Ready Player One started off as a debut science fiction novel in 2011 written by screenwriter Ernest Cline. In 2010, a bidding war by publishers and studios over the completed work saw Random House and Warner Bros. emerge as the rights holders. At that time Cline negotiated for first crack at the screenplay of his own book. The movie was originally set to premiere before Christmas but the fear that the new Star Wars sequel would compete heavily pushed the release to March of 2018.
The involvement of Steven Spielberg immediately makes this movie a tent-pole affair. His ability to direct and produce a movie and the 1980s touchstones the book covers are like catnip no one can resist. Still, because the book has a devoted fandom, criticism can be toxic lest you set a foot wrong. For the most part Spielberg does it right with a script from the creator Cline (Fanboys) and Zak Penn (X Men: The Last Stand) ensuring it would be cinematic.
Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse) stars as Wade Watts/Parzival, an orphan in 2045 living in a slum within the United States where nearly everyone escapes to a virtual reality world called OASIS created by the late James Halliday. The real world don’t nearly complete with the VR one and people world-wide spend their time there being whatever they want and doing whatever they want leaving only to eat and sleep. Wade within this world is a Gunter, a person in search an Easter egg left by Halliday through his avatar Anorak. Finding three keys and solving the puzzle of each will leave the user as the sole owner of the OASIS, the largest and richest company in the world.
The task is so difficult and the reward so great that the second largest company in the world and owner of much of the equipment used to access the VR world has legions of indentured slaves working to crack the problem. Wade and a few independent others pursue their own leads in Anorak’s Quest despite the odds against them. Among this group Wade has a friendship with four but knows nothing about them in the real world. Moreover, it appears OASIS doesn’t know the real world identities of its users. This is obviously in sharp contrast to today’s Facebook.
Make no mistake though, virtual money is what the game is about and it takes real money to play it. And the real world consequences are being wiped out virtually and in reality. The future in 2045 in megacity Columbus doesn’t look all that great. However, the OASIS is shown in the book and Spielberg’s movie as a joyful place. The 1980s and 90’s music, video games and cultural references is a fanboy/girl’s dream. It is hard not to be swept up in the DeLorean, King Kong and Iron Giant parts of the film without smiling.
The creator of OASIS James Halliday (Mark Rylance) is an amalgam of Gates/Jobs/Rainman and we get to see his story and wonder how it went all wrong. Perhaps it was lost love of woman he should have made an effort to be with or the business partner who was forced out over direction of the company. It is for the users to guess in a virtual museum of every memory of the creator preserved and watched over by the Curator.
Our protagonist Wade’s main motivation in being a Gunter is to be able to leave the slum he lives in. His High Fives friends inside the game keep him engaged and he even starts to fall in love with one them, a VR redhead called Ar3emis (Olivia Cooke). She brushes him by telling him bluntly that he doesn’t even know anything about her except what she wants to reveal. Wade’s friend Aech confirms by saying his love interest could be a dude named Chuck.
The consistent failure by Wade and everyone else in the game to even get the first key to Easter Egg makes him go back to the drawing board where he takes a different approach that end ups landing him the breakthrough the find the key. He shares that info with his four friend of the High Fives and together they top the leader board. This draws the attention of the bad guys from IOI whose chief wants to either to get Wade work for him to be crushed underfoot so that his company can rule the world. With the help of a bounty hunter and an assassin, they track down Wade in both the real and virtual worlds.
There are real life lessons and perhaps insights to be made about the type of world Ready Player One is. Critics and fans are likely to love this movie. However, as noted, some fans of the literary work might and will hate parts if not the whole movie for not capturing the essence of the book. To that end, acceptance is needed that to be cinematic and for the sake of time limits of film, things need to be adapted. In today’s world 3D is overused. In this movie it is as well done as you will see in film.
Look for some fun parts for The Shining as well as Child Play’s Chuckie showing up that really rev up the action. And a Buckaroo Banzai salute that is awesome. Despite amazing box office in North America and especially China, this movie will probably be discovered by more in weeks and months to come. Quite simply, audiences are overwhelmed in much the same way Ready Player One’s world is an assault on the senses. The only difference now between the 1980s is that we seem to experience things differently, on different platforms, at different times and less together than ever before.
This has been a editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations