A dystopian future where the populace drowns their boredom in a vast online world.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tye Sheridan and Mark Rylance
Initial Review by Phil Crone
Did that seem like a lot? It should, because it is a lot. Cline spends a large portion of his book world-building, something that Spielberg doesn’t have the time to do. The mammoth exposition is necessary to give you a grasp on the world, and fortunately, it’s the only part of the movie that “feels" long. Once we get into the hunt for the first key, the action ensues and really doesn’t let up for the remainder of the 140 minute runtime that doesn’t feel anywhere near that length.
That initial action scene in question, the no holds barred but unfinishable race, is just the first of many impressive visual sequences. There’s no hiding the action scenes behind any fog or darkness – they are bright, and while chaos reigns, nothing is inscrutable. As shrapnel littered the line of sight, I had no problem following the action in the car race. Likewise, the subsequent action scenes, most notably the major final battle at the castle of Halliday’s video game avatar, Anorak, plays out incredibly well, having its own flow that was both easy to follow and a visual treat. While there was some backlash to much of the CGI presentation initially, I doubt you’ll find any better sequences out there right now.
The initial race also introduces us to Art3mis, an infamous “gunter,” which is Oasis-talk for players who hunt for Halliday’s easter egg. (“egg hunter” – “gunter” – Get it?) We again see another case of book short-cutting as Spielberg has to mash in Wade’s infatuation with Art3mis as well as the obsession with all things Halliday in the back-and-forth between Parzival and Art3mis into not a lot of time. While the initial exposition does a workmanlike job getting a non-book reader into what this world is, it felt like this portion was a bit rushed and relied more on background knowledge to get the viewer to where the book readers already were.
A neglect of the Parzival/Art3mis relationship isn’t the only undercutting we get from translation from the book to the movie. While Aech remains a fantastic character and nearly steals the show, her back story is non-existent. Diato and Sho are complete throwaways. Ogden Morrow’s integration into the story is clunky at best. It’s a shame to see many of the book’s underlying themes tossed aside at the expense of just including them in the movie. If you’re not going to use Diato & Sho for more than comic relief, just cut them.
That said, a book translation to the big screen can trim some fat and get some things right. Cline meanders through Act 2 of the book, sending Parzival on a wild goose chase that gets him the extra life quarter by happenstance. Integrating that into the hall of records was a smart idea to avoid this. Easily the best scene change was “The Shining Challenge,” and I dare say its inclusion may have bumped the movie up half a letter grade in my mind and provided a good dose of humor. Overall, Spielberg did a solid job making a funny movie, between letting T.J. Miller really improvise as i-R0k – a role that was wisely expanded from the book to bring some personality to the otherwise faceless villains – and showing the real world equivalents to the motions in the video game. The latter was a joke that felt a bit overused, but it still managed to keep making me laugh.
The smartest change Spielberg made from the book was with the character of James Halliday. Besides Mark Rylance’s excellent performance, I thought the decision of highlighting Halliday’s inability to “take the leap” with people against Wade learning to do what his hero could not was a smart way to convey the messaging of the story in a more accessible way – plus, when you have an Oscar winner in your cast, you expand their role, right?
While the movie doesn’t take quite the same path to get there, I was happy to see the ultimate message of the book around the joys of “real” experiences over the virtual world and the cheesy emphasis on doing things as a team were all still there. It’s the type of message Spielberg has always been able to deliver in an effective albeit manipulative manner, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little choked up by the end. Still, this is Spielberg, and you’re usually going to get “safe” when you’re talking Spielberg. If this movie is anything, it’s certainly that. Plotting wise, no big chances were taken, and many of the more affecting scenes in the book (Diato’s death being the obvious one) were totally scrapped at the expense of keeping the tone light and accessible.
Ready Player One is unapologetic fun. Once you get past the exposition, it’s a thrill ride from scene to scene that’s best enjoyed when you’re not thinking too much about it. This was the type of story that was in Spielberg’s wheelhouse, and he succeeds at it. However, there’s still a lot of the source material weighing it down that results in a lack of focus on key characters and relationships. Definitely experience this one in theaters if you can.