the task as well
with the standout being perennial on-screen villain Ben Mendelsohn doing what
he does best as the evil head of IOI, Nolan Sorrento. The rest of the main
cast, Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cook and Lena Waithe, Parzival, Art3mis, and Aech,
respectively,  all keep the train rolling
at high speed with Waithe providing some stand-out laughs that make me think we
are going to see a bit more of her in the future. Last mention goes to Simon Pegg
as the Steve Jobs to Halliday’s Steve Wozniack, Ogden Morrow. He has a lynchpin
role that I won’t spoil but I want to bring him up because, in one of the final
scenes of the film, Pegg delivers an absolutely touching performance that
shows, in the span of 30 seconds, that he’s capable of far more than just
making us laugh.
At it’s worst this movie is a fun watch. Obviously if you’re
not the type to enjoy a pop-culture reference, or 27, and if your only interest
in the 80s is about trickle-down economics then this movie probably won’t hit
you the way it did me, but it will still be fun to watch. For those of us in
the sweet spot, geeks who were born after 1975, this is going to become a must
watch film. I’ll also add in that you should definitely pick up Cline’s book on
which the movie is based but, as I always recommend, watch the movie first…then
read the book.

4.5 Out of 5