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‘Ready Player One’ (review)

Produced by Steven Spielberg, Donald De Line,
Dan Farah, Kristie Macosko Krieger
Screenplay by Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Based on Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke,
Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe,
T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance

 

Ready Player One, the best selling novel by nerd-savant and über fan boy extraordinaire Ernest Cline has been adapted by Cline himself along with screenwriter Zak Penn, into a visual smorgasbord of pop culture insanity. Completing this trifecta of nergasm is wunderkind director Steven Spielberg.

Only problem is that instead of 1980’s amazing blockbuster “can-do-no-wrong“ Steven Spielberg, they have 2018, Academy Award winning, “I forgot how to have fun and take no chances” Steven Spielberg.

The elder statesmen, Steven Spielberg who once had to go back and rewatch the original Raiders trilogy when he made Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull because he forgot how to make movies “this kind of movies” (i.e. fun movies).

That Spielberg. Post Schindler’s List Spielberg. Not pre-Jurassic Park Steven.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, Ready Player One takes place in the year 2045 and the world has gone to sh*t. Everything is terrible; the economy, the quality of living, the world in general is a trash heap.

The only oasis is the OASIS.

The brain child of an eccentric, recluse, genius named James Halliday played by Mark Rylance. The OASIS is a fully immersive virtual reality world where anything and everything you could possibly want can happen. The ultimate escape and the ultimate trap. The OASIS becomes the place where everyone goes to escape. Upon his death Halliday bequeaths a gift to the people in the form of a game. A game with an incredible prize called an “easter egg”.

The winner of this great and ultimate challenge will become the sole owner and controller of the OASIS with riches beyond anyone’s imagination. Like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory but on meth amphetamines and Jolt Cola.

Naturally, there is a huge evil corporation called IOI or Innovative Online Industries, led by the former Halliday intern and now ultimate end boss, Nolan Sorrento, brilliantly portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn. They are hell bent on winning the contest with the aid of their legion of minions called “Sixers” so they can monetize the open source and free OASIS and take the one thing the people have to escape the hardships of life.

Wade Watts (Ty Sheridan) who’s alter ego in the OASIS is named Parzival and his rogue band of “Gunters” fight the big corporation and hope to win each challenge to win the prizes that lead to the next clue. The first being the Copper Key, then the Jade Key, and finally the Crystal Key. To win each, everyone must solve riddles and challenges based on Halliday’s life and obsession with all things 1980’s pop culture.

Sounds amazing right?

There is enough 80’s pop culture to fill a hundred space cruisers. The book is so chock full of every type of pop culture reference from the MTV generation that literally every page had me going “OMG YES! I LOVED THAT SO MUCH!”

References to Dungeons & Dragons to WarGames. From Joust and Pac-Man to Rush’s album “2112”. It is all there. There was so much to choose from I knew it would be nearly impossible to represent it all in the film. So my hope was they would take the quintessential elements and knock it out of the park.

Unfortunately, for me, it was a very long foul ball instead of a grand slam.

Ready Player One is all flash and “Oh look that thing I love!” rendered at 4K with none of the heart of the novel. It views like a terrible cliff notes oral report by someone who saw the movie based on the book and not actually read the book. I know, because I did that in the 6th grade with “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and I’m gonna tell you something… It ain’t Blade Runner.

I knew going in that there was no way that Cline and Penn were ever going to fully adapt the novel that I devoured in a couple of days into a movie that I was going to fully appreciate. I had hoped. I could dream. I thought at least they will keep all the good stuff and cut away the fat.

Unfortunately, when you cut away the fat, any good chef worth his salt will tell you, you cut away the flavor. By abridging the plot and truncating the timeline there is no time given to care for the actual real people. All the time is spent on the flashy avatars, or the virtual reality world simulation of each of the characters. Sure those are the cool stuff to look at but all style and no substance is like drinking a glass of corn syrup with a shot of food coloring.

This is the one time that it would actually make sense to expand a single book into a possible trilogy or better yet a series. Unlike the travesty of The Hobbit, which doesn’t have enough for three films within its pages, Ready Player One is so dense with a plethora of sub plots and side adventures that they could have easily made the first movie the challenge and puzzle of getting the Copper Key, the second the Jade Key and the final film the Crystal Key and big final battle.

Unfortunately this abbreviated mess is what we got and are going have to live with this old fashion “book and record set” highlights live-action retelling version of one of my favorite novels of the past 20 years.

It sucks because the cast is great, and most of the visuals are spectacular. A lot of the singularly 80’s references in the book are augmented with 90’s and 2000’s references to try to hook the audience of today. Sure it expands the audience but I feel it loses a lot of the charm that makes it such an iconic book to begin with. I’ll admit, I loved thinking “Holy crap IRON GIANT!” and “OH MY GOD, Tetsuo’s motorcycle from AKIRA!” except I was left with little else.

By diminishing the story of the real people in the movie by denying me their story, I wound up not really caring if they lived or died and that shouldn’t happen. They nearly removed all of the main crux of the story for me which was: Sure the OASIS is cool and all but what is really important are the friends we make in real life and the things that we miss out on in our daily lives by being immersed in virtual space and the web is the true tragedy of life and the thing we will regret when we reach the end of our very short lives.

The message was there, but buried deep and tacked on at the end. Either that or it was there all along and I am finally too old to sift through all the shininess and brilliant light show to see it. Either way, the film while not bad and is a great “blockbuster” popcorn film left me with the desire to unplug and read a good book.

It is amazing to me that a movie about a book that so cherishes and exalts pop culture and nerdom can be so bogged down by it. The true disappointment, for me, is that I can see the potential for a truly spectacular film like Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Star Wars, or even the aforementioned Jurassic Park in there and yet it so misses wide of the very large mark it is as impressive as it is frustrating that they were unable to achieve the high score in the end.

 

 

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