I’ve been intending to write this review since we saw the movie a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve been having a hard time thinking about how to go about it. This is the kind of movie that it’s going to be difficult to review without spoilers, you see, but I’ll try my very best because I want to share a few thoughts.
“Ready Player One” takes place in a future that is rapidly declining into serious dystopian territory. The world has become a depressing place for a number of reasons, but most people get through their day by being obsessed with the OASIS which, for all intents and purposes, is much like a virtual reality version of the internet. It is a massive online world where the entire planet can be connected at once, play games, learn, explore, go on adventures, and basically do anything and everything in the form of an avatar they create to look however they want. Our story begins when the creator of this OASIS world, James Halliday, passes on and leaves behind a challenge: find the Easter Egg that he’s hidden in the OASIS, which requires passing three hidden challenges, and you’ll inherit the OASIS itself, as well as his fortune. The film follows teenage boy Wade Watts, as well as some friends he meets along the way, as he fights to be the first to complete Halliday’s challenge.
The first thing I will say is that I did read the book by Ernest Cline before seeing the film, and while that may have prepared me for some of the film’s more iconic scenes, I do not believe that it detracted from my enjoyment, nor would reading the book have been a necessity in order to properly enjoy the film. In fact, I saw the movie with my husband and daughter, neither of whom had read the book, and they both enjoyed it just as much as I did.
Secondly, having read the book, I will bring up the fact that a lot of liberties were taken in the making of the film, specifically with the manner of the three challenges, which were changed dramatically. Now, many avid book readers scoff at this kind of thing, often considering the book to be “perfection” and thus changing it constitutes a terrible sin, but I’m going to break tradition here and say that these changes were actually for the better. Without going into too much detail, the fact of the matter is that while Halliday’s challenges sound wonderful and mysterious within the context of the book, on screen they would, frankly, be pretty boring. By drastically changing the first challenge in the film, for instance, we were able to be introduced to all the important characters, including the antagonists, as well as the intricately beautiful world of the OASIS in one fell swoop, whereas the book’s version of the challenge has only two characters discovering it secretly and completing it without anyone else in the OASIS knowing what is happening. I loved the book challenge, don’t get me wrong, but for a visual medium, the changes that were made for the film make much more sense and are able to get the important information to us much quicker while also giving our eyes a feast of nostalgia.
And therein lies my third point: the nostalgia is strong in this film. The secondary plot point of the story, as the book-readers will know, is that James Halliday was obsessed with the 80’s, and pop culture in general, and as a result the entire world becomes obsessed with those obsessions as they struggle to unlock the keys to his Easter Egg hunt. That means that the movie is filled with so much nostalgia that it is impossible to see it all upon first viewing. From players’ avatars to background scenes, games that are being played, items that are being won, and everything in between, there are nods to pop culture from the 80’s and 90’s absolutely everywhere, with a large portion from the 2000’s as well, just to keep things modern. My family and I had a blast pointing out characters from some of our favorite shows and games, chuckling at special items the characters used that came from movies or shows from our childhoods, and gaping at CG versions of pop culture icons that we never would have expected to show up in this film. There were nods to anything and everything, with something for everyone to recognize, and if you, in particular, grew up in the 80’s and/or 90’s, you’re going to be grinning like a lunatic while trying to catch everything.
In keeping with the fact that there is both retro nostalgia and current-day pop culture within the film, I thought I’d also mention that, yes, this is a movie for the whole family. There is a bit of mild swearing, slight romantic suggestiveness, and violence of the virtual kind, none of which would phase the majority of younger children. The final decision lies with the parents, of course, but I will tell you quite honestly that there was nothing in the length of the film that I was concerned about my 7-year-old seeing or hearing.
Back to the quality of the film, I felt, overwhelmingly, that the acting was well-done on all fronts. Tye Sheriden was virtually exactly what I’d pictured for Wade Watts while reading the book, and though a few of the characters were a wee bit stereotypical in nature, the “High Five” group all did a great job of bringing their respective characters to the big screen in a way that made you fall in love with them. Ben Mendelsohn as the lead antagonist and bigwig in the evil IOI company, Sorrento, was great in that he was a wonderfully weaselly S.O.B. whom you just wanted to see smashed down. I-R0k – a character who lost some of his backstory in the film but was still fairly front-and-center as an antagonist – was played very humorously by T.J. Miller in a way that made you really imagine him as a pathetically over-confident little creep of a kid playing the game in his parents’ basement. Simon Pegg, though his role was not a particularly large one, was a great addition as Halliday’s previous business partner and friend, Ogden Morrow. The one cast member who took me a bit off guard was Mark Rylance as the all-important Halliday, simply because his performance was very unlike how I’d pictured Halliday while reading the book. That said, I have to concede that his take on the character was much more interesting than the one in my imagination, performed as a wonderfully awkward nerd who was sweet enough, yet seemed to struggle horribly every time he had to speak to a real flesh-and-blood person. It brought a depth to the character that ultimately ended up being quite important to the Egg hunt itself.
Finally, though I mentioned it somewhat while speaking about the nostalgic qualities of the movie, I have to mention again that the visuals throughout were absolutely stunning, and I’m not speaking about just within the OASIS. In the “real world” scenes we were shown important locations from the book, such as the “Stacks” – literal stacks of trailer homes built dozens of layers high in order to cram as many occupants into as little space as possible – the junkyard where Wade has his hideaway, and the IOI “loyalty center” where Sorrento and his team keep base, and all of them were actualized beautifully. In particular, the Stacks looked like they were pulled right out of Ernest Cline’s brain, and the scene did an amazing job of pulling you into the rough reality of the world Watts – and most of the planet – were so keen to escape. Of course, in addition to the “real world”, the OASIS is absolutely stunning in every sense of the word, showcasing a huge variety of different worlds crawling with every form of pop culture you can imagine, all in a “it looks kinda real, but also very video game-ish” style that perfectly suits the reality they’re trying to capture. It was all very lovingly done in order to make the OASIS and the world outside it seem equal parts real in their own rights, and it’s all so genuinely beautiful that I didn’t want to blink for fear of missing something amazing.
What it all boils down to in the end is that I have next to no complaints about the film, and honestly none worth really bothering to dive into. It was an exceptionally fun movie for my entire family, with tons of both in-your-face and more in-jokish content from the past four decades of pop culture to keep all three of us giggling like fools. The changes made from the book made absolute sense and only served to create a better visual experience for the movie-goer, and the entire experience was stunning to the eye, including an absolutely epic end battle scene that you’ll have to play frame-by-frame once it comes out for DVD and Bluray just to catch half of what’s happening. A genuinely epic tale, true to the original story while understanding what does and doesn’t work for film form, and absolutely a must-watch, in my opinion. Go see Ready Player One if you haven’t already!
Have you seen Ready Player One? Let me know what you thought of it in the comment section below!