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The year is 2045. Most people live miserably in trailer homes stacked on top of each other. Humanity’s excellent escape is a fully realized virtual reality world called Oasis, which was the brainchild of the brilliant James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Upon Halliday’s death five years earlier, a competition inside the Oasis was revealed. Three keys were hidden inside the game. Whoever found them would unlock an easter egg giving themselves complete control of the Oasis. Among those hunting is Wade (Tye Sheridan), who is trying to find the keys before the head of evil conglomerate IOI, Sorrento (Jewish Actor Ben Mendelsohn, glowering intensely), can use them to change everything everyone loves about the Oasis.
Ready Player One, based on the 2011 Ernest Cline novel, tells this story in a big, fun, popcorn movie. This is the type of movie Steven Spielberg does as well as anybody and his skills are on full display. The book was based around nostalgia, with the premise that the key hunters were studying up on Halliday’s favorite things and Halliday was obsessed with pop culture (specifically, the 1980s). The movie also features many references to movies, books, songs and videogames. However, while the book wallowed in nostalgia, the movie fits the nostalgia into its story better. It is certainly there, since that is what Ready Player One is about. But it is first and foremost an action/adventure movie.
The best thing about the movie is the look of its virtual world. It is part videogame and part replacement for real life and the filmmakers take advantage of its “anything goes” quality. It is so different from the real world and actually becomes more real, and more interesting, than anything going on outside the game. There are real stakes so, though amazing things can be done inside Oasis, it matters when they do.
While the real world is a fairly restrained look at a somewhat dystopic future, the Oasis has no restraints. As long as you have money, you can get whatever costumes, vehicles, weapons and accessories you want. There is a cool scene in a club, where avatars float in the air. The best sequence is the quest for the second key, involving a brilliant twist on an existing property. It is a clever spin on the story’s initial concept.
Ready Player One was tricky to adapt. Though the book is an adventure overflowing with pop culture references, too often the story comes to a halt so it can explain those references. There are also several scenes where readers look on while the protagonist plays a videogame or watches a movie. The screenplay, by Zak Penn and Cline, adapting his own work, found a way to make the story cinematic without losing what made people fall in love with it in the first place. It changes events, but keeps the spirit of the source material. I do not know how good of a screenwriter Cline is, but he understands his own story and helped craft it into a very fun movie.
Part of the credit for that certainly goes to famed Jewish director Steven Spielberg who knows how to pace a story like this. There is a lot of setup, but he gets through it quickly and plunges headlong into the action. Ready Player One feels a little overlong and all the wink-wink references become exhausting after a while. The characters are not strong, but the world Cline created has been brought to the screen so effectively that the film is still a ride well worth taking.
By Ben Pivoz
Ben’s Movie Reviews
Read Ben’s last movie review on The Death of Stalin.