The adaptation of Ernest Cline’s post-apocalyptic novel Ready Player One is a spectacular display of visual artistry oozing with enough pop culture references to leave audiences delighted.
While the film action sequences are simply electric, the narrative only glosses over some pretty broad declarations leaving director Steven Spielberg’s latest release shockingly flawed. From the moment the lights dim, Ready Player One appears ready to wrestle with the question of whether it’s healthy for society to be so fascinated with pop culture. Rather than being treated to yet another masterfully constructed experience from Spielberg, we got a remarkable spectacle which was incredibly shallow. Where was the heart of the film?
The film centers around the invention of a virtual world known as the OASIS by James Donovan Halliday (Mark Rylance) who created it as an escape from the drudgery of a polluted an overpopulated planet Earth. His creation becomes wildly popular and grows beyond Halliday’s expectations making him the wealthiest man in the world. However, with fame comes a price. Outside interests want a piece of the action causing the very reclusive creator to be extremely protective of his most celebrated work. He even ends up buying his business partner and best friend Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) out so he can have full control (which he later regrets). Halliday over the years becomes frail, and on his deathbed, he creates a scavenger hunt inside the OASIS to locate three different keys. The person who finds them all first will inherit his fortune and assumes control of his pride and joy. The allure of fame and fortune attracts crowds of people to the Halliday’s virtual world in hopes winning his scavenger hunt. Parzival (Tye Sheridan) and Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) are in the mix and appear to be the closest to being successful. However, with each successful portion of the quest completed the level of danger is magnified. Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and IOI (a company in direct competition with Halliday’s) is desperate for control of the OASIS so it can be exploited for financial gain.
Sheridan and Cooke throw themselves into their respective roles but lack the emotional gravitas which was sorely needed to pull it off. Parzival (which is his virtual name but in the real world goes by Wade Watts) has gone through a childhood marred by tragedy and heartache. Art3mis (who in the real world is known as Samantha) has to come to grips with her family being murdered by IOI in one of their loyalty centers. Each is more than justified in escaping reality (anyone would). However, neither of them genuinely project the type of emotional torment needed to make their characters seem believable. Now, their performances weren’t terrible. Cooke and Sheridan gave decent performances, but this film begged for so much more.
Zak Penn’s narrative was incredibly generic. Ready Player One had a fantastic opportunity to make a statement about the dangers of escapism. Many citizens lose themselves in the OASIS to the point where it turns their actions in the real world reckless. Wilson’s uncle drowns his sorrow in alcohol and escapes so he can forget about the poverty they live in. Halliday realized the dangers when it was too late and hopes his successor can forge a new path. Rather than using these or any other points, Penn’s story follows a familiar path which we have seen any number of YA adaptation take. Penn’s should draw from the source material but not at the expense of making a great film.
Visually this film is unmatched. The use of different colors and textures is so vast it distracts the audience at times. The action sequences in the hotel from The Shining and at a dance club are oozing with originality. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography was extremely useful when they shot in “The Stacks.” He utilized close-ups to highlight the presence of technology while pulling away to give us a full view of who was nearby. Those shots gave Ready Player One a people vs. machine vibe. The highlight for me was the attention to detail the special effects team paid to creating the film’s virtual world.
Overall, Ready Player One is a hell of a lot of fun but go in with certain expectations. If you intend just to sit back and be whisked away to a magical virtual world full such things as Chucky, The Iron Giant, and a Delorean, then Spielberg’s latest creation is for you. However, its hard not to wonder what could have been or in this case never was.