Ready Player One directed by Steven Spielberg is based on Ernest Cline’s ‘Holy Grail of Pop Culture’ of the same name and it rather borrows a large chunk of the concept from the book than adapt it word by word to the big screen. Having read the book it feels taboo to compare the book with the movie. My only regret is, like most book-to-movie adaptation, the movie had to be watered down to be contained into 120 minutes thereby diluting a lot of plot. Spielberg clearly has taken the creative liberty in adapting the book to a more contemporary audience. Of course, he generously pays homage to major pop culture references from the book, but he has added a lot too. Read on to find out if its worth your time, virtual or not.
Set in 2045, when the world is on the brink of chaos, people are resorting to a virtual reality world called the OASIS for both work and leisure. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an orphan from the desolate ‘stacks’, along with the whole world, is off to find an easter egg in the OASIS planted by the game’s own brilliant nerd of a creator, James Halliday. Finding the egg grants the player complete ownership of the company. Wade has to figure out all the clues that Halliday has cleverly hidden in the OASIS’ vast game worlds. He is also in a race against the evil corporation, IOI, run by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelson) and is hell-bent on finding the egg making Wade’s and his friend’s adventure difficult.
Much of the movie takes place in the OASIS and is packed to the brim with awe-inspiring visuals and nerd culture. With the amount of action happening in the OASIS it was almost impossible to track a whos-who of pop culture icons and references. From Batman to Tracer, from Akira to Halo, one thing is sure, this could be one of THE most paused movies of all time when it releases on home video. This movie could have easily been something cashing in on nostalgia and pop culture references: a la ‘cameo fest’, but with Spielberg at the helm, it was both a boon and a curse. As mentioned early on, Spielberg, Cline, and Penn took their liberty to adapt the movie to be a visual epic than a straightforward adaptation and it does the job rather well. The first set piece, which was a racing sequence with absolutely no musical score had ‘Spielberg’ written all over it. But at the same time, there were moments so unremarkable and it felt like any other AAA director could have done the same. The real world felt very underwhelming and so were the issues that IOI caused in it which were reduced to one-liner dialogues, hardly exposing any of the dire issues or the repercussions of IOI that plagued the world.
Coming to performances, the lead Wade Watts aka Parzival played by Tye Sheridan was better off as an avatar. Even under Spielberg’s direction, Sheridan’s Off-OASIS performances were just okay. Olivia Cooke, on the other hand, was oozing charm and the right amount needed for her character as both Samantha and her OASIS avatar Art3mis. Ben Mendelson, as usual, chews the scenery. The guy proves once again why he’s the go-to choice for antagonists. Mark Rylance is another actor whom I am fond of seeing on screen. Whether it be Bridge Of Spies, BFG or Dunkirk, Rylance’s performance always feels natural and its no different here as both James Halliday and his avatar Anorak. Screen time for Simon Pegg’s Ogden Morrow was unforgivably short.
John Willam’s absence was really noticeable and Alan Silvestri’s score, although not bad, just didn’t stick. Fortunately, the soundtrack makes up for it which starts off with the energetic ‘Jump by Van Halen’ and ends with the equally preppy ‘You make my dreams come true by Hall & Oates’.
In the end, Ready Player One is confused who it is for. If you’re expecting a visually stunning action movie with a serviceable story to boot then this is definitely up your alley but if you’re expecting a Spielberg directed, plot-heavy and character-driven epic, you might be disappointed.
The same goes for the fanservice in the movie. Is it for the 40-year-olds who might get high with most of 80’s and 90’s pop culture references in the movie or for the newer generation who’d be pleased with the more recent pop culture icons they have sprinkled gratuitously. The age-old question of “Book or Movie, which one’s better?” still applies here and the answer is ‘Yes, it always will be the book”. While reading the book I thought it’d be great to see it on celluloid but it’s the other way around. The only thing I was able to appreciate more after watching the movie was the book itself which I found was only mediocre.