I’ve already talked about how much I enjoyed Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One, and my thoughts on the common criticisms that have been thrown at it. The film adaptation, whose screenplay was co-written by Cline, is the film I was most looking forward to this year, even more than Avengers: Infinity War. It has the perfect choice of director in Steven Spielberg; he’s had far more hits than misses, and he knows how to create a fun cinema experience that appeals to the kid in you. And ultimately, the final product does not disappoint.
The protagonist, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), is a teenager living in Columbus, Ohio in 2045; like most people in the world, he escapes the dreariness of reality by spending most of his time in the OASIS, a massive virtual reality simulation where just about anything is possible. Wade’s main preoccupation is tracking down an Easter Egg hidden inside the OASIS by its late creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) – the first person to find this Egg, by completing three challenges set by Halliday, will inherit his entire fortune and control of the OASIS. Thanks to his obsessive knowledge of Halliday, Wade becomes the first person ever to complete the first challenge, setting him on a race to finish the quest and obtain the Egg before the corporation IOI, who want to win the prize for themselves and milk the OASIS for all the money it’s worth.
As far as adapting the source material goes, the film sticks to the basic beats of the original story, but changes a great deal, not unlike how Spielberg went about adapting Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. The order of certain events is changed around; new events take place; and the natures of Halliday’s challenges are altered completely. This is mainly for the purpose of making the story function better on film – and in that regard, most of the changes do work. Some of them are to make the story more visually stimulating. For example, as seen in the first trailer, the first challenge involves an epic street race, featuring a T-Rex and King Kong, which is more exciting to experience on-screen than watching Wade play an arcade game against a lich-king would have been. That scene alone feels more like a video game than most straight-up video game adaptations do.
The story, compacted to fit the runtime of a film, feels very fast-paced – but the development of the characters still feels complete, and all necessary exposition is retained (most of it delivered via first-person narration from Wade in the first ten minutes). It feels like there’s more of a focus on the ‘good vs evil’ battle between our heroes and IOI than there is on actually finding the Egg for its own sake; and while the theme of the real world ultimately having more value than even the most grandiose virtual one is still present, I would have liked to see it be more fleshed out. In fact, one of the ads right before the film was for the Playstation 4 VR system, which felt rather ironic considering this story is supposed to be advising against spending all your time playing video games.
Wade, and his best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), are fairly similar to their book counterparts; their fellow egg hunter, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), actually gets an expanded role in the story, which I liked. The main villain, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), is also given more of a personality besides ‘evil businessman’. The film could have handled the side characters Daito and Shoto (Win Morisaki and Philip Zhao – Shoto’s name is changed to Sho for some reason) better though; while it makes a point of introducing them much earlier than in the book, they don’t have any real role until they’re just suddenly tagging along with Wade and his other friends for the second challenge. Also, Mark Rylance as James Halliday didn’t really work for me: it looked like both the script, and Rylance’s performance, were trying to play up the autistic side of the character’s personality (Halliday is speculated to have had Asperger’s Syndrome in the book), but he came across as too awkward without enough genius.
If you didn’t like the book because you consider it ‘nostalgia porn’, then the film is almost certainly not going to change your mind. The OASIS is loaded with references to other properties, from the virtual DeLorean that Wade drives, to Aech building a giant mecha based on the Iron Giant, to a scene focussed around recreating Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. I even spotted a background reference to Last Action Hero. The musical score, by Alan Silvestri, also uses a lot of familiar cues, such as from Back to the Future. Still, the nostalgia is really just background detail – the story is always what’s most important – and it adds to what is already a beautifully rendered production. As well as the environments, the CGI OASIS avatars – in which the main characters spend most of their time on-screen – are visually appealing without any Uncanny Valley effect.
If you’ve read the book, then whether or not you liked it will probably dictate how you feel about the adaptation of Ready Player One. To anyone who hasn’t read the book, I recommend the film; it’s a fast-moving tidal wave of indulgent fun, and it definitely made me smile a lot as I was watching it. Rating: 4.5/5.