a critiQal film review Ready Player One (2018)

Plot: In 2045, with the world on the brink of collapse, the people have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Rylance). When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that grips the entire world. When an unlikely young hero named Wade Watts (Sheridan) joins the contest, he is hurled into a reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger.

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1116 words (Est. Reading Time 5m 34s)

Back when Ready Player One first hit theaters, I liked the previews and wanted to see it. But, when I wasn’t able to see it during its big screen run, I figured I’d do the next best thing – read the book that it’s based on. Wow. Talk about a thrill ride! The book, by Ernest Cline, seemed like a made-for-film type of book, with an engrossing storyline and lots of 80’s nostalgia.

But, would Ready Player One be able to live up to the book version? Or is this one out of the reach of even a talented a director as Steven Spielberg?

The cast of Ready Player One is decent enough, but really, there isn’t any big standout. Even Tye SHeridan (who we liked in Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)) doesn’t do a great job in his real-world persona. But, he does a solid job as a voice for his “avatar” in The Oasis. Since so much of the film is based in that virtual world, that’s okay. Same is true for the rest of the cast.

Probably the biggest casting surprise is T.J. Miller. Playing a scary dude in The Oasis, his voice just seems to bring a chuckle to the viewer whenever he talks, which makes his big baddie much less intimidating. But, that seems to be on purpose, as Ready Player One – which seemed a lot darker on paper – has been brightened up for today’s young teens. And that’s too bad.

Unlike young-adult-novels-turned-successful films like, oh, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Spielberg decided to go the family-friendly route for Ready Player One, and the film definitely suffers because of it (okay so did Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), but they had a whole series to fix their mistakes, which they did). While the book managed to bring the real world antics of its characters into as much focus as the virtual world antics, the film tends to gloss over the harsh realities of the real world. Unfortunately, this makes the viewer less likely to care about what happens there, and doesn’t quite get the emotional attachment they need to the characters themselves.

Still, the basic plot of Ready Player One hasn’t changed from the book version. In this massive virtual reality experience, where anyone can be whomever (or whatever) they want to be, the creator, James Halliday, passes away and leaves three keys hidden throughout this virtual reality. The first “player” to get all three keys will unlock a hidden Easter Egg, which gives total control over the “game” – and transfers the winner all of Halliday’s stocks in his multi-trillion dollar company. While regular people are trying to win this to have a life-changing experience, there’s a company – IOI – that is trying to win so they can turn the “game” into one big money-grubbing advertisement.

Interesting idea, and one that instantly gives the viewer the heroes – average everyday folk – and the villain – IOI. Naturally, IOI will do anything to win, and they have lots of influence and money to make it happen. That leaves it up to the “heroes” to basically prove the little guy can beat evil corporations any day. A nice “root for the little guy” scenario, especially in our country today, where it’s very hard to buck the system that is basically ruled by giant corporations (aren’t we still paying for those bailouts of companies that were “too big to fail”?).

Unfortunately, while the book managed to actually entice it’s readers with bits of nostalgia (like having to play through WarGames (1983) as the lead character, or playing the old video game Joust to win one of the keys), Spielberg seems to instead be not a true fan of the 80’s, but rather a fan of the idea of the 80’s. So instead of those in-depth fascinations with 80’s memorabilia, instead Ready Player One tosses icons of the industry at the viewer haphazardly. Most notably, the first “race” gives us everything from King Kong to a dinosaur to a DeLorean and a cycle reminiscent of TRON (1982) – and that’s just some of the random events in the race. So, quickly, that’s already 4 movie references, with only 2 really being from the 80’s (King Kong hit it big in the 30’s, while the dino is obviously a reference to Jurassic Park (1993)).

And it doesn’t stop there. Even when the “heroes” have to venture into a virtual reality version of The Shining (1980), the viewer gets dosed basically with all the high points of the film in a few minutes, then the script veers wildly off onto it’s own, and includes dancing with zombies. Again, after reading the book, most will be pretty excited about seeing some of those old scenes redone in virtual reality with a different main character, but instead, even during The Shining (1980) sequence, we don’t get a glimpse of any of the lead characters of the film (with the exception of a leg shot, and random axe attacks). It’s disappointing, as, like the rest of Ready Player One, it’s not diving deeply into nostalgia, but rather using it as a springboard for its own new events.

Thankfully, the computer animated “virtual reality” of The Oasis is brought to amazing life in Ready Player One. It’s easy to see why the everyday struggle of real life can be put on hold as the wonderment of this immersive “game” is impressive to behold just watching it on-screen, much less actually being inside of it. While Spielberg may have missed the mark a bit with the rest, he seems to have gotten at least the look of The Oasis itself just right.

By aiming the film at young teens, Spielberg has basically tossed aside any of the emotional impact the events of the real world has on the characters in Ready Player One. All that’s left is the computer generated virtual reality. And while, yeah, that is fun to watch, the viewer connects to the characters less than during your typical animated flick. That emotional detachment, unfortunately, brings down the entertainment value of the film, even while the film is trying to get viewers to see it as a teen adventure romance. Toss in nostalgia from everywhere, and viewers are just left with the feeling that Ready Player One isn’t Spielberg’s best film…and that he has an odd fascination with the work of Robert Zemeckis.

Still decent for the computer animated “virtual reality”, Ready Player One can’t hold a candle to the book. Instead, it’s more like a wannabe fanboys idea of what his idea for the book would have been. And even if you aren’t a fanboy, it’s not hard to be a little disappointed by this version.

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