Tonight is the 91st Annual Academy Awards! And all day today we’ll be bringing you a rundown of each category as well as reviews of the nominated films. Next up, we’re looking at Ready Player One which is nominated for Best Visual Effects.
(This is our original review of the film from last spring.)
The highly anticipated film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One hit theatres this weekend. Directed by Steven Spielberg with a Script by Cline and Zak Penn, the film stars Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts. A teenager living in a dystopian future, where the majority of humanity has decided to spend most of their life in a VR platform called the Oasis.
Five years after the death of the Oasis’ creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), Oasis users are in search for an Easter Egg in the program. The Easter Egg, detailed in Halliday’s will, gives its finder all of Halliday’s controlling stake in the company he formed to create the Oasis. It also grants the player with full control over the entire Oasis program. Wade teams up with 4 other gunters, hunters of the Easter Egg, to complete the three challenges that will lead to the Egg. The “high five,” as they’re called, work to find the Egg before the evil IOI, led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), can find the Egg and turn the Oasis into a corporate machine.
The film is Spielberg at his finest. A sci-fi/action film, with great performances, amazing effects, and a lead character with a difficult home life. The action scenes remind us that there’s a reason Spielberg became synonymous with blockbuster films. The way he directs these scenes keeps you on the edge of your seat and wanting more. The pacing is perfect, with an even amount of action scenes as well dialogue driven moments that keep you interested. Spielberg also works hard to make sure that the Easter Eggs and references within the film are balanced. That for the most part, nothing ever takes you out of the film. That everything is introduced naturally.
The film is great but it does have its faults. There’s much more focus on the plot than the characters. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. Especially for a film that has a slightly complex premise. Each scene has to introduce a new element of the world these characters live in, without losing the pace. And it does so perfectly. But by focusing on the plot and the world surrounding the characters, there’s something lost in the experience.
Throughout the film, it’s said that Wade is the best player in the search for the Easter Egg. Characters say that he has to be the one to win, that he deserves it. But the film never seems to give good reason for Wade to be The One. If anything it gives more reason for the other members of the “High Five” to win. A girl who lost her father to the evil IOI. A young woman who plays amazingly well and can create and fix anything in the Oasis. An 11 year old that’s just as good as the rest of the “High Five.” And a young man who is, seemingly, driven by his faith and his past. Compared to the rest of the group, Wade just feels like some random white dude who knows things.
While we get some backstory to Wade, and understand that he’s living in an abusive household, those elements feel wedged in. They just feel like bits of information to push the audience towards feeling a certain way about the character. Almost in an unnatural way. That being said, he’s still a good character. And you want to see him win in the end. But it isn’t as heartfelt or compelling as it could be. Which is disappointing considering the film does a good job of giving more emotional connection to the rest of the cast.
When it comes to adapting the book, the film takes a lot of liberties. The film is less a direct adaptation of the book and is much more “inspired by” the book. The three challenges and the events that happen during them are SIGNIFICANTLY different. But they do take cues from the book. Expanding on elements of the world that are mentioned but not explored as heavily. There’s also a lot more that happens in the real world. And the characters meet each other in the real world much earlier in the film than they do in the book. These changes don’t harm the film, if anything they actually work better for the screen. To adapt the book directly would probably have been better suited for a TV series than a feature length film.
As for the Easter Eggs and references within the film, there’s plenty of things to keep you going back again and again. There’s only one element of these references that ever took me out of the film, the references to Batman. Every few scenes there’s a direct reference to the character, or an Oasis user dressed as a Batman character, or a Bat Symbol popping up somewhere. Given that Batman is owned by Warner Brothers, who released the film, it’s not surprising. But it would have been easy to use other characters or references owned by WB where these ones came in.
Aside from the Batman references, everything else truly feels natural and right. There was a lot of worry when the film was announced that the it would be a parade of references and nostalgia fuel, and it would hinder the film. That’s definitely not the case. The references and Easter Eggs only help explore the world. Showing a world built on nostalgia, with appreciation of these pop culture elements we all love. And the film also makes sure to show these references in the exact way that this world would use them. Early in the film we see a black Doc Brown from Back to the Future. He’s just passing by, with no influence to the film overall. And that’s the way it should be. The film is like going to a Comic Con. Where you’re there for the event. But you’re going to see awesome versions of things you love sprinkled throughout. Things that make you go, oh that’s awesome. Without taking you out of the event, or the film completely.
Overall we give Ready Player One an 8/10. It’s a good film, a fun film, but it’s got its flaws.