Ready Player One

Ready Player One is one of those movies that almost defies criticism. That isn’t to say that it cannot be criticized, just that it is the type of film that will likely either be loved or hated and no argument is really going to sway a person one way or another. It could easily fall into the category of beloved family film over the next few years, and launch a franchise that stays with us forever. Or, it could dwindle into obscurity, forgotten as quickly as other films of its type.

That’s a lot of ifs, a lot of things that the film could be. What is it actually? Well, it is a family friendly, action adventure, grand spectacle, special effects focused film directed by one of the best filmmakers of our time. Steven Spielberg’s fingerprints are all over this film, from the tiny details to the texture of its atmosphere, tone and the style of storytelling and the way our characters act and interact. It is also an adaptation of one of the best selling books of 2011, and falls into a genre of books I’ve never heard of before: litRPG. Which consists of a story that uses a video game construct as a secondary world where the characters interact through avatars that are different from their real world personas. They are also aware of that secondary world in a way that makes them 'meta-aware' of both its story and structure.

The primary conceit of the movie is that in the semi-near future (2045), the world is massively over populated, and a lot of civilization has fallen on hard times. A virtual world (The Oasis) was established a decade earlier which allows people to go into practically any world imaginable, so they can play out endless fantasies. But it is more than just a game, since it is possible to buy real world items in the game using virtual currency. The only catch is if their avatar is killed, they lose whatever progress (and currency) they’ve earned and have to start over again. Since the Oasis is such a pervasive part of the world, in-game death could mean financial ruin in the real world.

I’m not sure about the book (since I’ve never read it), but the plot of the movie is fairly simple. It is a classic adventure story, with a young man on a quest surrounded by allies, and searching for a mystical item that will give him power and riches beyond imagination. Yet he is never focused on finding that item for himself, because like a true hero he is focused on what he can do for those around him.

The villains are cut from the same classic cloth that our heroes are, but there is something a little amiss about the resolution of the story that breaks the tension of everything that happened before. It’s not movie breaking per se, but it is such a big point of confusion for me that I wondered if the filmmakers even thought about it. Without going into specifics, our villains do some very illegal things, and they seem to be above the law. Yet in the resolution, some of them are arrested by the police, which up until that point haven’t shown any presence in the film.

The acting was decent across the board, with no one giving a bad performance but no one really standing out as the next big star. Tye Sheridan is the lead as Wade Wells/Parzival, our male protagonist and the character most of the story revolves around. Olivia Cooke is Samantha Cook/Art3mis, our female lead, who is already famous when she meets Parzival in the Oasis and they start their adventures together. Then there is Ben Mendelsohn who plays Nolan Sorrento, the CEO of the villainous organization IOI (Innovative Online Industries) who wants to win the contest the story is hung on so he can take over the Oasis and milk it for every penny it’s worth.

Everything I’ve talked about up until this point are the core details of the movie, which are fine and make for a decent enough film. But really, the main strength here is the special effects. The Oasis is fantastic. Spielberg created a realistic enough looking world that is also clearly artificial, which was clearly done on purpose to allow him to pepper the world with thousands of easter eggs, little nostalgic gems that made me smile every time I recognised one. Even during the many actions scenes, I was always finding more and more little nods to a movie, comic, game, or TV show that was important to at least one person in the audience.

That’s kind of where I’m having trouble with my own feelings about the film. While gorgeous and filled with nostalgia, it was mostly fairly basic with archetypal characters and a simplistic plot. Of course I could say the same thing about Star Wars, so maybe the details are what matter.

 If that’s the case, this might just be a new classic that people will be watching for decades. At the very least it was a fabulous attempt, and one I will probably watch at least one more time (in order to find all the easter eggs).

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

3 comments:

Mallena said...

Really, really love the book. Have read at least 4 times and will read again, once I find the time.

Haven't seen the movie, yet, but a friend told me that a lot of great things were left out of the film, that she enjoyed in the book. That worries me a bit. I'll come back and let you know after I see it. Read the book, JD!!! It's amazing. Now if I could only get a series adaptation of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan's Saga.

Lamounier said...

this might just be a new classic that people will be watching for decades.

I hope it is. My first comment to my friends after watching the movie was: "this is totally going to become a sci-fi classic, right? Are we in agreement?" We weren't.

I agree that the characters were mostly archetypes, but as a whole the movie presented such a gorgeous, fascinating world. I loved it. My only complaint is that, after we meet her in person, Samantha becomes less badass, more romantic interest.

Logan Cox said...

I'm fairly easy to please, so I allowed myself to sit back and just have fun with this movie. That said, it really is a mixed bag. My bright-eyed inner child pretty much loved it; if I were eleven, it'd probably be one of my favorite movies. However, any time my cynical adult mind started thinking about it on a deeper level, I found there was a lot that didn't work for me. The special effects and motion capture are what really wowed me about it.

In lesser hands, this might have been really dumb. But Spielberg is such a master that he is able to make something this ridiculously generic into a very genuine and enjoyable product. It's a decent family movie overall, but I'm not so sure that it will go down as some kind of modern classic.