As our lives fill up with more and more responsibilities it becomes an increasingly rare thing for a book we’ve actually read (or, well, listened to) to make its way to the big screen. Such is the case with Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, however, though in truth, the book name checks so much ’80s pop culture that truly reproducing it would’ve been an impossible task. Enter Steven Spielberg, who attempts at adapt the novel into a little more than two hours on the big screen.
In 2045, the real world sucks big time. To combat this, people spend much of their lives in the OASIS, a massive virtual reality world that plays host to gamers across the globe. With the passing of co-founder James Halliday, however, even the OASIS has changed with a huge corporation known as IOI (Innovative Online Industries) sending operatives in to collect valuable objects and leveraging real-world debt to essentially enslave people.
IOI’s ultimate goal is to hunt down three keys left behind by Halliday as the first person (or company) to successfully do this will gain full control of the OASIS. After years of no one finding even the first key, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), known as Parzival, finally unravels the clue that leads him to it. His good fortune is shared with online friends Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe), but their progress draws the full attention of IOI.
Led by CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), IOI and its legion of “Sixers” will do anything to reach the endgame first, whether in the OASIS or the real world. Now, with his life very much in danger, Wade and his friends must find a way to come together to stop IOI from solving Halliday’s puzzles and taking control of the world’s most valuable commodity.
Obviously there’s only so much you can cram into a film, but Cline’s world is cleverly constructed, as is Spielberg’s vision of it. There’s a unique look to everything within the OASIS, and even with all the ’80s reference from the book that had to be left out for obvious reasons there’s still loads of nostalgic cameos sprinkled throughout the film. The set pieces, in particular The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, are really well done.
While there are a few issues here and there, the pacing is generally good, though the time spent inside the OASIS is unquestionably the most enjoyable. That’s due in no small part to the virtual clash between good and evil feeling much more feasible than what happens in the real world where a group of teenagers/young adults facing down a cutthroat corporation wouldn’t work so well.
Mendelsohn, fresh off his turn as Director Krennic in Rogue One, strikes the right balance of nefarious and bumbling, making him a threat that you want to see defeated without becoming a one-note villain. He’s the best of the cast, though leads Sheridan and Cooke ably handle their roles as well. Simon Pegg also has a fun turn as Halliday’s partner Ogden Morrow.
With a pronounced focus on the action there’s precious little time for character development outside of the Parzival/Art3mis relationship and Sorrento’s obsession with winning the contest at all costs. Ready Player One is already over two hours long, but it wouldn’t have hurt it to add another 10 or so minutes of plot/character-focused content just to deepen the world and offer more down time between action.
When you get down to it, there’s an odd message at the heart of the film where the real world has gotten so bad that the only way to live is to get away from it. Within that, everyone’s motivation is to gain control of the OASIS, and while the stakes are made clear (Parzival will use his status for good, Sorrento for profit) there’s zero mention of how any of it will help the many problems in the real world.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Around two hours of special features are on offer, highlighted by an hour-long Game Changer “making of” documentary littered with cast interviews, behind the scenes footage and things of that nature. The others are shorter, more focused extras like sound design and, of course, the film’s many visual effects. It’s a decent selection, but nothing particularly stands out.
While lacking in depth, Ready Player One succeeds as an action-packed, nostalgia-fueled ride that provides an entertaining couple of hours.