In a world where comic book fans have become spoiled with awesome silver screen blockbusters, video game fans have mostly been left on the sidelines debating what video game movie if any has ever topped the cheesy, but amazing 1995 adaptation of Mortal Kombat. And while Ready Player One is not an adaptation of any one video game franchise, I can certainly say that it is the best representation of video game culture that has ever been put onto the big screen.
The year is 2045 and we follow the young Wade Watts played by Tye Sheridan. Wade lives in the futuristic slums of Columbus Ohio where mobile homes have been placed on top of each other to resemble cluttered sky rises. These neighborhoods have become known as the Stacks and from the looks of the surrounding area, most of the world has been thrust into poverty due to wars and natural disaster.
This is why you will find almost all of the worlds citizens obsessed with a virtual reality escape called the OASIS. The OASIS is more than just a video game. It is a living world where anyone can become whoever and whatever they want to be. This is reflected by people’s avatars which represent pop culture icons old and new. However, you won’t be surprised to find custom created avatars driving vehicles from popular anime and film while also sporting outfits from classic video games and music videos.
The plot is driven forward by a mysterious contest that the creator of the OASIS (James Halladay) set up for after his death. Inside the Oasis he has hidden an Easter Egg and the only way to find it is by obtaining three hidden keys throughout the various worlds of the OASIS. Whoever finds all three keys and obtains the Easter Egg first will not only inherit James Halladay’s fortune, but also gain control of the entire virtual world.
The problem is Wade Watts and his virtual friends aren’t the only ones looking for the egg. As the second largest tech company in the world, IOI is after it to take control of the OASIS themselves and litter it with adds for in-game DLC locked behind paywalls. Hm… why does that sound familiar?
The over the top dystopian premise could have played off a little too seriously, but thankfully the entire cast does a great job of injecting humor into the plot in a very natural way. Wade Watt’s friend Aech stole the show in almost every scene, including one particularly fantastic sequence that is sure to make any horror movie fan smile.
The twitch streaming legend Art3mis also does a great job helping motivate Wade into pursuing the challenge even if the forced ‘romance’ between the two did play off a little cheesy. What’s surprising is how natural all of the characters are and how they highlight their flaws and motivations without ever becoming overbearing to the movie’s main plot line.
It is a little frustrating that we don’t get to spend more time with two of the most interesting characters Sho and Daito. We are given no backstory to them whatsoever and they are played off more like sidekicks when they are known as two of the most powerful characters in the OASIS.
By far the weakest of all of the characters was IOI evil corporate head Sorrento, played by Ben Mendelsohn. While his character wants you to feel threatened by his presence it’s hard to buy into. Especially when our protagonists seem to always be one step ahead of him. There is only ever one point in the film when he does anything of impact. And towards the end of the film, he feels less like a threat and more like a bully. This is a major contrast to the original source material.
For those who have read the book there are several noticeable differences in this adaptation of the story. Thankfully most of them feel right at home in the world that author Ernest Cline has created. Stephen Spielberg’s directorial changes from the original source material feel a lot like what he achieved with Jurassic Park. Another film which makes noticeable changes from Michael Crichton’s original book. Most of these changes are understandable given that they play so much better for an on-screen adaptation.
Unfortunately, the movie’s extremely brisk pace seems all too quick. Sure the movie flies by with a 2 hour and 20-minute runtime which is a feat all its own. But the major problem here is that it does not dedicate enough time to some of the incredible ideas that the movie presents. Many details of the world outside of the OASIS are mostly left up to the imagination of the viewer, and the relationship Wade has with his Aunt might as well have been cut from the film altogether.
However, it does feel like the film can get away with this, as all of its best moments take place inside the OASIS. It is absolutely amazing what Stephen Spielberg and his crew were able to capture in these scenes as they were fully animated, but felt incredibly realistic as to what a video game looks and feels like. Not to mention that all of the acting here was strictly voice performance which was pulled off incredibly well.
The OASIS perfectly encapsulates everything about video game culture from the leaderboards and competitive aspects all the way down to the retro fanboy/fangirl communities. It’s something that we haven’t really seen represented in the film world yet.
While Ready Player One is not a perfect film, It will be hard for any gamer or movie fan to not find themselves grinning from ear to ear during its light-hearted nods to pop culture history. With that being said this is a very fanservice heavy movie. Much of its plot relies on the viewer being in tune with these references. For some, this might be a turn-off. However, an awesome original score by Alan Silvestri along with an engrossing visual representation of the OASIS makes me want to go back in for more.
Ready Player One will probably never be found at the top of anyone’s list of greatest Speilberg films. Nor will it be analyzed for how deep its message is. But as far as big action turn off your brain and eat popcorn flicks go, it is certainly one of the best I have seen in quite a while. This movie is worthy of repeat viewings, and for a light-hearted feel-good time, I can most certainly recommend Ready Player One.