As a self-confessed lover of games, film and TV with a passion for 80’s music, Ready Player One seems like it should be a dream come true. A whole movie based upon a future in which everyone plays a global virtual reality game and hunts for an easter egg hidden somewhere inside the game by its 80’s mad creator, all while using thousands of retro games, films, TV shows and music collections to hunt for clues, just seems to good to be true. And unfortunately it is. Though the film is visual striking and the acting and script are all up to standard, this film suffers from one, major flaw. It’s not Ready Player One.
Let me start from the beginning. Ready Player One is a the new film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the bestselling book, of the same name, by Ernest Cline. The film is set in Columbas in the year 2045, a future where the world has become a desolate and run down place thanks to a global energy crisis and overpopulation. To escape the mundane world they live in, people log into the virtual reality world of a game called the OASIS. Here they can be, see or do anything they want, without limits and without constraints. When the creator of this game, a Mr James Halliday (Mark Rylance), dies he leaves behind a video that tell everyone of a secret easter egg he has hidden within the game. A player must complete three tasks to obtain three keys that will lead to the final prize, complete control of the OASIS itself and a vast fortune to boot. Our hero, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), is a “Gunter” (egg hunter) who is searching for the keys to gain control of the OASIS before the evil, corporate bad guy Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and his army of “Sixers” can and use the control to sell the OASIS to advertising. With me so far?
I read the book last year and loved it. When I found out about the film I was overjoyed and couldn’t wait to dive into the OASIS on the big screen. I went to the cinema with high hopes, ready to watch my book come to life, but it didn’t. Why? Because the film has changed so much from the book that in end I felt like I hadn’t watched Ready Player One at all, just a cheap, very Americanised knock off. Immediately the changes were glaringly obvious. The first challenge Wade must undertake, a nausea inducing race through an ever-changing, Kong-infested New York city is nothing like the original challenge from the book and the whole set piece felt like an idea dreamed up just to fill a trailer. The second challenge too, is completely different to the original, this one taking place inside a famous Stephen King novel as opposed to the book’s challenge of Wade playing through the text adventure game Zork. Though the third challenge did seem to remain fairly true to the source material there were plenty of other changes that seemed to be both dumbing the plot down and cutting corners. Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) is barely used in the entire film, while the evil deeds of the Sixers from the book were replaced with stupidity clearly aimed to gain a few laughs. Even the ending was changed to try to up the stakes but the final result seemed botched and childish. (Watch how many times they open those van doors!)
Now the film isn’t all bad. Mark Rylance is superb as the bumbling, socially awkward Halliday, stealing the limelight in every one of his scenes, while Ben Mendelsohn gives a both devious and menacing performance as the corporate leader Sorrento. Tye Sheridan does just about enough to give Wade a personality, though at some points he becomes more of an annoyance than a hero, but I struggled to truly care or connect with his struggles. The other stars: Olivia Cooke playing Wade’s lover Artemis, T.J Miler as the evil bounty hunter I-ROK and Lena Waithe, Philip Zhao and Win Morisaki as other Gunters, all manage to give decent performances, each bringing a different feel and character that, while a little shallow, are certainly likeable and excellent comic relief. The weakest link in the chain is Hannah John-Kamen’s F’Nale Zandor, a one dimensional and rather useless villian under the command of Sorrento who seems to do nothing but scowl and get run over a few times.
The biggest draw for this film is off course the visuals. The raging battles of characters from all across the film, TV and gaming world are truly a sight to behold. Watching the Iron Giant fighting alongside the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles while Mecha Godzilla stomps around them shooting lasers from its hands is quite the visual spectacle, the animation and CGI top notch. The race for the first challenge, while not true to the book, is a rip-roaring ride of smashing cars and spinning wrecking balls. However, it can all get a little jading, the constant bright lights and blurred action sequences can leave your head spinning.
Ready Player One is a good film. If you have seen the trailer and thought that looks like fun then you probably won’t be disappointed. However, be warned. If you are a fan of the book, expecting to see it translated onto the big screen, then you may be as bitterly disappointed as I was.