Ready Player One, is adapted from the book of the same name. Ernest Cline's love letter to pop culture though mainly 80s pop culture. Initially not taken that seriously, Ready Player One the book has had a backlash in recent years in the advent of Gamergate and the rise of the Alt right, the books focus on character who's main trait is that they know more about pop culture than others and that somehow elevates them above those that don’t has been seen as problematic and an example of gate keeping. That’s not the only issue people have with the book but a lot of it stems from there.
For me I started the listening to the audio book a few months back but have not finished it and I'm not sure if I will, a lot of the book is just listing pop culture things and maybe hearing the main characters opinion on it which for me bogged it down. The premise is fine Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets 80 Pop Culture, but it did feel like a lot of the early part of the book was just a list of references. Enter Ready Player One the Movie, directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, this adaption turns out to be In my quite enjoyable and even with my limited knowledge of the book what has been changed seems to be for the better. The movie is certainly not without its flaws but Spielberg does a good job of trimming the fat and trying to make something a bit more cohesive and somewhat meaningful in a modern context.
The main story is that in the future the is a virtual reality called the Oasis that’s very popular, enough that it's kind of its own industry/economy and people can make a living within it. Anyway the creator of the Oasis, James Haliday dies but before he does he sets out a challenge for people to find a hidden Easter egg in the game and whoever is the first inherits the his fortune and gains control of the Oasis. It’s a very Willy Wonka esque premise, though another aspect is that the way to find this Easter egg is through studying and having knowledge of the found of the Oasis and what he liked. Our main character is a guy called Wade Wilson a "Gunter" or Egg Hunter who like a lot of other people are trying to look for the Easter egg. Wade has friends in game who we are eventually introduced to in the real world and as he progresses catches the eye of an evil corporation that’s hell bent of gaining control of the Oasis. While the premise is mostly the same RP1 the movie does streamline the story quite a bit and I think that’s for the better. Another major change is that in the book is that movie focus more on the meaning of Holidays interests rather than the importance of the straight up knowledge. Instead of knowing how to best the challenge the movie becomes more about how and why the challenge exists and what that means to Halliday as a character. As the story goes on we meet more characters some of them in real life and those lessons from the easter egg hunt come through in the eventual lesson that the main characters learn. As mentioned the is also an evil corporation (IOI) with a sufficiently evil albeit generic big business bad guy.
The strongest parts about the movie are probably its visuals. The Oasis looks cool, and it’s a lot easier to show things off rather than tell an audience. The book gets bogged down telling the reader x/y while the movie just shows it. The movie also expands the range pop culture references from mostly the 80s to everything, though there were clearly some limitations and certain properties owned by certain companies feature much more prominently than others. To his credit Spielberg avoids putting much of his own work in the movie so it's not some vanity project. I'm not sure if they shot on film but the live action segments especially on the evil corporation have a very classic look to them. The best part of the movie takes place takes place within a certain horror movie and everything that happens during the sequence is really cool and a very creative use of said movie. It also looks really spot on.
Ready player Ones action is also pretty good and one of the stronger points of the movie. With all the characters/references one might assume that it would be a cluster fuck but the movie does a good job of drawing your eye to what it wants you to focus on. Its quite smart with its use of color, often times the character it wants you to focus on will be the most colorful, it's pretty easy to see when there a character like tracer on screen or you see the RX782 Gundam with its red white, yellow and blue but it even does a good job with a group of Spartans from Halo who are in army green.
Characters are one of the weaker aspects of the film. The main cast is quite bland, wade Wilson is pretty boring which I guess is an improvement over the book. Samantha Cook/ Art3mis is pretty boring as well, her motivation is better and she's a bit more fun in game but yeah nothing super interesting. Lena Waithe as Aech/Helen is one of the better characters though that only seems to be since she is a bit of a comic relief, TJ Millers i-R0k is similar fill a similar role for but for the bad guys. Ben Mendelsohn as Nolan Sorrento the big bad CEO is fine nothing that memorable and he felt like a bit of a throwback but I guess that’s a good thing. James Halliday / Anorak is played by Mark Rylance and is quite different from the books being a more genius savant rather than a Steve Jobs type. There are few more characters but they are largely after thoughts also Simon Pegg is in the movie doing an American accent which is not something you see every day. Anyway cast was a bit bland, the circumstances that they end up meeting in the real world are a bit weird and I guess it's good that there's a bit diversity but it’s the year 2045 and it could be a lot better.
Ready Player One is about as good as it can be it takes some questionable source material and makes it into a fun action movie with a bit more meaning than you would expect. It’s a bit clunky and if you dive deep on certain aspects and I did despite seeing all these characters I love from childhood till now I nothing about the movie was that endearing. There is a sequence midway through the movie that almost gets there and happened to be my favorite best part of the movie but taken as a whole the movie ends up being decent, sometimes good but not really great. This is definitely not one of Spielberg's best but the guy is just on that level that even his not so great movies are still pretty good.
7.5 / 10
If you were deciding between Ready player One, Tomb Raider or Pacific Rim Uprising, RP1 is definitely the one to see. It won't be remembered as one of Spielberg's better movies but it's still good, and seemingly a big improvement over the source material.
Other Points (Spoilers)
Star Wars is referenced but not shown in the movie, apparently this was a decision by Spielberg and not because he could not get the rights. Which would be weird since the person in charge of Star Wars Kathleen Kennedy is produced many of Spielberg's films.
Its pretty obvious that some rights were granted in buckets, there are a lot of Microsoft properties featured in the film. It helps keeps the references broad till you realize that Minecraft, Battletoads, Halo Spartans and the Gears of War Lancer are all Microsoft Properties.
WB properties feature quite prominently for obvious reasons.
Spielberg's does keep references to his own work to a minimum, the T Rex from Jurassic Park is there as is the DeLorean from back to the Future which Spielberg produced but outside of that I did not catch to many other things.
If you ready articles about the movie and have seen the promo material you will know the Iron Giant features quite prominently, the iron Giant actually replaces Ultraman from the book. Supposedly this is because the rights to Ultraman are quite hard to get and owned by multiple parties however I suspect that the change was also made because Ultraman is not a well-known property in the west.
I have been getting into Gundam the Past year and a bit and the RX 78 2 Gundam is a pretty great and holds up really well. The color pallet of the final battle is a bit drear but the Gundam is cool.
Disclaimer: The company I work for has Village Roadshow as a Client which distributed Ready Player One and Partly Financed it. I worked on the campaign for Ready Player One and went to an early screening for free.