Earlier this year, Steven Spielberg gave us The Post; a mere couple of months later and the acclaimed director returns - this time giving us a film completely opposite from his timely and sharp newsroom flick – with sci-fi popcorn flick Ready Player One.
Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name – “the holy grail of pop culture references” as it is often referred to as – is perhaps one of my favourite books. The writing itself is fine, but the story and the world that Cline creates is a genuine wonder – one that was just begging for a big-screen adaptation. But, given my affiliation for the source material, I was both sceptical and excited for a Ready Player One film – directed by Steven Spielberg, no less (the best in the biz, yes, but one that let me down with another eagerly anticipated adaption in last year’s The BFG). My concerns lay within the trailers focusing more so on the pop culture references than the story itself. But, thankfully, Ready Player One is a fantastic film. It is an absolute blast. And – novel fans, you can exhale – it’s also a great adaptation that stays true to its source material and captures the awe of Cline’s novel.
The story takes place in 2045, in an overpopulated world that all but reside in virtual reality world The OASIS – created by the reclusive tech wizard James Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday passes away, however, an Easter Egg hunt that he set up before is death is discovered within his creation: 3 gates to be found, each one leading to a trial which, if won, unlocks a key; together, all 3 keys unlock the egg which gives the victor total ownership of Halliday’s OASIS, as well as all his trillions of dollars of wealth. When Halliday and OASIS super fan Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) stumbles across the first of the keys, he finds himself in a race against time to locate the Egg before the villainous conglomerate machine IOI do – a corporation intent on destroying the soul of the VR world for their own financial gain – led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).
The world that Spielberg has mustered is spellbinding and epic; similarly to in Cline’s novel, The OASIS is a safe-haven from the deteriorating society’s crippling grasp – a place of wonder and creativity – and it has a crisp feel of old-school Spielberg magic to it, the kind that we haven’t seen in one of his films in some time – perhaps even as long as since 1993’s Jurassic Park. It’s gorgeously realised, bursting at the seams with visual splendour and energy; the CG is slick and it all adds to the illusion of this gigantic, magical virtual reality where the limit is your own imagination. But it also feels inspired and huge; there is weight to this world and its grandiosity can be felt. It’s a film that is carefully crafted, with each scene seeping with nuance and subtlety – from all the little details to the myriad of pop culture references speckled throughout. It is so typically Steven Spielberg in that regard: there is magic and whimsicality to it – like a little kid let loose in his toy box.
For all its visual inventiveness, Ready Player One matches it with a big, beating heart at its core. The story remains – for the most part – faithful to the source material; of course, as is the case with any adaptation, changes have been made but they’re efficient alterations and work in streamlining the story for its big-screen iteration and keep Cline’s ambitious and sprawling story contained. The characters, too, remain true to their novel counterparts. Where Spielberg excels is in capturing a fun dynamic between our protagonists, Wade his OASIS cohort – Art3mis; Aech; Sho. Their camaraderie and rapport is charming and there is enough likability and relatability to ground them and keep us fairly invested. However, they are perhaps a little thin as individuals – the film doesn’t do much to really develop their personal characters too much beyond fairly conventional and predictable arcs. But Ready Player One is a very frenetic and overstuffed film so given all the story tries to cover, it’s easy to see why this is the case but the fact they feel lacking in weight is still unavoidable.
The nostalgia should be mentioned as it plays a big part of the book and The OASIS; thankfully, the film doesn’t beat you over the head with its references. They act as an actual mechanism for the story, and Spielberg has blended them seamlessly into this world so their inclusion feels fitting and necessary and even subtle at times and not just there for the sake of nostalgic values. Of course, this is a very busy story and it flies at a breakneck pace – the lengthy 140-minute runtime is rarely felt – but it does mean that there is a lot going on and the film perhaps falters in feeling a little too frenetic for its own good. This causes the characters to feel quite weak because their development is often rushed; the central relationship between Parzival and Art3mis comes out of nowhere and ends up feeling quite contrived and clunky as a result. There are a few other decisions the film makes, similar to this, that just don’t work because of how shoe-horned in and rushed they are. But Ready Player One is still a great film; Steven Spielberg has, yet again, proven just why he is one of the best filmmakers working – so effortlessly and masterfully able to command a story and create such an immersive and thrilling cinematic experience. Magic permeates every scene of this film, flowing thick through the veins of the screenplay. This film is a rollicking ride - an adventure bigger and more inspired than any other so far this year.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.