Ready Player One – Film Review
A film review? what is going on I hear you say! So a while back I was given this book by my brother to read and I have to be honest I got halfway through and couldn’t get into it – it’s set in a dystopian 2040’s and nearly everyone is part of a virtual reality game called OASIS. The founder dies and puts the entire fortune and control of OASIS up for grabs in an Easter egg hunt. The main protagonist Wade Watts is on the hunt for these eggs. The story is based on 80’s pop culture, trivia and knowledge. I looked at the story again when my sister told me to listen to the audiobook version – narrated by Wil Wheaton and I really got into it this time! Although 80’s pop culture is not my strong point, I loved the story and found myself listening to it over and over so naturally when the film was announced I was pretty excited.
I’m no film critic and wouldn’t know where to start with a real review so I called upon two people who I knew could give justice to the film! My brother Paul and one of his best friend Matt have kindly reviewed the film for me and I’m excited to share their thoughts with you 😀 These guys are awesome and even have an exciting podcast ‘Spocklight’ a journey into exploring the Star Trek franchise from non trekkie perspectives! Will pop a link at the end of this post to it – I suggest you check it out 😀 But on to the reviews ^^
Disclaimer: this review does not describe the plot as such, there is Wikipedia for such things, but merely ones musings as a fan of the book, seeing the film for the first time.
I found this to be a solid adaptation of a book close to my heart. I remember hearing that the rights to the movie had been the subject of much interest and this prompted me to seek out the book. It subsequently did the rounds with friends and family with everyone kind of digging it in their own way. One of the good things about it was that there was certain to be a reference or two that a reader would just get or connect with, even if there were sections detailing a game you’d have never played and likely never will, it didn’t matter.
My chief concerns as a fan of the book would be how it would handle the insane number of pop culture references, firstly just from a rights perspective and secondly how would they translate to the big screen. You have to wonder if they had stuck with Wargames (1983) as the movie Watts has to navigate in full, would a large section of the cinema going public just not remembered the film? (for the record, Wargames is still excellent and boasts a brilliant screenplay). The decision to utilise a certain Stanley Kubrick horror from 1980 was a stroke of genius and certainly ticks the box as an almost 40 year old film that most people have actually seen.
Sadly the Dungeons and Dragons inspired first challenge is swapped out for a destruction derby through New York, I think intellectually I preferred the book on this point, but I still have to admit as eye-candy goes, the chase for the first key is very impressive. Extra point for the Jack Slater III billboard from ‘Last Action Hero’, a film that ‘Jurassic Park’ destroyed at the box office.
Not since ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ have we seen so many competing intellectual properties share the screen, but I felt this film, has more in common with ‘Wreck it Ralph’ for number of blink and you’ll miss erm cameos from world of gaming. This will be fun to revisit at home with the benefit of pause! Another Roger Rabbit connection would be the composer Alan Silvestri, responsible for the Back to the Future trilogy’s memorable scoring. A job he was almost passed over for as Speilberg had been less than impressed with his music for ‘Romancing the Stone’ a year earlier (I agree, it was the weak point of the otherwise good film). Here he delivers some of his best work in years and doesn’t make one pine for John Williams too hard.
On the human front, I felt the scenes in the real world were a little too pedestrian at times and I couldn’t wait to get back to the Oasis, much like the characters. I expected Wade to be a little larger and perhaps a little less attractive(!), and the addition of a character to do Sorrento’s dirty work led to some of the more pointless diversions in the film, which at 140+ minutes could have benefited from a little tightening. I do wish the ending had been wrapped up maybe five minutes earlier!
The special effects were routinely eye-popping and it’s not often I’m impressed by Cgi than you can shake a stick at. 3D is not my usual choice to view a film in, but I felt it was appropriate to plump the extra cash for it given that ‘The Adventures of Tintin : Secret of the Unicorn’ is my favourite 3D movie and with that Senor Spielbergo demonstrated he can really get the most out of the 3D format. Plus in terms of showcasing the Oasis it did the business.
Until a few years ago, and probably in anyone else’s hands this could have been an unfilmable project, from a technical and a rights standpoint. I look forward to the eventual remake which takes place in virtual reality, I’d happily wear the silly gear for that experience!
Ready Player One probably shouldn’t exist. Both the movie, and the 2011 novel it’s based on by Ernest Cline, play out like fan fiction writ-large – a fantastical narrative constructed within a toybox stuffed with everything from 80s arcade games and classic movies to anime and rock music. Yes, references to pop-culture are abound in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster adaptation but by and large, they play second fiddle to a largely traditional adventure that sees an obsessive gamer fight to win control of a virtual world.
Set in the near future of 2045, the real world is on the decline. Overpopulation and poverty runs rampant so for many, the best way to escape is to live out a second life inside the OASIS – a kind of Matrix-like VR playground where anything is possible. Whilst simplified somewhat from the novel, players can compete in huge FPS tournaments or anti-gravity sporting events or, like in the thrilling opening set piece, a Wacky Races style death race through the winding streets of New York – whilst being chased by a T-Rex. The backstory here is that the OASIS’s creator, a reclusive genius called James Halliday, has hidden the keys to the kingdom (and a mammoth fortune) somewhere deep inside the very code of the program. Only through an elaborate Easter Egg hunt will ‘gunters’ (a nickname for those who search for the prize) ever hope to decipher the clues and claim ownership of the OASIS itself.
This is certainly a marmite film. Many, often rightfully so, criticise Cline’s amateurish prose and endless references but for my money, the story was always a compelling, propulsive fantasy fetch quest with genuinely engaging puzzles, surprising twists and turns and a sense that it was always rocketing towards an everything-or-nothing endgame which delivers in spades. The movie retains the basic structure (figure out clue, go do task, win a key) but mixes up the particulars. Additions to the movie include the aforementioned death race and an inspired trip to the Overlook Hotel but the grand finale (which includes a wildly entertaining Iron Giant/MechaGodzilla/Gundam smackdown) is largely faithful.
The characters – from protagonist Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) to his best friend Aech (Lena Waithe) to smarmy corporate asshole Nolan Sorrento (a scenery chewing Ben Mendelsohn) – lose a little of their punch due to a movie-only decision to reveal their real-world equivalents way sooner than expected, but the sense of comradery is built on some strong chemistry between the actors, with manic-pixie-dream-avatar Art3mis (Olivia Cooke in a breakout role) perhaps feeling both the most engaging and the most flawed.
If you were hoping to see Spielberg step away from his occasionally flat, boorish historical dramas of recent years and return to his more playful, pulpy, frenzied side (think 2011’s Tintin or any of the three YES THREE Indiana Jones movies) then you can certainly have a fun time here. Obviously, the bigger the nerd you are, the more you’re going to connect with and absorb (I personally almost shrieked at seeing what I think was the Arwings from Starfox early on) and Alan Silvestri does his best at not making us miss John Williams too much.
The effects are impressive and the initially off-putting motion capture avatars of the lead characters can take some getting used to but it fits into the visual aesthetic rather well. The real world stuff is disappointingly drab in places by comparison and there are a few interesting mechanics of this world that the source material can dig into deeper than the movie but overall, it’s harmless fun that is best enjoyed now before it all gets horribly dated and kitsch in another ten years.
So I hope these two reviews have given you a little insight into the film and either make you want to watch it or at least read the book! I enjoyed the film for sure, I didn’t love it but it’s worth a watch 😀
Catch you soon my lovelies 😀