Steven Spielberg is the only director that could’ve made the film version READY PLAYER ONE as great as it is. Although there are many, many fans of the book, there are detractors out there (you know who you are) that thinks the book is nothing but pop culture reference after pop culture reference with not much characterization, story, or any other kind substance. I for one, love the book, love it. I also though can see why the haters of the book don’t like it very much. They have some valid criticisms. Absolutely they do. That’s why Spielberg, and screenwriters Zak Penn and the author himself Ernest Cline, change not the core idea or overall story, but they do change most of the novel. Did…did you cringe there? Are you a fan of the book and want a shot by shot adaptation? Well, you don’t get one. But guess what? That is a great thing. Because Steven Spielberg has done it again. He managed the rare feat of taking a novel, and making the film version much, much better. That’s right, one of my favorite fun novels of all time has been turned into a film adaptation that is even better.
He’s done it several times already (aka Jaws & Jurassic Park), so I trust The Beard. But I can say that the marketing of this film isn’t really helping. The marketing is completely fooling you. It makes it seem like it’s going to be an exhausting ride of “oh look! There’s an Overwatch character, oh look! The Joker, oh look! A Gremlin!” And yes, some of that is in there, especially an in your face sequence that was my favorite part in the movie (I’ll get to that later). But instead of just being a Easter Egg movie where it’s just nostalgia knocking at your front door, the movie changes a bunch of things, where now a lot of the references serve the characters and the story, and the ones that really don’t are more subtle. And yes, I’ll admit, there are times where I was like “OH MAN! LOOK! IT’S THE WINNEBAGO FROM SPACEBALLS!” but fortunately the characters and story pulled me out of my hunting phase and had me focus on everything the movie truly had to offer: the story, the great great fix of characterization in this, and of course Spielberg’s fantastic camera work and special effects.
Let’s get to that fix in characterization. A lot of the people that think the book is a one trick pony feel like the novels focuses way too much on Wade Watts (which it does, but he’s the protagonist so get over it) and not enough with Artemis, Aech (all of the High Five in general), and especially the villain Nolan Sorrento. This is the main thing the film fixes. But that requires some change, because if you’ve read the novel, you know that *spoiler alert* Wade doesn’t really meet the real life Artemis until the very end of the novel *end spoiler* Because of that, you really don’t feel like Wade and Artemis fell in love and are smitten on each other, that it feels forced. Well, if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve probably been wondering, “wait, why is the human Artemis (played exquisitely here by Olivia Cooke) in the trailers and tv spots so much?” Well, easy, there is a twist that makes her character come much much earlier into the real world fold, and it now makes the audience believe now that these two characters could fall in love. Especially with Tye Sheridan (Wade) and Olivia Cooke having great chemistry on screen with each other.
Also, you know that Nolan Sorrento is basically a faceless villain in the novel. In the novel, he’s just an over arching presence that is scary but since he’s the head of a major competing corporation, and is trying to actually kill people from getting the Easter Egg and control of the Oasis, he stays out of the spotlight. Not here. Here is he played to perfection by the great Ben Mendolsohn. He makes Nolan Sorrento is true villain, being in most of the film and hamming it up acting wise. I actually felt like Wade actually had a pretty good nemesis in this, where in the book it felt like Wade could pretty much beat anybody no matter how big or small. Also, the character of James Halliday (basically the Willy Wonka of the novel, where if you find his keys and Easter Egg, you win control of his creation) is greatly expanded here as well. In the novel, he’s more of a jolly little Willy Wonka type figure that is more in the background, and you only read about him a couple of times in news articles or dialogue from other characters. Here, he is in the film quite a bit with archival “flashbacks” and near the very end, where he has a fantastic conversation pay off with Wade. Also, there is a character named I-Rok that is maybe two pages in the novel, he’s throughout the whole movie here and is played menacingly yet hilariously by T.J. Miller. I could talk about this all day, but I don’t want to get too deep into spoilers, so to sum it up, if you didn’t like the novels treatment of them, might want to give the film a try.
This movie is Spielberg coming back to just make a fun blockbuster for his audience. He isn’t trying to make a masterpiece or perfect film (even though yes, I do unashamedly admit I find this film a masterpiece), he’s trying to entertain, while also not selling out, while also trying to change and make a film that audience of all ages will enjoy. In fact, I know the references in the novel are mainly from the 80s, but Spielberg does plug in a lot of references in the decades forward, just to make sure people born way after the fact can appreciate some of the ol’ Spielbergian magic without having to know everything about the past they didn’t grow up in. The acting in this is top notch. Tye Sheridan inhabits a perfect Wade Watts but it is Olivia Cooke as Artemis and Ben Mendolsohn that steal the show. Whether the characters in the Oasis were motion capture or not, everything flowed smoothly, with all the actors voice over work being exquisite to say the least.
And the action sequences in this are amazing. The beginning race (which isn’t in the novel at all) is fantastically shot by Spielberg. It isn’t Michael Bay type shit where you can’t tell what the fuck is going on, and it doesn’t slow down to try to spoon feed the audience either. Spielberg just knows how to shoot an action scene, where it is fast and furious in real time, but you can see every hit, slam, or explosion. He’s 71 and his direction in films haven’t lost a step. Also, the final battle is pretty fucking sweet too, especially a hilarious bit from a little horror icon you may or may not be familiar with. But my favorite sequence takes place in the middle of the film. Now, minor spoilers from the book here, but you know that Wade’s path to one of the keys involves basically reciting line for line of the movie WarGames right? And you are probably thinking, how the fuck is Spielberg going to shoot something like that and actually make it entertaining for his audience to watch? Well, he doesn’t do WarGames, he does something with another movie, and he makes it more of a tiny scavenger hunt within the movie more than having Wade or any of the other characters recite line for line. Also, remember how Wade in the novel has to play Joust for one of the keys? Yeah, you can’t really film that unless Spielberg and company made Joust with like updated graphics with 3D and shit, and not just some character that plays the original 2D game until he beats it. That’s what the race near the beginning of the film replaces. Don’t worry there is a 2D game moment where a character or two or three is playing very old Atari games, but it doesn’t drag on, and Spielberg twists it in a way that makes it completely intrigal to the story and not just a, “oh look, here this is!” Reference.
Now, let’s talk about the Oasis. Everyone reading the book has in their head what the Oasis looks like. From Ernest Cline’s description, everything is supposed to look very, very much real life, but with characters and shit from all of the pop culture experiences from the past several decades. When seeing footage from this film, you are probably scratching your head, because the Oasis looks more like a video game than it does with Cline’s description. Honestly, if Spielberg had tried to do exactly what Cline described, it probably wouldn’t have worked on screen. So yes, in the Oasis, it looks like a really really really fantastically graphically made video game, but it completely works. I was sucked into the Oasis. But here’s the even greater thing: you know how in the novel when you were with Wade in the real world you would keep reading just so you could go back into the Oasis? Not here, both the Oasis and the real world protions of the film are exciting to behold. Spielberg changes some of the aspects and adds twists to the story to make the real world seem more of a character and a central figure.
Two quick other things: John Williams was busy doing The Post for Spielberg at the time so Alan Silvestri does it here. And he does an amazing job. He makes Ready Player One musically his own, and doesn’t just blow up the score with giant rip off of other musical scores from other films, it is completely original with a little beat or two referencing another film every now and then, but not too noticeable. Also, I loved how Spielberg only has one direct reference to one of his films in the movie. The guy really is that humble. He didn’t even want to have the T-Rex in the film but finally succumbed because it made one cool obstacle in the race at the very beginning. Give this film to a guy like fucking Michael Bay, and he’d just over load it with references to The Rock or Bad Boys 1 and 2. By the way the race is the best highway/street race since Bad Boys 2.
Which brings me to this and it is a complaint I happen to agree with. The ending of the novel kind of clashes with what Ernest Cline I think was trying to get at with his novel. That while escaping reality can be loads of fun, it could be dangerous and you need to get off your phones, gaming devices and enjoy the real world once in awhile. The ending kind of muddles it because nothing really happens with the Oasis, it still exists and people still play and earn their living off of it. Spielberg, I guess you can say, kind of, fixes this problem near the end of the film. He actually changes just a couple of lines of dialogue and aspects of the ending where Cline’s message comes across a little better. Granted, it doesn’t fix the entire message, in some ways both the book and the movie could’ve focused on the message that “technology isn’t everything and in actuality can be dangerous and cut you off from your life” a little better, but what Spielberg minor fixes wise does help. I don’t think it fixes it majorly because if it did, I think the entire novel and story in general would have to be changed, but the ending in this is much better than the novel.
And so, with this review being a novel itself, we get to my concluding paragraph. If you want to have a rational discussion with me and disagree with me on the film but in a polite way, I’m more than happy to discuss more of it on social media with you in a private message. There is loads of stuff to talk about with this film, what I’ve talked about isn’t even the tip of the ice berg. But in conclusion, yes, I loved this movie. LOVED it. It is currently at the top of my list (yes, past both Game Night and Black Panther) for my favorite film of 2018 so far, and even though I don’t think it will be #1, it will stay on this list. Steven Spielberg rarely has ever disappointed me, so I knew he wouldn’t here, I just didn’t know how much they would change the novel and with all of his signature story telling devices, how much I would love another Spielberg film this much. Probably since Minority Report. Ready Player One is essential viewing in the largest screen possible with the best sound (3D was actually pretty damn decent here as well). But even when watching at home, Ready Player One is an adventure I would happily and am already ready to watch over and over again.