“Ready Player One”
2 hours, 20 minutes
Ernest Cline published his exhaustive love letter to ‘80s pop culture in 2011 and ever since “Ready Player One” has been argued both as a masterpiece and as irreparable trash ever since. Written explicitly for sci-fi geeks and video game nerds, it’s not a book that is always accessible, even to its intended audience. And, entertaining though it is, it’s not all that well written.
On the surface, it seems like the perfect movie to adapt to the big screen, so when Steven Spielberg announced that he was doing just that, quite a few heads exploded with joy. That is, until people stepped back and thought about it. Is this book really adaptable? Can Spielberg, who famously excised nearly all mention of his own geek contributions from the script, really bring that sense of excitement and nostalgia?
If anyone could, it would be him, but after seeing the movie I’m just wondering if maybe nobody could. “Ready Player One” is not a bad movie, but neither is it particularly engaging or memorable. After being bombarded for two and a half hours with pop culture references I was supposed to swoon over, my enthusiasm was just gone.
The story revolves around Wade Watts, resident of “The Stacks,” in Columbus, Ohio circa 2045. The Stacks are a neighborhood of piled high campers, trailers and RVs, and they reflect just how far the income gap has spread as the population surged.
People spend very little time in this bleak future, however, because most of their time is spent in “The Oasis,” a magical virtual world created by James Halliday. It’s a near-infinite universe covered over with planets, countries, and destinations of all description, from gambling worlds to battle planets where characters fight to the death in epic quests. Death in the Oasis just means having to start over from the beginning, this time without any of the stuff you’ve accumulated along the way.
Running in the background of the Oasis is a grand mystery. Halliday, when he died, hid a series of Easter eggs deep within the game, the collection of which will result in their finder being granted with the keys to all of the Oasis. Sort of a “Willy Wonka” kind of thing. Wade and his fellow ‘gunters (which stands for “egg hunters” and gives you an idea of how annoying this script can get) use their knowledge of Halliday’s likes and dislikes, searching the Oasis for clues in a grand contest that will determine the future of this vast universe.
So much about this movie makes no sense and yet is entertaining in its own right. For example, there is a giant car chase where the Delorean from “Back to the Future” races the motorbike from “Akira” and the original Batmobile while avoiding being stomped by King Kong and the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park.” This is fun, but fairly pointless and too chaotic.
Information overload usually results in a shutdown and that’s what happens with viewers – you quit caring. A lot of “Ready Player One” is like this. Pretty to look at, fun for a while, but ultimately tiring. I was bothered by the concepts of the Oasis in general, as well, though maybe I’m looking too deeply. How does society function when nearly everyone does nearly everything in this virtual world? How are privacy issues dealt with? The safeguard that “you never tell anyone your real name” seems quaint in today’s culture, and this story is not even ten years old.
A lot about this movie is, unfortunately, self-defeating. There is an interesting set piece inside a famous scary movie that has a lot of potential (this replaces the “War Games” sequence in the book) but ultimately falls flat because of the inherent goofiness of the characters. What is supposed to be terrifying just becomes another version of a roller coaster ride.
And, where the book was very adamant about the ‘80s, the movie can’t seem to stick to the decade, no matter what the marketing materials say. Just as an example, in the aforementioned race, the King Kong character is either from the ‘70s or the ‘30s, the Tyrannosaur is from 1993, and the original Batmobile first appears in 1966. I think a lot of the decisions that got made had to do with paying for licensing, which is why the majority of the properties mentioned belong to Warner Brothers.
I feel like this review has been more negative than I intended it to be. I wasn’t this annoyed watching the movie, but I wasn’t all that engaged either. Now, looking back a day later, I can barely remember characters like Wade’s best friend Aech, or Simon Pegg’s Ogden Morrow. I enjoy Mark Rylance, here playing Halliday, but I can’t figure out why he feels like he’s playing an older version of Garth, from “Wayne’s World.”
Ultimately, “Ready Player One” just didn’t work for me despite all the work put into it. On our radio show this week we talk about the amazing career Spielberg has had, but listing off his classics just makes misfires like this one feel all the emptier.
“Ready Player One” is rated PG-13 for language, video game violence, and some frightening scenes.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.