Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance
Give us one critically acclaimed, show-stopping novel, and one of the most legendary directors of all time and you’ve got yourself a blockbuster that won’t let you catch a breath.
When Ernest Cline’s bestselling novel, Ready Player One, first hit the shelves, the world he conjured up for us was so vivid that it’s no wonder that when Warner Bros. announced that Steven Spielberg had signed on to direct its film adaptation, it quickly became one of the most anticipated movies of 2018.
The first notes of Van Helen’s ‘Jump’ welcome us into the world of Ready Player One, as we slowly drift into the dystopian, city of Columbus, Ohio, moving through over-populated stacks of trailers, until our lonely yet determined hero Wade Watts, played by X-Men’s Tye Sheridan comes into view. This dystopian landscape in which bleak events such as ‘bandwidth riots’ have brought society to its knees, offering citizens almost nowhere to go, except the Oasis.
Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story.
Strapping on his headset in the back of a discarded van, Wade takes on the alter-ego of Parzival and escapes his dreary surroundings by bringing us into the world which he calls home. In the Oasis, anything is possible, you can visit paradise, climb Mount Everest with Batman, and Wade even gives us a little *nudge nudge wink wink* moment when passing by a planet populated by Motels… While this all seems to be a whole lot of fun and games filled with endless sources of loot, Wade’s inviting introduction to the Oasis is marred by the people around him whose lives have been ruined by its existence.
Set in 2045, the film takes us on Wade’s journey, as he races through the virtual utopia, created by James Halliday. Upon his death, Halliday announced to the world from beyond the grave, that within his creation he’d hidden an Easter Egg, locked behind three levels, each of which needed a key to unlock them. When the final prize is found, its discovery will make the lucky player the sole heir to his fortune and corporation. The Oasis is mostly populated with MMORPG players or ‘gunters’, all racing towards the same goal, to be the first to reach the egg.
People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.
Although determined to work alone, on his path he meets the allusive At3mis played by Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe’s Aech, the scene-stealing Sho, played by Philip Zho (not bad for a first movie), and Win Morisaki’s Daito. Those who aren’t gunters are the unfortunate players who’ve been made to join Nolan Sorrento, played by Ben Mendelsohn and his army of ‘Sixers’, who’ve been captured and groomed to win the prize on his behalf and help him achieve world domination.
After watching Ready Player One’s full-length trailer, we were pleasantly surprised to see characters like The Iron Giant, Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft and Master Chief from Halo. This left us somewhat relieved as Spielberg’s choice to include these characters, introduces and includes a whole new generation of fans to Cline’s creation. However, at times you feel rushed to catch every reference to 80s, 90s and even early 00s pop culture that you almost drown in wave after wave of sci-fi and fantasy nostalgia.
Who is this ‘Parzival’ and how the hell is he winning?
The film is rife with fun Spielberg-ian elements which gear you up for the ride ahead, keeping up an unrelenting pace before bringing the action to a grinding halt for a moment of agonising suspense, which this legendary director can do like nobody else. As is almost inevitable with film adaptations, there are parts of Ready Player One’s source material which are omitted, and with the exception of one, possibly two cases, these scenes are missed for only a moment before you get swept back up into the action.
What the film missed at times was to balance the scale of the two worlds. We seem to visit every corner of the Oasis, but scenes from the ‘real world’ focus solely around Columbus. During Wade’s rallying speech, it would’ve been incredible to see players from around the globe watching and listening with intent, but even then, reality seemed peculiarly small, and the fate of Halliday’s fortune seemed to affect only those from that particular area code.
Ready Player One is a thrill to watch and is filled with bursts of joy and tension, but it goes by so fast you feel as though you need to go back to the theatre one more time to make sure you didn’t miss a reference intended to pull at your nostalgic heartstring. While giving us characters that appear true to those we got to know in the novel, you’re at times left relying on your memories of them on paper as the film didn’t always take the time it needed to explore them on screen. I just hope that Parzival and his comrades are finally getting some rest.