Ready Player One

Genre: Sci-Fi

Director: Steven Spielberg

Screenplay: Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, based on the novel by Ernest Cline

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Lena Waithe, Win Morisaki, Philip Zhao, Susan Lynch, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Ineson, McKenne Grace, Letitia Wright

Running Length: 140 minutes

Synopsis: In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place. The only time Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the OASIS, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spends their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone—the only limits are your own imagination. The OASIS was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir. When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends—called the High Five—are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS and their world.

Review: Without a doubt, Ready Player One is a fun time at the movies, especially if you have experienced the 70s or 80s while growing up. It’s amazing how many references have made it into the film – kudos to the team that managed the what must be insane rights negotiations for the hundreds of “cameos” and pop culture references peppering the movie – and it would be impossible to not feel a strong sense for nostalgia for anyone that’s above the age of 30. This film is one that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible at least once (IMAX 3D seems to be the only IMAX flavour locally, unfortunately), and should also find a healthy home video audience who will enjoy freeze-framing the film to catch the many small details.

However, Ready Player One is also clearly not going to rank in Spielberg’s best films, even though it is reminiscent of his earlier work (before he became a director of “serious movies”). While there’s really no need to compare and contrast films from Spierlberg’s own canon, there’s a nagging sensation that I had throughout the whole movie that it really could have been something more. Part of this can be attributed to the fact while the segments of the movie taking place in the OASIS virtual world is quite engaging, there’s a fair amount of time spent in the real world, which is honestly a fair bit less interesting. It’s understandably necessary to not turn Ready Player One into a really expensive animated movie, but there are times where the dichotomy hurts the film more than helping it.

The novel that Ready Player One is based on is accurately described as a “nerdgasm” but in all honesty, it simply doesn’t read that well except for a very niche audience (and this is coming from a self-professed geek). It was clear that a lot of work would be needed to transform the novel into something suited for the big screen, and in this aspect the creative decision taken by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline (surprisingly, the author of the novel himself) to base the movie on the novel, but not slavishly adapt it, really pays off. There are many changes from the novel, and even the hunt for the three keys (and the easter egg) have been pared down to a much simpler flow of events. Whole sections of the novel have been rejigged, and none more impressively so than a journey by the protagonists into the setting of a very well-known movie in the 80s. To say more would be to spoil an excellent surprise, but suffice to say if every sequence could have been equally well-executed, Ready Player One would have been a four-star movie for sure.

While the narrative for Ready Player One is improved over the novel, it is still a somewhat bumpy ride at times, especially toward the final reels of the film where the plot suddenly moves at a breakneck speed. The visuals, on the other hand, is near-faultless. While the OASIS is all CGI, the world has a heft and the animated characters have a “real-ness”, something that is actually quite rare even in the highly advanced state of CGI these days. The threat of sensory overload is real, however, because of all the details that are stuffed into virtually every frame of the movie and the sheer speed at which scenes move along at times. Lesser directors than Spielberg would surely have found themselves swallowed by the sheer spectacle, but since it’s Spielberg, the film manages to achieve most of what it sets out to do, and with a fair amount of heart to boot.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

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