Ready Player One, an entertaining bombardment of pop-culture references. But no extra life needed. One play through is enough.
Based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel of the same name, ‘Ready Player One’ receives a big screen adaptation from legendary director Steven Spielberg.
Set against the backdrop of a dystopian near-future, the human race relies on escapism provided by the OASIS, an immersive virtual reality environment.
Whilst plugged in, players can choose how they look, where they go, and how they behave in a digitised landscape where anything imaginable is possible.
Upon his death the game’s creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) reveals that there is a hidden Easter Egg buried deep within the game. Whoever finds the egg will be granted complete control of the OASIS and inherit a fortune – but to discover the whereabouts of the egg, players must first complete three, seemingly impossible, tasks. Each completed task grants them a key to the next level.
The competition spawns thousands of egg hunters, known as ‘Gunters’ for short. With no breakthrough in five years in seems plausible that Haliday’s egg might never be found, until pop-culture fanatic Wade Watts aka Parzival (Tye Sheridan), figures out the clues that lead to success in the first task.
With such a potentially lucrative prize at stake, Wade soon finds himself pursued by IOI, Innovative Online Industries, the world’s largest internet provider. Led by the ruthless Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) IOI pose a threat to anyone that threatens their attempts to seize control of the OASIS. A threat that extends beyond the confines of virtual reality.
From the first trailers, fans knew what to expect from ‘Ready Player One’. Ernest Cline’s book was a love letter to decades of pop-culture with fanboyism at the heart of the narrative.
Blink and you’ll miss a dozen iconic pop-culture characters from video games, cartoons, comics and film as Steven Spielberg brings the essence of the book to the big screen. And that’s really what it is. Whilst the core storyline is true to Cline’s source material, there are significant differences between the novel and the movie, something book purists might find disheartening.
My trepidation going into the film lay beyond concerns for a faithful adaptation. Rather, I feared intense pop-culture oversaturation – and within the first ten minutes it looks like things are headed in that direction.
The action packed car chase seen in promotional trailers happens early on, and it is bursting with dozens of iconic vehicles from our formative years.
The ’66 Batmobile, the car from Mad-Max, the A-Team van, Kaneda’s bike from Akira, and of course – our virtual protagonist Parzival drives a Back to the Future Delorean time machine. Add to the mix a dinosaur from Jurassic Park and King Kong, there’s a lot to take onboard in just a few minutes.
But I didn’t feel overloaded, or excited at seeing all of these iconic characters and vehicles on-screen at the same time. I actually felt bored.
The thing is, ‘Ready Player One’ is an unashamed CGI wank-fest, with easily 80% of the story being told from within a virtual reality environment, and I found it difficult to engage with that aspect of the film.
When the action moved to the real world where actual human consequences took effect, I slowly began to become invested in the story. As we learn more about the lead characters and their insecurities I became more empathic.
As the film progressed I was able to relax into the story, enjoy the laughs and appreciate spotting all the nerdy references littered profusely throughout. But I never became lost in the film. I never cared about the blossoming romance and never feared that things wouldn’t work out.
There’s no real substance or drama. It’s all spectacle and a bit juvenile. One might argue that the film is aimed at a younger audience than a 40 year old man. I’d counter that a younger audience wouldn’t appreciate half the references in the film if this were the case.
It’s technically flawed too. Stunning CGI work is diluted by the sheer quantity of it and the leading cast are outshone by, of all people, T.J. Miller as I-Rok, an online, bit-part henchman to Ben Mendelsohn’s antagonist, Sorrento.
Classic Spielberg it ain’t. ‘Ready Player One’ is entertaining, but never engaging. A mediocre movie adaptation of a very good book.
Worthy of a watch if you’re nostalgic for pop-culture. Fanboys will demand multiple viewings in the hope of catching every last reference. I’m falling firmly into the first camp.