Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “Ready Player One” is a fantastic, mind blowing amalgam of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “Tron,” and “The Matrix” all rolled in to one multicolored strobe of pop culture. You’d think with the rapid fire barrage of pop culture nods and winks to video games, anime, and television series that “Ready Player One” would lose sight of its narrative. In the end, though, Spielberg keeps a firm grip on the novel by Ernest Cline, never once losing sight of what made the original novel such a must read in 2011.
Set in 2045, the world is an over populated junk heap where people from all walks of life drift in to a virtual reality world known as OASIS. Prior to the death of its creator Halliday, he left behind a series of clues in the game, challenging players from all walks of life to find three mythical keys. Should those keys be found and assembled, they can unlock his Easter Egg, which will give the player complete control of OASIS, Halliday’s company, and make them wealthy beyond their wildest imaginations. Struggling in poverty and an abusive home life, young Wade Watts aka “Parzival” retreats to OASIS and is hell bent on solving the cryptic riddles, and finding the keys. With his group known as “High-Five” by his side, he hopes to beat to the punch a ruthless corporate executive named Sorrento, who has plans to use OASIS as a means of keeping players addicted and entrenched in poverty.
Much like all great directors, Spielberg cuts away at the fat of the novel, keeping only the essentials, and sticking true to the spirit of the book, embracing its unabashed celebration of everything pop culture from the seventies to the aughts. I doubted Spielberg could make something so enchanting out of the concept, but “Ready Player One” was incredible. Spielberg perfectly brings to the screen both worlds that are in dire straits, as well as a civilization bereft of their own culture consuming what’s been long considered antiquated. Ernest Cline intended “Ready Player One” to be something of a love letter to pop culture as well as a complex look at how yes, video games and nostalgia are great, but if we look hard enough, life can be so much better.
Spielberg injects much of his own enthusiasm and ability to capture wonder and magic on the big screen, and it benefits what might have been a flat adaptation, overall. Along the way he also stages what may be one of the best, most exciting racing scenes in film history. “Ready Player One” also keeps its eye on the humanity of its characters and the dilemma itself, even when delving in to the virtual world of OASIS. Although it’s an amazing landscape where its players are free to tinker around and even go to war, it’s also underlined by the tragic idea that the game is an escape for people with nothing else in their lives. The cast of folks like Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, and Mark Rylance are absolutely fantastic, bringing to life emphatic and engaging underdog heroes working for their own personal causes involving the big mystery.
I was very much engrossed in where this journey would lead them, and thankfully whenever the film reverted to motion capture CGI, the appeal of their protagonists never lost a step. “Ready Player One” is both an engaging drama, and an excellent adventure that squeezes in so many pop culture references and winks, you’ll have to see it three times to catch it all. From Goro, to Chucky, to the Delorean, the Batmobile, and even a weapon known as “The Zemeckis Cube,” I was wide eyed and wanted to see more of what lay in OASIS. Though the movie’s brisk pacing, booming eighties soundtrack, and non-stop action laced finale might turn some off, I hooked from beginning to end. “Ready Player One” is just marvelous cinematic pop culture trip, and it’s one of my favorite films of the year.
Featured on the Blu-Ray from Warner, there’s “The ’80s: You’re The Inspiration,” a five minute discussion with author Ernest Cline, who explains his love for the 1980’s, why it’s an era he is deeply fond of, and we even speak with Spielberg who admits to cutting out references to his own movies. “Game Changer: Cracking The Code” is a very thorough hour long making of the film, exploring the book, the adaptation, casting, shooting, set design, and everything else. There are also interviews with the cast. “Effects For a Brave New World” is a twenty four minute look at the excellent special effects of the film, from previsualization, and post production, focusing on the immense detail implemented for the film.
“Level Up: Sound For The Future” is an eight minute look at the meticulous sound design upon which Spielberg admits he’s never spent so much time on. “High Score: Endgame” is a ten minute look at the Alan Silvestri score, the inspirations for the score, and how the score was altered for certain scenes. Finally: “Ernie & Tye’s Excellent Adventure” is a twelve minute discussion with “Ready Player One” author Ernest Cline and star Tye Sheridan, both of whom reflect on the book, the film, and the experience. It ends with a tease of a potential sequel.