Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast Headliners: Tye Sheridan, Mark Rylance, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendehlsohn, TJ Miller, several others
Original Release Date: March 29th, 2018
Ready Player One's premise would have been exciting enough on its own. A Willy Wonka for a future age where people would rather live in virtual reality than this one. Add to that the fact that it's Mr.Steven Spielberg himself playing with he sci-fi genre, and a bit more of a gritty blockbuster scale again. Then there's the fact that in this film and world it's not just any VR game but one in which anyone's dreams are possible...often in the form of other franchises. This mish-mash of things would have made me see it anyways but there was also the wide praise of the original novel. Every bit of praise is deserved for that but it put my eyes in a certain perspective for the movie adaptation. It tries to skim through the potential of the original but makes tweaks, additions, and removals. However one must think of it objectively... and even at that still it's a highly enjoyable VR dystopian time.
In the film's 2045 there's a future which is not entirely outside of what our own can be. The most incredible massively multiplayer video game, community, and so much more ever exists in the OASIS.. a virtual realm where anyone's dreams can come true. Often this is through video game challenges, quests, and collaboration. This stands as contrast to the bleak , overcrowded, polluted and gritty futurescape of Columbus, Ohio where corporations such as internet provider IOI seem to have more power than the actual government. What drives the plot is that upon his deathbed the Oasis' creator James Halliday (frequent Spielberg collaborator Mark Rylance) has left one final clue within his game. There's three keys across the digital universe which will grant the finder unlimited virtual access and power. Somehow someway these must be won through challenges and homages to the Halliday's life and passions. Suffice to say it's an epic journey to get to the end of the en-devour .
On the “good” side of the net are the “gunters” (easter egg hunters trying to find digital clues to the meaning of it all) in the likes of main protagonist Wade Watts aka the blue punked out “Parzival” (Tye Sheridan) , the orc-like “Aech” (who's real name and portray-er should be seen firsthand although it is slightly less important than in the novel), badass charismatic Samantha aka A3rtemis (Olivia Cooke) , and the feudal Japan-inspired samurai Toshiro / Daito (Win Morisaki) and ninja Zhou / Sho (Phillip Zhao). Together these high five end up finding their paths leading parallel as the mysteries are solved.
Opposing them is the megacorp of IOI who seeks to win the contest and enforce restrictions on its use led by villain and (here) CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendehlsohn) and his henchmen across the real world in F'Nale(Hannah John-Kamen) and Oasis in iRok (TJ Miller). There's also noble flashback and etc appearances by the likes of the Oasis's creators in Halliday aka often “Anorak the wizard” and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg).
Spielberg films are often known for their ensemble of characters to an equal or more level than the individuals and the same applies here. Sheridan's Watts is...decent if typical. He offers some bits of emotion along his inspiration and adeptness but has mixed results on charm or humor. The “Dai/Sho” pair exists to be chiefly on the sidelines to an lesser extant than in the novel . Aech has humor aplenty along ingenuity but has a (purposefully considering the reason) slightly hard to comprehend voice filtering effect going on although this is slightly alleviated when their real world counterpart finally appears at brief intervals. Cooke's Artemis is a bit of a highlight, especially on the frontlines of battle as she has some of the most personality / spunk and aptitude of the games in the film. Although romance comes across in this film with mixed results and timing. Simon Pegg is great in what little moments he has even with an accent...one wishes especially he could be at the novel's level of involvement. Mendehlsen gives a typical grimly evil performance although with much more screentime and variety than recent works while his peers fall to the wayside, Notable exception being TJ Miller's “mercenary” who's role is greatly expanded from the novel and offers both chilling vocal takes and a plenitude of laughs.
The casting that is almost pitch-perfectly spot on is Mark Rylance as Halliday. It's as if the book pages came to life. Whether as a Bill Gates-esque real person or a wise wizard avatar, Rylance immerses himself into the role and is nigh-unrecognizable from past works. This is key as it's a film about the life of this almost , to its world, mythical important figure and he delivers.
The script and character's add to one side of what Spielberg does best.... heart. From friendship to thwarting bad guys there's an appropriately old-school feel good charm that often comes up and is fitting of a movie that tries to celebrate all things gaming and the internet. This is aided by Alan Silvestri's score that leans more to old-school or at times a sense of whimsy and ambience is achieved through literal old pop and rock songs. The 1980s focus is definitely explained in the plot although only as to what the runtime allows.
Then there's the other side of Steven Spielberg as work … his visual spectacle. This rings mostly true in both realities. His 2045 Columbus has real seeming set design and locations that one can imagine themselves strolling through in perhaps even less years than that. Conversely, what is always going to be the highlight of the movie and the novel is the concept of the Oasis. The Oasis is accessed through gear from goggles to super-seat-pod things. Within, a world immerses audiences and players alike. Only momentarily curiously is the decision to render this space with a “electronic” filter resembling a high-fidelity video game or animated film cinematic. Nearly all characters, creatures, and locations on screen are CGI and surreal looking but ends up mostly working. One may be a bit put off by the fantasy facial designs of the avatars like Parzival, Art3mis, and Nolan but ultimately one gets used to it and it's almost, concept aside, a visually intense experience like... Avatar was years back. IMAX screening greatly adds to this.
Sequences Spielberg delivers on include car chases, walks through time and space, interpretations of other media and a final battle to rival most final battles ever done for spectacle and mania. These are aided by the fact that the Oasis offers not only original characters but allows anyone to bring in their favorite video game, movie, comic book, and etc material to use. This turns each viewing of the film into an easter “gunt” of its own with cameos that ultimately amount to fascinating set dressing. Don't be surprised to see such varied things as the Iron Giant, horror movie villians like Freddy and Jason, King Kong, Sonic the Hedgehog, Hello Kitty, and so so much more fighting against each other or side by side in the background. The movie did vastly more amounts than this (including some sorely missed recreations) but what does come through (or in truly one thrilling case added) is very neat to see come together.
Perhaps the greatest faults in the film come from how much it tries to pull together. This makes sense for the format of what it is but the challenges are stringed together with truncated versions of character growth from the book only sometimes thrown in. The ending's surroundings circumstances are also slightly new for questionable reasons. However the brisk pace makes it pretty easily digestable for the mass audience and it manages to make its lore exposition be tolerable to even a total newcomer. Get the keys, win the game and so on even with its just a scoop of the vast sundae that is the novel.
There's plenty of cheese within the film and it's deeper themes are just only poked at to how much the source did. But it's a shiny, gorgeous, surprising and fun ride worth seeing for the adventure and stakes it provides. Perhaps it's all intended as Halliday would want... to be fun. 8.7 out of 10