Ready Player One Review
I have just returned from viewing Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One. While it is better than I thought it would be – I fear it lacks the meaningful message it could have had. Ever since watching the first trailer I have been skeptical about the movie adaptation. I felt it looked like a silly CGI fest rather than a serious attempt at glorifying popular culture. Make no mistake – that is what the novel Ready Player One is – and that what made it so brilliant.
The premise for Ready Player One is easy enough. In the future most people spend their awake hours in OASIS – an computer generated world created by the late James Halliday. Halliday left a quest upon his death – the person who can solve it gains access to his fortune and ownership of OASIS. As Halliday was a compulsive geek OASIS is filled with references to his favorite games, movies and novels from mostly the 80s. As the digital world covers most of the economy in this semi-dystopian world a lot of big money is after solving the quest. And so is Wade Watts – known by his handle Parzival in OASIS.
Parzival and Art3mis
Parzival (played by Tye Sheridan) is just a poor kid. He has the worst gear and little funds, but he has a gift for uncovering Halliday’s clues. His close friends – Aech (played by Lena Waithe) and Art3mis (played by Olivia Cooke) may actually be more worthy of uncovering the final easter egg. Ready Player One is the journey of a cynical Parzival who wants to use the funds earned for a better life to a young man who wants to shape his own future. The fact that this journey takes place in a digital game-world filled with popular culture is what makes this catnip.
Yet, there may be an inadvertent reference to Harry Potter here. Parzival’s close friend Art3mis fully recognizes the dangers posed should OASIS fall under the control of the dangerous IOI company. Her real-life person Samantha is even pressed into involuntary servitude – and IOI does not shy away from direct assassination. It is a touching part of the movie that is otherwise devoid of meaningful drama. Kudos to actress Olivia Cooke.
Parzival slowly uncovers the tragic history of Halliday as he is playing the quest. Halliday (played by Mark Rylance) felt lonely throughout his life – his introverted nature made connecting to other people difficult. This is what ultimately led to a rift between him and his business partner Ogden Morrow (played by Simon Pegg). Halliday tried to romance a woman named Karen Underwood once but did not have the courage to see it through. Instead Karen married Ogden. Ogden for his part knows how Halliday felt and regrets the rift. Throughout the novel – and less so in the movie – he nudges the heroes into the right direction without violating the quest rules. The two, Halliday and Ogden, are a reference to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, though more of the latter.
What irked me
In the end Steven Spielberg directs us back to his message – like children being led by their parents. Living in a fictional world has no purpose if you do not make an attempt to live in the real world. I suppose all geeks are guilty of this, and that was Halliday’s greatest regret. Yet Spielberg also undermines this message. Near the end he just had to make it clear that it was not Karen Underwood’s unfulfilled romance that was lost. Instead, Halliday’s friendship with Ogden Morrow. This twist was unnecessary and felt like a throwaway line.
What irks me most about the movie are the near absence of the quests from the book. Now don’t me wrong – they are in the movie, but the clues too often involve Parzival or Art3mis reciting lore from Halliday’s youth. For the viewer there is little suspense. The novel on the other hand felt much more like a hero’s journey – my own reference to Star Wars. From the first easter egg in the Tomb of Horrors to the final egg there is discovery, suspense and personal effort. It made the novel such a delight to read. Instead the movie adaptation is all over the place – too often it rushes, or it slows down into sentiment.
Director Steven Spielberg was not able to procure usage rights for all of the pop culture references from the novel. Sadly, Star Wars is mostly absent, and so is WarGames and Blade Runner. There are plenty that replace them, but they do not have the same amount of impact as those in the novel. A scene in which Parzival has to act through the WarGames movie was sorely missed. One area where the movie does succeed handsomely is the soundtrack. 80s songs such as Blue Monday, World in My Eyes and Take On Me set the mood perfectly. For those who enjoyed the soundtrack to Atomic Blonde will feel the same for Ready Player One. Maybe the 80s were just the best…
Ready Player One feels a lot like a game. It is an faithful adaptation of the novel, but it made use of the easiest game mode. I understand translating a novel of a hundred pages to a movie means distillation, sadly I think the movie format cannot do justice to the source material. This was my Ready Player One review. I hope you enjoyed reading it – give a comment below on what you thought about the adaptation.