Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Lena Waithe, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen
Runtime: 2 hrs 20 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence And Coarse Language)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/readyplayerone/
Opening Day: 29 March 2018
Synopsis: From filmmaker Steven Spielberg comes the action adventure “Ready Player One,” based on Ernest Cline’s bestseller of the same name, which has become a worldwide phenomenon. 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.
Ernest Cline’s titular pulp sci-fi novel was so awash in 1980s pop-culture references that it instantly became a geek calling card, but adapting it quite literally for the big screen would certainly have made it too self-indulgent, even more with Steven Spielberg at the helm. After all, the 71-year-old director was himself responsible for many of those reference points, and save for the snazzy DeLorean car from ‘Back to the Future’ (which he produced) and the rampaging T. Rex from ‘Jurassic Park’ (which he directed), he has wisely chosen to cut out most of the Spielbergian references. But more substantially, even as he retains some of the book’s biggest plot twists, Spielberg has made substantial changes to the specifics and structure in ways that will surprise Cline’s readers.
That said, we’ve never believed that a movie based off a book need be wedded to its source material, and with Cline on board as co-writer alongside Zak Penn, this film version boasts a much more streamlined narrative that allows for maximum breathtaking visuals. So rather than sketch out its lead protagonist Wade Watts’ (Tye Sheridan) banal day-to-day existence in the real world circa 2045, the film drops us straight into the virtual playground called the OASIS where millions of citizens spend hours upon hours living out their own fantasies. It is in the OASIS that its late creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) has hidden three keys which will not only grant the one who finds them heir to a massive fortune, but also total control of the game itself, prompting fierce competition amongst ‘gunters’ (or egg hunters for short).
Such a quest requires both Spielbergian underdogs and villains. Wade belongs squarely to the former, a teenager living in a trailer park in Columbus, Ohio with his aunt ever since both his parents passed away; and he is joined by four other players he comes to ‘clan’ with as the ‘High Five’, comprising the sassy Samantha (Olivia Cooke), his best pal Aech (Lena Waithe), the Jap-cool Daito (Win Morisaki) and Daito’s 11-year-old brother Sho (Philip Zhao). The latter is led by corporate overlord Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), CEO of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), who runs an army of players known as Sixers to find the keys in the OASIS and another army of bruisers headed by F’Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen) out to terminate Wade and his friends in the physical world before they succeed.
Like we said at the start, there are enough significant differences in the story here to make even those who have read the book guessing what happens next – and these range from the challenges to earn Halliday’s copper and jade keys, to the role of the big-talking I-R0k (T.J. Miller), to an entirely new backstory which links Nolan to Halliday and his co-inventor Ogden Marrow (Simon Pegg). There are a lot of moving parts here, but Spielberg proves he is one of the very best filmmakers of our generation by masterfully spinning them all at the same time. In particular, it is fascinating to be reminded every now and then how the tiny details we may not have paid much initial attention to (hint: watch out for what the Curator of the virtual Halliday library gives to Wade) are in fact pivotal pieces in the story.
Just as, if not more, amazing is how Spielberg balances storytelling with spectacle, the latter making for some of the most viscerally immersive and engaging stuff we’ve seen in a long time. Each one of the three challenges to earn Halliday’s keys is a marvel in itself to behold – the first a breakneck race through an ever-shifting New York cityscape with maze-like highways, swinging wrecking balls, crashes, explosions, King Kong and Godzilla; the second a brilliant recreation of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’; and the last an all-out assault on Planet Doom’s Castle Anorak that among other things sees the Iron Giant and Gundam battle Mechagodzilla at the same time. Worth noting too is a brief but mesmerising dance-off between Wade and Samantha to the Bee Gees’ ‘Stayin Alive’, which like the other virtual sequences, is testament to the top-notch quality of the motion-capture performances as well as the technical artistry of long-time Spielberg collaborators Janusz Kaminski’s camerawork and Michael Kahn’s tight crisp editing.
As much as it is an adventure from start to finish, ‘Ready Player One’ is also a timely and poignant cautionary tale. Not only does it warn of the power that tech companies potentially wield, it also paints a troubling portrait of how meaningless our lives could become if we ceded ourselves to the virtual world. While Cline’s book held the latter, the former is as a result of significant additions that Spielberg has made in his adaptation to the real ‘unplugged’ world that Wade and his team have to confront. Given how much narrative and thematic ground the film covers, you’ll likely forgive the somewhat lacking character depth: though not yet reducing the characters to mere avatars, there is not enough detail in their respective backstories, especially the history between Halliday and Marrow in the book that led to the very design of the OASIS.
But there is still plenty to love about Spielberg’s sci-fi blockbuster packed full of astonishing visuals and tidbits of pop nostalgia. There is classic Spielbergian mastery throughout its mix of retro and futuristic, and despite a very busy story unfolding at more than two hours, there’s never a dull or confusing moment throughout. Instead, ‘Ready Player One’ is a dazzling thrill ride both exhilarating and uplifting, so whether you count yourself a geek or not, we guarantee that it’ll be an absolute blast.
(Whether as sheer spectacle or as an ode to pop nostalgia, 'Ready Player One' is a dazzling mix of retro and futuristic, thrills and emotion, familiar and surprising)
Review by Gabriel Chong