I had a lot of fun when I read the book of Ready Player One (written by Ernest Cline, who also worked on the screenplay to this movie with Zak Penn) but I didn't rate it as a GOOD piece of writing. If asked to describe it by anyone, or if I decided that I should discuss it with other people, I mentioned the style of American Psycho, but instead of lots of brand names and designer labels it was overstuffed with pop culture references, mostly from the 1980s.
When I started to hear about Steven Spielberg directing the movie version of the movie, I had an optimistic view of what we might get. Spielberg knows that world. He gave us a hell of a lot of it. And he has proven, on more than one occasion, that he can take a flawed novel and pare away the worst parts to give us a real cinematic treat.
I bought my ticket, I bought my treats, and I eagerly waited to be transported to a world full of recognisable characters, moments, and cinephile-friendly easter eggs.
Basically, I got what I wanted. Sometimes.
Sadly, the film isn't the improvement on the book that I hoped it would be. It works in some ways (the casting of the main "baddie" being a big plus point, for example) and then falls down in other ways.
The basic plot, for those still unaware, is as follows. Most people spend their days living in a virtual world called the OASIS. You can do anything you want, and also build up kudos and credit that could help you in the real world. The creator of the OASIS left a number of easter eggs in the world, revealing in a video that automatically played to everyone after his death that the person to find three hidden keys would become the owner of the OASIS, which would make them the most envied individual on the planet. Tye Sheridan is Wade, who spends his time in the OASIS as Parzival, and he thinks he has what it takes to win. He also doesn't mind helping a girl that he is quite taken with, Art3mis (AKA Samantha in the real world, played by Olivia Cooke), and his best friend, Aech. But as they start to make progress on their quest, corporate bad guy Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) becomes more determined to put a stop to them, either in the OASIS or by dealing with them outside the relative safety of virtual reality.
Almost every aspect of Ready Player One has both good and bad aspects to it. Sheridan is a disappointingly bland lead, but that's okay when you get more of his scenes featuring Cooke. Mendehlson and T. J. Miller are both very good, but I can't say the same for Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg, which is very unusual for the former. And Lena Waithe, Philip Zhao, and Win Morasaki do fine, but aren't half as memorable as the hordes of CGI cameos worth keeping your eyes peeled for (which I understand is almost the driving force for the whole thing anyway).
The script does well at explaining ideas and plot points, it doesn't do so well at giving the characters any decent dialogue in between explaining ideas and plot points.
The visuals are impressive, as you'd expect, but most scenes are far too busy, either with the ongoing action or the multitude of easter eggs. What I expected to be fun onscreen actually ends up quickly becoming quite tiresome and irritating. I may change my mind when able to view the film at home and rewind certain moments, and it at least improves things structurally compared to the sloppiness of the source material, but this is very much a dual-layered experience. As an actual piece of cinema it's a hot mess, yet as a hot mess it's kind of easy to pick and choose various moments to enjoy.
Even the soundtrack falters. The score by Alan Silvestri isn't very memorable and the pop hits used throughout are just background noise when they could have been lined up with better moments to create some movie magic. Hell, the film starts with Van Halen's "Jump" blasting and then just fades it out as you get the initial info dump. High energy potential is just left to sizzle and dry up.
This should have been a home run for Spielberg. He's been back on excellent form over the past few years, he's comfortable working with all of the new industray toys, and movie nerdiness is in his blood. The fact that it isn't proves how hard it must have been to translate the story to screen. So perhaps we should just be glad that this project fell to him, rather than someone who could have made it so much worse.
The Blu-ray will be available here.
Americans can pick it up here.