Ready Player One: A Review
A few years ago I downloaded a free trial of Audible, I do a lot of driving in my day to day life and audiobooks seemed like a great way to pass the time while in the car. I have listened to some fantastic books over that time, Stephen King has taken a combined 92 hours of my life scaring the bejeesus out of me with The Stand and It. I have absolutely crushed non-fiction (or possibly very fictional depending on who you ask) like Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter and Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer but there has been no better audiobook experience than that provided by Ernest Cline's Ready Player One.
RP1 is not only a book that is as easy to read as it is entertaining but is a fantastic book to recommend to friends. It wont take more than a few chapters to get it's hooks in you, and it is more likely that you will fall in love with Cline's nerd-centric opus far quicker than that. Before I could even finish the book I was searching for a film adaptation and to my delight, none other than the brains behind about half of the content in the novel was directing, the immortal Steven Spielberg.
That was probably about 4 years ago and the day has finally come, Ready Player One has hit the big screen. Being such a big fan of the book, as probably anyone reading this is, I had some serious reservations. The book is not perfect, the first half is vastly more entertaining than the second and Hollywood has a tendency of taking something with a niche audience and absolutely ruining it by attempting to format it for a wider audience.
Ready Player One would suffer terribly if this were to happen, a huge part of the draw is the unabashedly nerdy elements and I could see some executives wanting to cut that right out. I am more than happy to report that the Ready Player One movie has all of those near cringe nerd moments that made the book so endearing and more. Not only that but Ready Player One is a pretty outstanding adaptation overall.
To quickly set the scene for those uninitiated, Ready Player one tells the story of Wade Watts, a young man living with his aunt in Columbus, Ohio in the year 2045. Slums of the future are called "stacks" because they consist of many many trailer homes stacked on top of each other, creating a sort of faux skyscraper.
Luckily for Wade it is pretty easy to leave your real world life behind in 2045, and that is all because of the Oasis. The Oasis is a virtual reality simulation that has taken over the day to day life of the world. The Oasis is so overarching that people spend more time in it than outside, doing tasks like going to school, work or even completely living in the program.
Before he died, the creator of the Oasis, James Halliday put an "Easter Egg" into the virtual space and called it Anorak's Quest. The egg consisted of three keys, each hidden in various activities in the game with the user that finds all three first receiving Haladay's ownership of the Oasis and the vast fortune that comes with it. In the years since his death and the announcement of the quest, no one has found even one key, until Wade Watts.
Like I said, the main draw of RP1 is the setting and the overflowing homage to pop culture, specifically the 80's and early 90's culture revolution. I was concerned that these elements would be forgone for stronger characters and longer action scenes but trust in Spielberg. There are moments from the movie that are a complete sensory match with the book only now we get to see the events played out in visual form.
Spielberg pulled every string he had and absolutely bashes the viewer over the head with as much pop culture as the frame would allow, and I say this in the best possible way. Everywhere you look there is some little pop culture nod, Mortal Kombat stickers on headsets, Space Invaders T-Shirts, Rush 2112 posters and nods to cult classic movies a plenty. It will be a pleasure to re-watch the movie to try to catch every little bit of nerdiness and maybe even find some easter eggs of my own. One of my first reviews on this site was of the LEGO Batman movie in which I claimed that was the greatest display of pop culture put on screen, Ready Player One puts that to shame.
As I stated earlier, the novel is not perfect or without problems. The plot can drag during the middle and late portions of the book and there are some elements that just would not transfer to an entertaining movie. For the most part Ready Player One makes all the right changes to both make the plot tighter and to serve the viewer visually.
There is a section in the book where in order to obtain a key, the players are transported into a first person viewing of the Matthew Broderick vehicle, WarGames. In the novel the characters must not only follow the narrative of the movie but list off, line for line all of Broderick's dialogue from the movie. Clearly this is not the best for a visual medium but the replacement of WarGames with The Shining and making it more of a haunted house experience rather than a quote-a-thon was a piece of movie fried gold.
Where Ready Player One falters a bit is in the characters. The book struggled in this area as well, but was better at fleshing them out and giving them arcs, even if they were a bit hollow. A lot of Wade's character was left out of the movie, in the book Wade was portrayed as being overweight which helped explain why he was overly obsessed with the Oasis and gave is helpful in his development later in the story. While not a huge issue, I think that would have been an interesting topic to tackle for the movie, which like I said could have used some more character development.
I could not get through this entire review without mentioning the visual effects. More than half of the movie takes place in the Oasis and this means that the character's avatar's are on screen more than the actual actors. This was another thing that I was a bit cautious about as an over abundance of visual effects can really remove the viewer from the experience.
Luckily not only is the CGI absolutely fantastic, it is also the perfect style of animation for the digital world of the Oasis. Spielberg has worked extensively with semi-realistic animation before in The Adventures of Tintin and where WETA digital succeeded in giving that movie a distinct graphic novel look, ILM gives this one a fantastic video game feel.
The digital medium in movies can tend to get a bit over then top and overblown, and even though Ready Player One can get pretty wild at times, Spielberg does an amazing job of framing the action and giving the viewer both a cinematic and exciting narrative experience.
It is not often that my expectations are blown out of the water by a movie but Steven Spielberg has done just that with Ready Player One. Even the flaws of the movie can be explained away because of the type of movie it is and the makers of the movie knew that from day one. Ready Player One is through and through a blockbuster and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel by changing or trying to improve the genre, Ready Player One puts it's head down and charges forward.
Ready Player One does one of the hardest things when it comes to adaptions and that is satisfying the hardcore fans while giving new viewers an easy path into fandom. As far as blockbusters are concerned Ready Player One is one of the best I have seen in a long, long time. As far as an adaptation is concerned Ready Player One is also outstanding and this formula leads is to the best movie of the year so far and probably of the whole year.