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‘Ready Player One’ is a pop culture explosion worthy of the novel

March 30, 2018

When you’ve been reviewing films for 15+ years, there really aren’t a whole lot of “firsts” anymore. That, however, changed this week with the release of Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One.”

Tye Sheridan as Wade in Warner Bros. Pictures', Amblin Entertainment's and Village Roadshow Pictures' action adventure “Ready Player One,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk. © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS NORTH AMERICA INC. AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC - U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LIMITED AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINME)

For the first time, a book that I absolutely adore has been turned into a feature film, and over the past few months it’s allowed me to join the exclusive “they better not screw this up” club. Sure, books I’ve liked or at least didn’t hate have been adapted, but none before now that I’d say I truly love.

 

But now, just like those would-be wizards and sparkling vampires (not to mention the lining up to be spanked by a naughty billionaire crowd), I finally have something I care about making its way to a second medium.

 

And let me just say, it is pretty much everything I could have hoped for.

Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts in Warner Bros. Pictures', Amblin Entertainment's and Village Roadshow Pictures' action adventure "Ready Player One," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS NORTH AMERICA INC. AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC - U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LIMITED AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINME)

Imagine if you will, the year is 2045 and people have essentially stopped living in the real world and instead spend their days gazing into expensive pieces of equipment that allow to escape to somewhere else entirely – a virtual playground known as the OASIS.

 

Crazy, right? Who would do such a thing?

 

How we know “Ready Player One” isn’t simply a case of art imitating life is that rather than phones, OASIS users utilize everything from headsets and gloves to full-body suits to participate in their VR world. Also, in the film people are flocking to Ohio … nobody flocks to Ohio in the real world.

 

The OASIS allows people to be who they want, do what they want, dress, act, talk, walk, dance, look how they want; and they can do it all anonymously from the anonymity of their own homes.

Tye Sheridan as Wade and Lena Wiathe as Helen in Warner Bros. Pictures', Amblin Entertainment's and Village Roadshow Pictures' action adventure "Ready Player One," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk. © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS NORTH AMERICA INC. AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC - U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LIMITED AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINME)

 

While that illusion, is what draws people to the OASIS, what keeps them there the long-running scavenger hunt laid out by its creator, Anorak/Halliday (Mark Rylance). When the reclusive, socially-awkward half-a-trillionaire died, he left the OASIS filled with challenges meant to guide one person to one grand prize: an Easter egg that grants full control of the OASIS (and all the riches associated with it).

 

The search divides the OASIS into two groups: Gunters (individual egg hunters who play the games to gain control of the OASIS for themselves or their clans) and Sixers (hunters hired by the world's second largest company, Innovative Online Industries (IOI), to claim the OASIS in order to monetize it).

 

On the Gunter side are online allies Wade/Parzival (Tye Sheridan), Samantha/Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), and Helen/Aech (Lena Waithe), and leading IOI is the out-of-touch, and pretty darn evil, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), in a race to claim Halliday's creation.

Art3mis voiced by Olivia Cooke and Parzival voiced by Tye Sheridan in Warner Bros. Pictures,' Amblin Entertainment's and Village Roadshow Pictures' science fiction action adventure "Ready Player One," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS NORTH AMERICA INC. AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC - U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LIMITED AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINME)​ 

First off, the film is straight-up eye candy. The OASIS is a vibrant, thriving universe unto itself. No planet or area within it is the same as any other, and you see that here, although it’s not explored nearly as much as in the book. There's also plenty of action, battles, high-speed chases, etc. to keep you on the edge of your seat.

 

What you don’t see a ton of is the real world or its inhabitants. It’s certainly got some dystopian (lack of) flare to it, and the people are much more “everyday” than their avatars, but the stark contrasts between reality and fantasy play off of each other nicely.

 

Olivia Cooke as Samantha Cook and Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts in Warner Bros. Pictures,' Amblin Entertainment's and Village Roadshow Pictures' science fiction action adventure "Ready Player One," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS NORTH AMERICA INC. AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC - U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LIMITED AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINME)

What you also don’t see a ton of is the actual actors playing the characters. They’re there (through motion capture and voice-over), and you’re keenly aware of it most of the time, but often it really does feel like the avatars are separate characters. Again, it works.

 

Overall, the whole film just works. Screenwriter Zak Penn teamed up with the book’s author, Ernest Cline, to pen the script. Penn (“Last Action Hero,” “Men in Black,” “The Avengers”) has a knack for making larger than life stories accessible to everyone, something that something as grand as the OASIS desperately needed. I’m usually not a fan of authors writing the screenplays, but the OASIS also needed Cline’s insight to be successful.