Directed by Steven Spielberg. With Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe. When the creator of a virtual reality called the OASIS dies, he makes a posthumous challenge to all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune and control of his world.
In 2045, the planet is on the brink of chaos and collapse, but people find salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by James Halliday. When Halliday dies, he promises his immense fortune to the first person to discover a digital Easter egg that’s hidden somewhere in the OASIS.
Ready Player One (2018)
Back in the 1980s I can recall my first video game console – the Atari 2600. In those bygone days I revelled in games such as Space Invaders, Asteroids and Missile Command. It didn’t get better than that, or at least I assumed it never would. As I grew up the Atari 2600 was replaced by an Amiga 500 and I then moved onto a Playstation. My school friends went down the Nintendo and Sega routes and while they played Mario and Sonic I was lost in Monkey Island to name just one game I spent hours on. I feel privileged to have witnessed video game technology evolve to such a great extent. The Atari 2600 is fondly remembered but it is a mere atom in the video game stratosphere these days with Playstation on its fifth incarnation, online gaming long since established and visually the new titles try to push the graphical boundaries like never before. Once considered a staple of geeks (guilty as charged, in case you were wondering!), video games are big business in the present day for companies and vloggers streaming to hundreds of millions daily. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, Ready Player One, imagines a future where video games are still very relevant, in fact they are even more a part of human lives than ever before.
Set in the not too distant future of 2045 the world continues to endure the savage divide in class and wealth with the poorest living in slum-like conditions. Life is hard for millions but there is a sanctuary at their fingertips. Created by gaming innovator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) is an online virtual reality world where users can log themselves in and become avatars of their own choosing with alternative names as well. It’s the perfect means of escapism from the grim world that is reality. The story focuses on a game within the OASIS, a challenge left behind by the now deceased James Halliday to unearth an Easter Egg he has hidden somewhere within his creation. To get to the egg users must complete three separate challenges that grant keys to unlock gates. The first gate creates a path to the second and the second to the third. The prize is control of the OASIS and a huge fortune. Gunters (easter egg hunters) compete to unlock the first gate but no one has completed the challenge and a visible scoreboard within the OASIS remains empty. Enter Wade Watts, alias Parzival (Tye Sheridan), who lives with his Aunt but is an avid enthusiast of James Halliday, the OASIS and is obsessed with finding the Easter Egg. One day the name “Parzival” appears on the scoreboard. He has opened the first gate. This draws not only the attention of rival gunters but Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), CEO of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), who is desperate to gain control of the OASIS for himself and augment his business ventures. Can Parzival win the contest or will Sorrento or another rival gamer beat him to it?
I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One a few years ago now but loved the novel. The idea of a film adaptation had me worried, trying to recreate Cline’s dystopian world, being faithful to the storyline and that effusive knowledge of 1980s/1990s pop culture. Steven Spielberg is often a safe pair of hands and here he does a solid job in transferring Cline’s vision to celluloid. Some elements of the story have been changed though, glamming things up slightly, while the OASIS itself is a special effects extravaganza which I was expecting to be fair. While Watts’ world does appear gritty, it doesn’t come across as destitute as in Cline’s novel but Spielberg has been sensitive to the original text and tried to be faithful as much as possible. Ready Player One is potentially a film that will prove divisive depending on your affinity with gaming and indeed with films that are heavy on special effects. With large parts of the film set in the OASIS we have the voices of the actors a lot of the time and watch their avatars navigate the perilous online world. This may or may not be an issue for audiences. The best moments are uncovering the history of James Halliday with Mark Rylance putting in a delicate and often poignant portrayal of the tech genius who is ultimately flawed despite the magnitude of his achievements. The cast are generally fine, the effects impressive but somehow the whole package didn’t hit me as hard as the original novel. I can’t really put my finger on it. Perhaps I am being unfair in assuming one could adapt that book perfectly. The film is also a smidgen too long in the end but despite its flaws there is still a fun and action-packed adventure to be discovered here.
Verdict: Inferior to Ernest Cline’s novel, Ready Player One is a film I wanted to love but only liked instead.