Written by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline and directed by Steven Spielberg, “Ready Player One” is an adaption of the pop culture obsessed book written by Ernest Cline in 2011. As someone who read and enjoyed the book several years before the film’s release, I was looking forward to an adaption of it. I never in my life expected Steven Spielberg to be the one to adapt it though, and it had me ecstatic over the possibilities. Though, with many studios and entertainment companies re-doing major popular franchises since the book’s publication there was some concern over the nostalgia overload that this title could be a part of. There was the danger of taking popular characters, much beloved titles and art (in general), and utilizing them purely for the maligned and profit seeking purposes of member-berries. Which would ultimately undercut the whole point and heart of the story. Luckily the right hands were guiding this film and the heart imbued in the book, with a focus on what makes pop culture so loved by so many people, stayed intact.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. “Ready Player One” is about Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) a teenager living in Columbus Ohio in the year 2045. His life in the real world is fairly awful, he lives in ‘the stacks’, a slum of welded together trailers stacked on top of each other with people crammed together inside them living as best they can. Wade lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend as his parents had died when he was young. We get a few lines describing the poverty of the age, how after the corn-syrup droughts and the internet blackouts most people simply tried to survive instead of trying to solve the problems in the world. Most have devoted themselves to living through the virtual reality system known as the Oasis. Though the Oasis itself, while given a good quick explanation of what it was in the beginning of the movie, is actually a much larger part of society in the book than what the movie mentions (though, my few nitpicks are really just the sacrifices that one has to take when adapting a book to film).
The movie doesn’t quite accurately present the scale of what the Oasis means for society in the world of 2045. It’s not just games and quests, the digital currency in the oasis is what the real world runs on now. More than that though, the Oasis reinvented the education system; kids hologram into their classrooms from around the world and learn and interact via this system. People take their vacations in the Oasis, they love there, they kill (avatars) there, steal there, thrive there, squander their money and lives there. The Oasis is the internet a thousand times over. It’s taken over the brick and mortar institutions of the real world and given imagination and escape a currency. At the core of this world evolving technology is James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the tech guru that created the Oasis, and who upon his death released the greatest challenge the world had ever seen. He had hidden an Easter egg somewhere within the Oasis. All a user had to do was solve a few riddles, complete several challenges, and win three keys which would grant said user the sole rights and proprietorship of the Oasis earning Halliday’s half a trillion dollar riches left behind and control over the most powerful company in the world.
Which of course means that there’s an evil corporation out there trying to find Halliday’s egg too. Innovative Online Industries (IOI) is headed by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) a smug clean-cut suit that perfectly embodies The Man. IOI utilizes forced servitude through bankruptcy and fees to amass an army of players that they run through the various challenges in an attempt to overwhelm and swarm the competition to victory. The normal players dub this amorphous group the sixers as every sixer is only identified by a string of numbers, all of which start with six. So, as you can imagine the movie dives into a fun, but predictable, plot of rebellious youth fighting the power hungry corporation run by an out-of-touch old white guy. Which I am completely fine with if the movie is handled well and entertaining. For me, “Ready Player One” does just that.
Wade and his friends Aech (Lena Waithe), Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke), Daito (Win Morisaki), and Sho (Philip Zhao) are some of the few users that are still trying to complete the quest five years after everyone else had abandoned the idea. The challenges themselves are fairly different from the book’s challenges, but they’re all in the same spirit as those in the book. The first one being a race through New York City with ramps, traps, and obstacles aplenty-like King Kong for example. While this is vastly different from the book Spielberg kicks off the film with this thrilling sequence that is in itself in adoration of a good race. I won’t go into great detail about the other two, but the one second challenge was an absolute joy to watch, I’ll just note that it heavily involves the movie version of “The Shining”.
Honestly, I went into this film with hope, but measured expectations. If you think this is the sort of film or story you’d enjoy- then I expect you might really have fun with this movie. However if you came to this movie looking for the most thought provoking or profound ideas, then I’m sorry but you came to the wrong theater. I’m not downgrading the movie in this way, its just that this isn’t the story for you if that’s what you wanted. This is a movie that is in love with pop culture, yes, there are characters and imagery from pop culture charging across the screen throughout the run-time, but it doesn’t seem shameless in its depiction, or as haphazardly contrived as it could have been in lesser hands. This was, for me, the first time in years that Spielberg has recaptured his former filmmaking magic that has been missing in most of his post-millenium work. I had a thoroughly good time at the theater, and I definitely give it a recommendation.
Final Score: Three Keys and 1 Easter Egg