Ready Player One (2018) Review
ABSOLUTE PURE MOVIE
ESCAPISM AT ITS BEST
Throughout the years, Hollywood has seen many famed directors rise to become legendary within the filmmaking industry; ascending on their own meticulous directorial merits when approaching a motion picture. Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Clint Eastwood, Cecil B. DeMille, and Francis Ford Coppola are just some of the names of the great ones that have made their mark in Hollywood and etched their names in the illustrious tapestry of movies. While a new generation of directors have emerged in modern times (i.e. Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo Del Toro, etc.), these legendary directors have been both respected by their peers and the entire Hollywood community as well as moviegoers everywhere. Such is the cases with director Steven Spielberg, who is among the noteworthy ranks of these “great directors”, becoming a classic household name that many (cinephiles and causal movie watchers) have come to known and the feature films he’s directed. His films, including such iconic movies like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, have become cinematic staples in not just in the realm of Hollywood, but in the history of movies. Spielberg has even delved into theatrical motions pictures that draw inspiration from very humanistic issues (war, terrorism, civil rights, identity, etc.), with films like Saving Private Ryan, The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Amistad, Lincoln, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and most recently in The Post. Beyond the directorial chair, Spielberg has done (on several occasions) acted as a producer, executive producer, and even as a screenplay writer. He was also the co-founders of the movie studio DreamWorks Studio. Thus, with his fame growing and his film reputation amongst many being palpable (and celebrated) it’s no reason why Spielberg is considered one of the most powerful directors in Hollywood’s film history. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures and director Steven Spielberg gear up and head to the virtual world of gaming in the new film Ready Player One, based on the book of the same name by author Ernest Cline. Does Spielberg’s latest endeavor make a splash with today’s modern audience or is truly “game over” for this theatrical virtual video game world?
The year is 2045 and the current state of Earth is set within a dystopian future where much of the world is left in disarray due to issues of environmental deterioration, mass overpopulation, and unchecked corporatization, finding government leaders dismissing the ideas of trying “save the world” and just simply surviving. Because of this, the people send the vast majority of their time interacting (and almost living) in the OASIS, a virtual reality utopian world created by the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and his co-founder partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg). Based on Halliday’s obsession with the pop culture of the late 20th to early 21st century, the OASIS allows its users to create avatars of their own design, allowing them to complete in games with others, work for a living, or to simply explore the limits of an individual’s own imagination within this virtual paradise. Following his death, it is revealed that Halliday created one final game challenge in the OASIS known as Anorak’s Quest, with the mission for players to track down three keys through a series of cryptic smaller quests, in order to find Halliday’s last Easter Egg; an item that will grant the winner a substantial amount of money as well as full control and ownership of the OASIS and its assets. Many have tried to undertake the quest (calling themselves “gunters”), but none have ever succeeded in even finding the first key. However, when a young man named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who goes by the name Parzival in the OASIS, becomes the first person to complete one of these three enigmatic quests (and wins the first key), he becomes a celebrity in his own right and to all within the OASIS. However, this attracts attention from others, including the famous mysterious player known as Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) as well as Innovative Online Industries (I0I) CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who is determined to gain control of the OASIS at any cost, targeting young Wade / Parzival in both virtual one and in the real world. Now, it’s up Wade to find the other keys before Sorrento does, with the fate of the OASIS literally in the young gamer’s hands.
THE GOOD / The BAD
Being an amateur aficionado in the cinematic world of movies, I’ve come to appreciate (and admire) some of the great directors of Hollywood. While many will eternally debate on which one is the best, there’s no denying the fact that these directors (numerous and collectively) have proven to be adept in their crafting of feature films and bring powerful and memorable cinematic storytelling to both the industry and to moviegoers everywhere. Personally, Steven Spielberg is definitely in my top 5 favorite directors. Not just because of him being noteworthy in Hollywood’s upper echelon of actors, producers, and directors, but because of his quality in the films that he does (and the memorable stories that they tell). As the saying goes “the proof is in the pudding”. I mean, movies like Jaws, Jurassic Park, and E.T., are like stuff of movie legends in my time, especially since I grew up with them. Still, even some of Spielberg’s recent work, with some stating that he’s slightly lost his “movie magic”, have produced some great feature films to watch, personally finding The BFG and Lincoln to be wholesome and quality cinematic stories to watch. All in all, Spielberg has undoubtedly become one of the most influential directors in Hollywood, a testament to his style of filmmaking and the feature films that some have been considered “timeless”.
Of course, I bring this review back around to talking about Ready Player One, Spielberg’s latest feature film. Working at a bookstore for many years, I kept on hearing about (through customers and my fellow co-workers) about Ready Player One by author Ernest Cline. It sounded interesting, but I kept on pushing my interest in reading it (I read a lot of books!). Then I remember hearing about that the film adaptation was being greenlit by Warner Bros. Pictures with legendary director Steven Spielberg set to direct the feature. Again, my interest was peaked and sales for the book skyrocketed, especially after images and movie trailers were released. Speaking of the trailers, I was personally enthralled by them. I remember seeing the very first one (the one released during 2017’s Comic-Con) and was quite excitedly to see. This, of course, was replaced back when they released the other movie trailers for the film; each one bringing plenty of video game aesthetics and a plethora of pop culture references. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seeing the preview trailers for Ready Player One (I can probably recite them all by heart…ha-ha). Suffice to say, that I was quite eager to see Ready Player One as I placed it at #3 on my Top 15 Most Anticipated Movies of 2018. I couldn’t wait to see it and I saw during its opening night? What did I think of it? Well, despite some minor problems, Spielberg’s Ready Player One was a fantastically fun and entertaining feature from beginning to finish; filled with impressive visuals and nostalgia references. It may not recapture Spielberg’s magic from some of his classic films, but it’s sincerely damn good fun in pure absolute movie escapism.
As stated, I was planning on reading Cline’s Ready Player One, especially after all the hype and pre-release anticipation for Spielberg’s new film. Unfortunately, my work schedule got pretty busy and I didn’t get the chance to pick up and read the book. Thus, I really can’t put “apples to apples” when comparing the book to the movie (i.e. adding, subtracting, and / or changing). Thus, my review for Ready Player One is solely gonna be based on just the movie itself (and not much on the Cline’s book). However, after seeing the film, I’m still quite interested in reading the book (probably in the next few months or so).
Given his “legendary” status as a film director and with many beloved feature films under his belt, Steven Spielberg approaches Ready Player One in handling something new. While his other endeavors have covered blockbuster features (Jurassic Park and War of the Worlds), wartime dramas (Munich and War Horse), character-building movies (Lincoln and The Post) or whimsical tales (E.T. and The BFG), Spielberg ventures into the virtual world of video games, movies, and pop-culture references that has a dystopian border around the motion picture’s frame. Basically, it’s a somewhat new “sandbox” for Spielberg to play around (one that he hasn’t really venture into) and the overall execution of Ready Player One succeeds, with the famed director at the helm. In a nutshell, Spielberg gives the film a sort of “80’s adventure” motif, shaping the story around a likeable young protagonist that, along with his friends, must band together and thwart an impending doom before befalling on their lives. It’s a tried-and true path that many classic 80s adventure (action / fantasy) films were able to achieve and Spielberg understands that, creating Ready Player One in the style and structure as well as working within the context of Cline’s source material and to speak to a modern audience of moviegoers and gamers alike. Perhaps one of the absolute best aspects of Ready Player One is the unprecedented amount of pop culture references / Easter eggs found throughout the movie. Some of them were viewed in the film’s trailers (i.e. the DeLorean from Back to the Future, Tracer from Overwatch, the Iron Giant, King Kong, the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, etc.), but really only scratching the surface of the multitude of the pop-culture references from 80s, 90s, and even today. Half the fun is just trying to spot them all when they appear on-screen. Basically, if you’re a fan of cameos (like me), you’ll love Ready Player One’s cameos. It’s definitely gonna take multiple of viewings to try to catch every single one.
Also, playing up that 80s films classic, Spielberg utilizes certain 80s pop songs in the feature that work great and (again) bring a sense of nostalgia reference to the film’s proceedings. There also quite amusing, with many being iconic and immediately recognizable. I mean, hearing Twisted Sisters “We’re Not Gonna Take It” during the film’s climatic third act battle scene was definitely one of the best highlight of the entire feature and definitely put a huge smile on my face. Additionally, being a skilled director, Spielberg handles the tonal shifts in Ready Player One quite well, switching between big spectacle moments, to smaller character ones, to comedic beats, and to exposition, etc. This keeps the movie moving along well and creates well-mannered pace for the film (story and character progression-wise). Speaking of exposition, Spielberg does quite in laying the ground work for the OASIS (i.e. what it is, who is who, and the rules of playing in the OASIS are, etc.). Of course, it sounds rudimentary for anyone who’s played an online video gaming community, but it’s easy to digest for those non-gamers out there.
While adapting Ernest Cline’s book for the movie, the screenplay, which was penned by Ernest Cline himself and Zak Penn, updates Ready Player One material for this 2018 cinematic representation. This is most notably within the pop-culture references, which includes classic ones and some more modern iterations, as well as changing up some of the challenges in Anorak’s Quest. So, while I’ve heard that some people disliked some of the changes made from “page to screen”, it’s important to note the Cline did work on the film’s screenplay. Thus, the film adaption of Ready Player One was in the right hands. There are few “bumps” in the story / screenplay (more on the below), but, for the most part, it worked and proved effective to jive with Spielberg’s ultimate direction for the movie rather than against it.
If one delves deeper into the film’ story (Cline’s book digs deeper than the film I’ve heard), Ready Player One has an interesting social commentary message about video games / online gaming. Of course, the most notable one is the way that video games are used as a “escape from reality”, which is in the movie as a way to escape Earth’s dystopian future into the sublimely utopian one in the OASIS. Again, its very interesting point to talk about, which can really be extrapolated into various outlooks beyond just video games or “gaming” in general. Heck, look at me and my fellow movie critics / bloggers out there. I can’t speak for all, but I sometimes used movies as a way to escape reality, finding a certain type of joy and calmness in watching a feature that I’ve come to know and love (i.e. the guy gets the girl, good triumphs over evil, the underdog team wins, etc.) in order to shield myself from the sometimes harshness of reality, especially with the current growing concerns of violence and hate crimes in the United States.
In conjunction, there’s also the discussion of an individual’s online footprint identity. While a person real-life identity can be many things (be it good, bad, fair, average, etc.), the usage of the internet and having total anonymity to everyone is also becoming more of a topic of discussion as thousands are doing via social media outlets and gaming. Like the movie states, a person a can anything they want, creating a virtual avatar character and creating a whole new persona online (some donning traits that a person is not in real-life). This not necessary a bad thing, just an interesting point of discussion as “online friendships” have formed with individuals who have never met each other in real life. Again, Ready Player One lays that commentary message out to be talked about. Lastly, in a bit of an overstatement, the commentary message of “corporate greed” is prevalent in the movie by the appearance of what Innovation Online Industries does in order to become the dominant corporation powerhouse and in their quest for supremacy over the OASIS. This can be evident in the real world with companies like Amazon, Apple, and other conglomerate business giants out there that are absorbing more usage of smaller business and squeezing more dollars from their consumers. Personally, I don’t think we’re too far away from having a “Buy-N-Large” megastores from Pixar’s Wall-E. Don’t you agree? So, yeah, that’s what I took away from watching Ready Player One…like I said…quite interesting topic discussions.
In a technical and cinematic presentation, Ready Player One is hands down absolutely gorgeous. The amount of level of detail and meticulous nature of the visual effects for the film is incredible, with a wide array of colors a washed in almost every scene that’s featured in the OASIS. As stated above, the various locales in this virtual paradise are bountiful and beautiful and are definitely “eye popping” to any viewer out there. Coinciding with that is the wide array of characters (both major and minor) that populate the film, finding each one intricately detailed and given their own physical look (i.e. not making them background “stock” characters) in their appearance. As a whole, the film’s visual effects are top-notch and succeed in creating a very fluid and believable world within its CG wizardry. Personally, the visual effects for most of the OASIS was like super high-quality graphics for a video game as they never looked choppy, messy, or sloppy. It was just a flawless presentation from start to finish, which is a huge positive for the film’s technical aesthetics. Alongside the visual effects, which all should be congratulated on their work on Ready Player One, cinematographer Janusz Kaminiski does impressive work throughout the feature (most notably in the race scene in the first act, the zero-gravity dance sequences, and the big final battle in the third act) as well as film editors Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn for tightly editing the film, with a few noticeable standout moments that work great. Other members of the crew, including Adam Stockhausen (production design), Anna Pinnock (set design), and Kasia Walicka-Maimone (costume designs) should also be noted for their creative efforts on this project, making the film’s visual presentation (both practical and computer generated) standout. Lastly, while the movie is populated with 80s pop songs, the film’s score, which was composed by Alan Silvestri, provides the right amount of background music to help the feature swell with its large action moments or soft reflection scenes. Definitely one of the better movie soundtracks of late.
Of course, no movie, no matter how good and absolute fun and entertaining it is, can walk away completely unscathed, with Ready Player One having a few problems along the way. While many have different viewpoints, I really only have two negative remarks (and one smaller one). First of the two would have to the events that happen in the film’s “real world”. Of course, what transpires in the OASIS are totally awesome and amazing, but the events outside in the “real world” are not as intriguing. Yes, the narrative picks up during the third act, which the “real world” more exciting, but it’s hard not to notice that more care and attention that Spielberg placed on the OASIS rather than developing more of the movie’s “real world”. The other negative problem was several factual contexts that were somewhat glossed over throughout the film. The decline of Earth is mentioned in the beginning of the film (environmental and overpopulation), but what were the causes? The movie takes places in Ohio, so what’s the state of the rest of the world? Is it the same? Why do Wade and his OASIS friends call themselves the “High Five”? What the real endgame of Sorrento and IOI for wanting control of the OASIS (beyond just simply power)? You see what I mean by all of this. Plus, I kind of wanted to see more of the relationship between James Halliday and Ogden Morrow as the film puts a large emphasis one the friendship / partnership, but it felt like some pieces were left out in their narrative. Both of these problems were noticeable, but I kind of sort of felt that this would happen in the movie as certain narrative elements had to be trimmed and / or altered in bringing Cline’s novel to the big screen. Still, I merely saw these as minor setbacks and really didn’t hurt my overall enjoyment of Ready Player One. Lastly, (and this is very, very minor), the smaller negative one I found with the movie was several moments that the film had some cheesy dialogues. Of course, it doesn’t bother me greatly, but some of the lines felt that they were lifted from a video game dialogue cut-scene and not for a theatrical feature film.
The cast in Ready Player One is also a highlight of the feature. While some are unknown, Spielberg does bring in a few recognizable faces to populate the feature. Some characters could’ve been more developed, but most (if not all) are usually masked by the performances by the actors / actresses to make up for it. Beginning with the main character, actor Tye Sheridan leads the charge as the film’s main hero Wade Watts / Parzival. Known for his roles in Joe, Mud, and X-Men: Apocalypse, Sheridan handles himself well within the role of Watts. He’s a very likeable character and he sells when on-screen (both in the real world as Wade and in the OASIS as Parzival). He probably won’t win any awards or nominations for this role, but Sheridan is great in giving his character the classic “hero” aesthetics or superhero nuance to make you want to “root” on the film’s journey. In short, Sheridan makes the character of Wade / Parzival his own and does well in it. Behind him is actress Olivia Cooke, who plays the character of Art3mis, a famous “gunter” player in the OASIS who takes a shine to Parzival in his attempts to find Halliday’s hidden Easter Egg. Similar to Sheridan, Cooke, known for her roles in The Signal, Ouija, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, gives a likeable quality in Art3mis as well as her real-life human counterpart (can’t say her names as it will spoil her character in the movie). Suffice to say, Cooke gives Art3mis that mysterious bad-ass chick that becomes quite tender hearted as the film’s narrative progressives. Plus, it helps that the film’s visual effects make the character of Art3mis look super cool in the OASIS. Naturally, Wade and Art3mis share a romantic connection and, while its nothing a sweeping romance, Sheridan and Cooke manage to make it work within Ready Player One’s context.
In larger secondary roles (supporting ones), actor Mark Rylance plays the character of James Halliday, the co-creator of the OASIS and the one who sets into the motion the series of events of which Ready Player One’s narrative focuses on (i.e. the competition to win the three keys and received the hidden “Easter Egg”). Known for his roles in Bridge of Spies, The BFG, and Dunkirk, Rylance is quite exceptional in his portrayal of Halliday, providing the right amount quirk eccentricities to the character to make him quite a puzzling quandary of a character. Again, I just wish Spielberg delved deeper in the character of Halliday and how him and Morrow created OASIS. Still, what’s presented of Halliday in Read Player One is good and Rylance’s portrayal of the character is solid as ever. Heck, I even think Spielberg saw a bit of “reflection” of himself within the character of James Halliday, which makes is the unspoken commentary correlation between character and director quite fascinating to think about (if you know what I mean). Additionally, Rylance also provides the voice for Halliday’s OASIS avatar character Anorak, who I have to admit looks pretty cool. In the villain category of the feature is actor Ben Mendelsohn as IOI’s CEO Nolan Sorrento. Mendelsohn, known for his roles in Bloodline, Darkest Hour, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, does a solid job in providing his character of Sorrento the right amount of smarmy attitude and arrogant bravado of a power-hungry corporate “big wig” for Innovation Online Industries. While he’s not the most sinister bad guy to ever come across the screen, the shortcomings of character Nolan Sorrento are made up by Mendelsohn’s acting talents (think of his portrayal of Director Krennic from Rogue One and that’s Sorrento). Personally, I liked him in the role and he was perfect at it. Also, as a secondary minor bad guy in the movie, actor T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley and Office Christmas Party) plays (or rather voices) the OASIS character of i-Rok. While the character is nothing more than a freelance weapons / magic item dealer / bounty hunter who is often employ by Sorrento, Miller’s comedic timing brings the character so amusing moments, which ultimately makes i-Rok memorable as the bad guy’s lead henchmen.
The rest of the Ready Player One characters are in more minor supporting roles and are given enough material / idiosyncrasies to make them somewhat memorable within the context of the film’s world (both in the real-world and / or in the OASIS). This includes actor Simon Pegg (Shawn of the Dead and Star Trek) as the co-founder of the OASIS (and of Gregarious Games) Ogden Morrow, actress Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and the Wasp and Black Mirror) as the head of IOI’s operations F’Nale Zandor, writer / actress Lena Waithe (Master of None and The Chi) as one of the members of the “High Five” and Parzival’s best “gunter” friend in the OASIS Aech (pronounced “H”), Win Morisaki (Ten no hakobune and Namonaki Doku) and actor Phillip Zhao (making his feature debut with this movie) as the other two members of “High Five” and Parzival’s OASIS friends Daito and Sho. Additionally, actress Susan Lynch (Waking Ned Devine and Enduring Love) plays Wade’s aunt Alice and actor Ralph Ineson (Game of Thrones and The Witch) plays Alice’s boyfriend Rick.
Prepare to escape reality and explore the OASIS (and the limits of your own imagination) in the film Ready Player One. Director Steven Spielberg newest movie brings author Ernest Cline’s beloved book to life, visually bringing to life the incredible virtual world of the OASIS and the tale of Wade Watts / Parzival and his journey to find Halliday’s Easter Egg. While the movie does have a few minor complaints here and there (delving deeper into the book’s material in various spots) as well as certain elements in the film’s “Real World”, the film itself shines impressively within its visual presentation of the OASIS and with its plethora of pop-culture references that populate the feature from onset to conclusion. Add in video game nuances, great actors, amusing characters (though could’ve been more development in a few), an entertaining “hero” adventure classic narrative, and you’ll get the full realization of Ready Player One. Personally, I absolutely loved it. It was engrossing, imaginative, engaging, and choke full of nostalgia reference and nuances. To me, the movie lived up to its anticipation hype and it was just a damn good fun film to watch (one that I can’t wait to see again and again). Comparing it to be a video game, Ready Player One has a lot “replay” value to it. To be quite honest, this movie will probably go down as one of the most “respected” video-game themed movies, which (given the track record of video game movie adaptations) is say something. Thus, as you can tell, this movie gets my “highly recommended” stamp of approval as it’s something that definitely worth seeing (multiple times), especially those who video games (or online gaming), movies / pop-culture references, or those causal moviegoers out there that are just looking for really fun and entertaining blockbuster feature. In the end, Ready Player One might not be Steven Spielberg’s “Magnus Opus” in his illustrious directorial career in Hollywood, but it proves a very unique and creative outlet for the legendary film director to explore the limits of his imagination to the big screen. And, with that said, Ready Player One is indeed a memorable and noteworthy addition to Spielberg’s catalogue of films.
4.5 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: March 30th, 2018
Reviewed On: March 31st, 2018
Ready Player One is 140 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action, violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity, and language