READY PLAYER ONE (2018)
When you’ve read a book five times, purchased copies of it to give away, and sung its praises from the rooftops for almost 7 years, there are two major feelings you get when a movie adaptation is announced. First, you get incredibly excited (especially when it’s going to be directed by Steven freaking Spielberg), and second, you get incredibly nervous. Author Ernest Cline’s involvement in writing the script offers hope that any changes will be consistent in tone with the original work, but any time a piece of art/entertainment is so close to your heart it results in a battle to keep expectations in check.
2 Hours and 20 Minutes Later.
Remember back to the time you saw an epic blockbuster film for the first time. Maybe it was Star Wars. Maybe it was Jurassic Park. Maybe it was The Avengers. Whatever the film was, it left you in awe of what movies could be. It transported you to some new world that you wanted to inhabit. It was an experience unlike any you’d had. Most likely, you would have gladly sat right in that same seat and started watching it again the moment it ended.
For the generations of people who grew up as gamers, movie, music, and TV lovers, and general pop culture addicts… Ready Player One is next in line. This is that film for you.
It was probably foolish to distrust Steven Spielberg in the first place, but we all make mistakes. Instead of disappointment, he delivered something wholly unique and special. The screenplay by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline is incredible. At the risk of using hyperbole, this might be the second best adaptation of a book that I’ve ever seen, and it’s not because the story is portrayed exactly as it is on the page. In fact, it’s the opposite. The film still follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan)/Parzival as he searches for James Halliday’s Easter egg inside of the OASIS. Parzival’s best friend Aech (Lena Waithe) and rival/love interest Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) are also looking for the egg, and the three try desperately to stay ahead of the evil Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and IOI Corporation, who wants control of the OASIS and seeks to monetize it through advertisements and subscription plans. So, the general flow of the book’s narrative remains the same, yet getting from point A to point B happens in much different ways. The brilliance of it all is that the story has been modernized. It is updated with current gen gaming and pop culture references galore, while retaining many of the 80’s story beats and nostalgia that made it so beloved in the first place. There are even references to older films such It’s A Wonderful Life and Citizen Kane. The updated way in which this script remembers classics is truly something special and it results in two different versions of the same story – which fans of all ages can now love.
Visually, Ready Player One is a staggering achievement. Transitioning from the CGI world to the one on film is nearly flawless, and the visual effects of the OASIS itself and what takes place inside of it is mind blowingly good. This is a film that truly does demand an IMAX viewing (or five). It is wonderful to look at but it is also accompanied by an incredible score from Alan Silvestri. Utilizing many classic films scores (plenty of which are his own), he creates themes that are at once both familiar and fresh. The nostalgic rush that comes from seeing a DeLorean on screen and a subtle alteration of the Back to the Future theme playing in the background creates such a feeling of joy. This experience is even better when shared with friends, who you’ll no doubt be poking constantly as you draw each other’s attention to some awesome reference made in the film.
And this communal nature of enjoying nostalgia together is also something that the script takes very seriously. In some ways, this film’s message is better than the book. Despite it taking place almost entirely in a virtual world, Ready Player One ultimately urges us to remember reality and take a break every now and again. It also puts a premium focus on teamwork, friendship, and avoiding regret.
Ready Player One is a special film. Spielberg and Cline have crafted a new version of a beloved story that stands on its own, and is equally (if not more) impressive than its source material. It is the kind of blockbuster that doesn’t come along very often and that fans will embrace with adoration – endlessly watching, quoting, and discussing. If you aren’t a gamer or don’t love pop culture references, then you’re not the droid this film is looking for and you should probably just move along. Otherwise, you’re in for a treat. Enjoy your visit to the OASIS. I hope to see you there.
Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.