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Three Views: Ready Player One

April 12, 2018

Ready Player One Review By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

There is a serendipitous quality to the fact that Steven Spielberg wound up directing an adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One.  The book is such a geeky love letter to the pop cultural mecca that was the 1980s, a decade that was in no small part defined by the work of Steven Spielberg, that there is no better director to bring this material to the screen.

The story takes place in Columbus, Ohio in 2045, presenting a vision of a dystopic future where most people live in poverty and pretty much everyone spends their days wearing VR headsets and tapped into the Oasis.  The Oasis is a virtual reality world that was created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg), allowing its users to do or be anything.

When Halliday died, he hid three keys in the game that together unlock a special Easter Egg, and whoever finds it will inherit the entirety of the Oasis.  The hero of the story is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) aka Parzival, one of the egg hunters – or “gunters,” for short – who lives in a stacked trailer park and has spent the past five years hidden in a van and strapped into the Oasis, still trying to complete the first of the three challenges that have been set out in order to win.  A big part of this includes immersing himself in the pop culture that Halliday grew up with, as the clues lie in the movies that he watched and the games that he played.

After Wade completes the first challenge, a wild road race through a digitally rendered New York City laced with booby traps, the competition really starts to heat up.  The stakes are further raised by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the head of a corporation known as IOI that is working around the clock to try and win, so that he can take over the Oasis for profit.  Wade teams up with the young female player Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), his best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), and the two brothers Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao), to fight against the company and save the Oasis.

Much has been made of this being Steven Spielberg’s return to blockbuster filmmaking, especially after the stodgy Oscar bait of The Post a few months back, and Ready Player One proves that the filmmaker is still a master at delivering thrilling big screen spectacle.  Like so many film lovers, I grew up idolizing Spielberg’s work, and this film harkens back to the sort of giddy, heartfelt blockbusters that I loved as a child.  The sense of wonder and adventure that defined his early work is on full display here, as the film takes us on a wildly entertaining and visually dazzling ride.  Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography really captures the ’80s throwback feel in both the real and virtual scenes, and Alan Silvestri’s score provides fitting accompaniment, at times recalling his iconic music from Back to the Future.

Because the character of James Halliday grew up in the 1980s, the Oasis is heavily influenced by the pop culture of that decade, from the films of Amblin Entertainment to the games of Atari.  The film is stuffed to the gills with pop culture references, from the early road race where Wade gets behind the wheel of a DeLoreon and has to dodge King Kong, to the eye-popping second challenge which takes place inside The Shining, and the climactic battle where countless characters – from Chucky to the Iron Giant – are unleashed upon the screen.  The film finds a way to immerse us in these glorious landscapes, and is filled with so many Easter Eggs that it practically demands another viewing.

The only stipulation that Spielberg had in adapting the material is that he didn’t want to include any overt references to the films that he actually directed, despite the book being filled with shoutouts to his work.  The film does make a lot of other changes to the book as well, including changing what the three challenges entail, bringing the main characters together earlier in real life, and adding a new subplot involving a real world revolution against IOI.  The final choice that Wade makes in the movie regarding the Oasis also doesn’t hit quite as hard as it did in the book.  But with a screenplay that Ernest Cline co-wrote with screenwriter Zak Penn, this is an adaptation that works really well on its own terms.

While some have criticized the story for relying heavily on nostalgia, I think the film is also really smart about nostalgia in that it understands the sadness that underlies this constant want to escape reality and relive our childhoods.  The film is ultimately about how nostalgia offers ways for us to escape the present and live in the idyllic comfort of the past, but it also shows this to be a double-edged sword.  Halliday is strongly suggested to be on the autism spectrum, especially in how he is brilliantly portrayed by Mark Rylance, and as much as the Oasis offered him an escape from the real world, it also encompasses the regrets that he had about the things he never got to do in his real life.

The most interesting thing about Ready Player One is that the dystopic future it envisions, where people live in poverty and spend their time immersed in digital worlds instead of interacting with each other in real life, doesn’t seem that far off at this point.  But the film also reminds us in a really moving that there is still no better place than reality, even if there is great value to be found in escaping it every once in a while.  This is a near-perfect piece of escapism.  It’s a movie that understands the need for movies and why people love them, and I had a total blast watching it.

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Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) in Ready Player One

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Ready Player One Review By Erin Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Based on the book by Earnest Cline, Steven Spielberg’s big screen adaptation of Ready Player One is a visual spectacle with throwbacks to classic films.

The film takes place in 2045, in a dystopian future where citizens in the poorer areas live in the ‘Stacks’, which are literally just stacks of mobile homes stacked on top of each other – like if a trailer park tried to reach the sky (must be heaven for tornados).  Most of the people, whether they can afford it or not, have bought into a video game virtual reality world called The Oasis.  In the Oasis, you can earn money that transfers over into real life, interact with other players, and be anything you want to be.  The game was designed by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), to be a place of escape and a throwback to pop culture he loved, but has since become out of hand.  When Halliday dies, a new game in the form of a will pops up on the screens of every Oasis player – find the three keys and the hidden Easter Egg in the game, and that player will gain complete control as the new owner of the Oasis.

The story follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), known in the Oasis as Parzival, a young man from the Stacks who is obsessed with the work of James Halliday and becomes determined to win the game to better his own life.  Meeting other players in the game though, notably Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), he comes to realize that the game for the control of the Oasis has far larger stakes he needs to take into account, including taking down a rival company that will win at any costs to finally gain control of Halliday’s creation.

From what I’ve heard, (as I haven’t read the book myself), the film does take some liberties with the novel particularly in the last act, but Ready Player One is still an entertaining film with strong characters and story.  The cast are all very good in their roles, easily bringing the characters to life, and throwbacks to films such as King Kong, The Shining, and Back To The Future are going to appreciated by movie fans as well.  Overall it is not hard to recommend this one for an entertaining night out at the movies.

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Parzival (Tye Sheridan) in Ready Player One

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Ready Player One Review By Tony Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Ready Player One is set in a dystopic 2045 where people spend most of their lives in the virtual reality world known by the acronym OASIS devised by the enigmatic trillionaire James Halliday (Sir Mark Rylance). Many people bankrupted by in-game purchases have been forced to work off their virtual currency debts at Innovative Online Industries (IOI), a spinoff of OASIS run by the corrupt Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Just before his recent death, Halliday (as his wizard avatar Anorak) offered his fortune to the first person who could find 3 keys and an easter egg.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is an orphan living with an aunt and her current boyfriend in a Columbus OH vertical trailer park slum called The Stacks. As a brilliant player he has won enough virtual coin to buy the best gear including a complete motion capture and haptic sensory suit. His avatar Parzival (seeker of the Grail) enters the almost impossible race for the first key in his DeLorean along with his avatar friend (pronounced like the letter H) Aech (Lena Waithe) in a monster truck. He gets an instant crush on a rival light cycle rider named (goddess of the hunt) Art3mis (Olivia Cooke).

Parzival’s extensive research of the OASIS library’s archive footage of Halliday and his former partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) pays off in a first race victory, shared with Aech, Art3mis, and two Asian warrior avatars, Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao), collectively known as the High Five. Sorrento mobilizes thousands of IOI avatars to beat the Five to the egg, and hires the avatar i-R0k (T.J. Miller) to find the real people behind the Five, and remove them from competition by bribery or more extreme measures. The second key quest involves a recreation of scary scenes from The Shining. The third is to be found in Anorak Castle on Planet Doom. Fierce battles both in the real and virtual world lead to the ultimate showdown.

Directed by Steven Spielberg from a popular novel by Ernest Cline that he adapted for this film, Ready Player One is full of pop culture references, particularly from Halliday’s creative period in the 1980s. Sometimes coming at the viewer like a firehose, as in the first race scene, these can be off-putting for some, but I didn’t mind, looking forward to catching ones I missed on subsequent viewings. Moreover, non-gamers like me may not get all the tricks and enhancements available to those willing to spend extra in-game money, but it was fun to just strap in and enjoy the ride. It was also reassuring that the villains were not too bright–Ben Mendelsohn reminding me of Paul Gleason in The Breakfast Club, and TJ. Miller playing to type as i-R0k–so the final outcome was never really in doubt.

For me, the best films keep coming back into my mind for days and weeks afterward. Ready Player One is the latest of these, with all the elements for which Spielberg is admired–a good adventure story, beautiful production in both real and virtual worlds, a delightful cast and fine music from Alan Silvestri. Along with a nice collection of period tunes, the original score has echos of Silvestri’s other work in films such as Back to the Future. In his third brilliant role for Spielberg in as many years, Sir Mark was especially moving as the socially awkward genius.

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Consensus:​ Adaptating Ernest Cline’s bestselling novel for the screen, Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One is a wildly entertaining and visually impressive blockbuster that is chock full of nostalgic references to classic movies, adding up to an experience that is both tons of fun and also has a lot of heart. ★★★½ (out of 4)

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