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