Spielberg Brings That Amblin Magic To Cline’s “Ready Player One”
By Scott Kurland
Film: Ready Player One
Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance
Director: Steven Spielberg
Back in 2013 I read, ok...I listened to the audiobook of “Ready Player One; ” written by Ernest Cline and narrated by nerd icon Wil Wheaton. Quite quickly, the book took its place on my shelf as my favorite book of all time. This weird “Matrix”/”Willy Wonka” hybrid spoke to me. I devoured this love letter to 80 ’s pop culture; eager for the day when the book would finally become a film. Not a day went by where I didn't scour the internet for inklings of which director might step into the ring. New guesses flooded in every day with no clear confirmations in sight. At last, it was announced that Steven Spielberg would be directing and my inner nerd was unleashed. Finally, I was able to see “Ready Player One” on the big screen. What's the verdict you ask? Well, you have to keep reading to find out what I truly thought of this adaptation. Now, let's do this thing shall we?
“Ready Player One” takes place in the year 2045. The world is a now a depleted dystopia. Humanity has exhausted its resources and the world is now a bleak and poverty-stricken place. Rather than face the grim reality that surrounds them, all of humanity has escaped to the Oasis; a virtual wonderland created by the brilliant, reclusive, and awkward genius Jame Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, he leaves control of the Oasis to the lucky user who can locate his "easter egg" by means of a scavenger hunt; one filled with pop culture puzzles. For years no one seems to make any headway until, one day, a user named Wade Watts a.ka. Parzival (Tye Sheridan) stumbles upon the clue which cracks the entire contest wide open. However, he’s not alone. His fellow Gunters (short for egg hunters) Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech, Sho, and Diato are not far behind him. Now, one of these "high five" must find the egg before the evil corporate head of IOI, Nolan Sorrento, (Ben Mendelsohn) gets his hands on it. For if he does, their failure in the virtual world will spell disaster in the real one.
Prior to seeing this film, I faced many conflicting emotions. I was afraid they would change far too much of what took place in the book...which they did. That said, its very clear that some changes were not only necessary, but inevitable. For instance, the book contains a great deal of descriptive text to explain what influences and drives everyone...sometimes too much. In the film, this information exists in the backdrop of the Oasis, or the characters pop culture obsessions are placed front-and-center. The levels of the hunt changed as well, but that’s ok. The actions taken by author Ernest Cline and screenwriter Zak Penn to adapt the story made sense. It honestly felt like Penn and Cline's willingness to adapt this screenplay depended upon who was going to be directing. Since it was Spielberg, they opted to make this a more Amblin-based film; one in the style of “The Goonies” and “Back To The Future.” If the film were directed by say, Edgar Wright or J.J. Abrams, the story might have more closely resembled that of the book. Even so, this might be the one time I’m ok with such drastic changes because, in all honesty, this no longer Cline’s novel. This is Spielberg's movie. This film operates like a time machine, allowing good old Steve back into his “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park” chapter of film-making.
This film is oozing Spielberg-isms left and right. Whether it is the teenage protagonist or the mysterious evil corporate entity hunting them down; Spielberg’s vision shines on the screen. There are times in the first act that the pacing drags and you have a bit of a hard time adjusting. But once act two starts, he hooks you in again. Spielberg alone isn't what makes “Ready Player One” so enjoyable, the score by Alan Silvestri adds its own magic to the story. Silvestri combines elements from his previous scores like “Back To The Future,” “The Avengers,” and “Forrest Gump” to make “Ready Player One” feel simultaneously vintage and new. These two legends of film and music make for a great combination.
As a fan of the book, seeing the changes that were made to these characters was, initially, very alarming. But as I watched the film, the reason for these changes was made clear...to add a greater level of depth. What began as criticism slowly transformed into admiration for the film making process. I also appreciate how different the book is from the movie. By separating the film from the written page, it makes me view them less as two separate mediums and more as two sides of the same arcade token.
This film contains a great many winks to video games, comics, movies, and so much more. It also contains some terrific performances from all its leads. Long ago if you wanted a bad guy in a film, you hired Gary Oldman. That’s not the case anymore. These days, if you are seeking a great villain for your movie, you look no further than Ben Mendelsohn. When I pictured Sorrento in the book, I pictured this guy. What makes Mendelsohn a great antagonist is that he plays him like a good guy. He passionately believes he’s in the right when, in reality, his actions are that of high-functioning sociopath. What Mendelsohn did in “Rogue One,” he continues to do here. As for the two leads Cooke and Sheridan... what can I say? They are incredibly charming. Sheridan has the nerdy-gamer-turned-hero down pat, and he’s the only one I can see as Wade/Parzival. Cooke on the other hand hasn’t given a bad performance yet. Even when the film is bad like “Ouija,” Cooke knows how to shine despite all the chaos around her. It is for that reason alone that they gave her the role of Art3mis; a badass leader with a dark backstory.
Before I conclude my review, I must highlight Mark Rylance as James Halliday. Rylance is one of my favorite character actors and he is able to convey Halliday’s essence without beating you over the head with it. In the book, they talk about Halliday’s social disorder and how reclusive he was. Rylance shows you that within the first five seconds of his introduction and it’s slightly endearing. Halliday is one of the hardest characters to nail down in the book. Transitioning him to the screen would have been a challenge in another actor’s hands. Rylance gives another great performance after last year’s “Dunkirk”. They need to keep giving this guy roles because he knocks it out of the park every time.
“Ready Player One” is not a perfect film, but it’s flaws can be overlooked because its truly a fun ride. I cracked a smile as soon as the film started and it didn’t leave my face until I was in the car driving home. This is a nice starter film to get us pumped up for the summer movie season right around the corner. Spielberg returns to form and brings you a nice love letter to the world of pop culture. See this film on the biggest screen possible. Whether you love or hate the book, this film will hopefully win you over.
REVIEW RATING: B+