REVIEW: Ready Player One
Ready Player One burst out of nowhere and has become a beloved novel, already taught in schools around the country, making Ernest Cline a hero in the very pop culture the novel celebrates. He took his personal Golden Age and wrote an adventure celebrating the icons of the late 1970s and 1980s, the era when computers and video games changed the world, ushering in the Age of the Geek.
Of course it was going to be turned into a movie but the question is could any film essentially capture the brio of the novel, and could anyone secure all the rights necessary to populate the film with the very icons required to make the virtual world of the Oasis plausible? When Warner Bros. won the bidding war, they wisely turned it over to the one man whose name alone would help secure those rights as well as make a faithful film: Steven Spielberg.
The eagerly awaited film adaptation arrived this spring, earned some favorable reviews and enough box office receipts to make it a modest success, nowhere near the phenomenon the source material was. If you missed it or want to study it frame by frame, the disc release is coming tomorrow from Warner Home Entertainment.
The world has gone to hell by 2044 so people have retreated from reality by entering the Oasis, a virtual reality where you could be anything and do anything as long as you paid your utility bill. James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the co-creator and public face of the Oasis, died and left behind the ultimate video game: find three keys hidden in the Oasis and the winner inherits running the company that owns the game. Nolan Sorrento (NAME) wants to win so his Innovative Online Industries could rule the world and throws countless resources at the problem.
What he doesn’t count on is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a lonely teen who thrives in the Oasis as Parzival but really just wants out of the “Stacks”, the vertical Ohio ghetto where he lives with his aunt. He’s the next generation Halliday, having studied everything about the great man, making the elder’s favorites, his favorites. As he races to unlock the mysteries with his best bud Aech (Lena Waithe), he winds up teaming with Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Zhou (Phillip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki) to form the High Five, watching one another’s backs as they compete to win, literally, the keys to the kingdom.
Spielberg, along with screenwriters Cline and Zak Penn, take tremendous liberties with the narrative, collapsing story arcs, narrowing the scope of the Oasis, and showing much more of the real world than the novel attempted. Some of this is fine as it lets us see how squalid life has become and how tempting the Oasis can be but it’s all surface. Similarly, the High Five are largely reduced to hangers-on with little attention paid to developing them into characters. The exception is Art3mis, who in some ways feels more complex and interesting than Parzival which may be why Spielberg cast Cooke first.
All too often, the cultural touchstones are there in a blink-and-you-miss-them blur with exceptions being King Kong, Mechagodzilla, and the Iron Giant (substituting for Japan’s Ultra-Man which I was really looking forward to seeing). Warners wanted to avoid the Blade Runner riffs since they had their sequel in production at the same time so Penn and Cline used Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as a substitute and it works quite well here.
Overall, the movie is good but nowhere near as engaging as I had hoped but Spielberg does manage to add some nice tenderness to Halliday and his one-time partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg).
The film is offered in a variety of combinations including the ever-popular Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD code package. The High Definition transfer is crisp and clear, which a film like this demands. Warner comes through, matching it with a wonderful Dolby Atmos soundtrack.
The packaging insists there are fun Easter Eggs scattered throughout the disc but I didn’t go hunting. I do note there is no commentary or deleted scenes, both would have been welcome. We do get the following Special Features:
Game Changer: Cracking the Code, a lengthy look at casting, costuming, set construction, and more (what’s missing is an honest conversation about which properties they didn’t get and other changes that had to be made); Effects for a Brave New World, the special effects gets its due here; Level Up: Sound for the Future, a nice look at the sound effects creation for the many layers, High Score: Endgame, spotlights Alan Silvestri, subbing for John Williams in his first ever-collaboration with Spielberg; Ernie & Tye’s Excellent Adventure, writer and star bond in Austin prior to the film’s debut in March; and, The ’80’s: You’re The Inspiration, the crew talk about how the era was deserving of a fresh look.