For our review of Ernest Cline’s book (and an outline of the story), and our comments on Steven Spielberg’s infantalising influence, please click here.
Spielberg started this movie, then left it while he popped out to make Transformers: The Last Knight, The Post and possibly a few others. And it shows. Spielberg’s story-telling is almost always childish, repetitive, and thin*. It’s even poorer than usual here, as is the over-used, tediously monumental CGI (perhaps Ready Player One is meant to be seen on a 3D or iMax screen? It looked wobbly round the edges and blurry at our viewing).
The film (co-scripted by Ernest Cline, disappointingly) departs from the book to its detriment. Do see our review for more detail of the plot of the book but, in brief, in a dystopian future, many millions (Americans only in the film) escape the poverty of their lives by engaging in the OASIS, a suit-yourself, virtual reality universe developed by James Halligan (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg). Morrow retires from the project and when Halliday dies, he ‘bequeaths’ the whole shebang to the first ‘grunter’ (egghunter) to find a cyber Easter egg which is hidden somewhere within the vast OASIS. Grunters immerse themselves in scouring the pop culture of Hallligan’s favourite era – the1980’s – for clues. A grunter, Wade Watt (whose OASIS avatar is known as Parzifal) finds the first of three keys. Then the evil mega-corporation IOI is out to get him, in order to enable it to take over the OASIS.
The 1980’s literary and more obscure cultural references of the book are dumbed-down in the film to giant T-Rexes, Transformers (natch) and a reset of The Shining. Technically impressive – but why? The first 1980’s video-game challenge becomes a 2010’s car and motorbike race (just so that we can see a giant King Kong from above and below -again, who cares?).
In the novel Wade Watts/Parzifal (Tye Sheridan) fights it out in the cyberworld of OASIS with his avatar cohort, whom he does not meet in the real world until late in the story. However in the film, Wade meets the people behind the avatars in a suitably cheery real-life scene early in the movie which, from that point, deteriorates into a mixed-race-gender buddy-fight movie.
The visit to Halligan’s childhood home is stripped of purpose and instead provides a vehicle for poor Mark Rylance to play out the film’s most sugary moments – no, wait, the most diabetes-inducing ones are preserved for Simon Pegg right at the end.
The clues are solved by Parzifal and Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) in ridiculous finger-snapping moments of revelation, with the assistance of a virtual reality museum of moments in Halligan’s life – (which replaces The Anorak Almanac of the book) – an unwieldy idea which is not handled well.
Careless simplification of the plot leave viewers who have not read the book wondering why Wade sleeps on a washing machine and where he gets his money from.
The supposed ‘un-attractiveness’ of the female characters is ridiculous – in reality a young man could look at these girls without wincing if they would just have a bit of self-respect and put on some makeup and a nice dress. Ironic, really, given that Tye Sheridan plays Wade as a really unprepossessing, pudgy-faced, open-mouthed dolt. The unfortunately Disney-like, huge-eyed sprites and Bluto meanies of the avatars seem to belong in a different movie.
Ready Player One was partly made in Australia and that shows too. Wade Watt’s avatar
Neo, sorry, Parzifal, takes the pill, puts on the VR goggles and has to defeat the evil Mr Anderson Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and his corporation. It all ends in a mega, over-the-top, battle for Mordor the fortress. A round object is dropped into, and consumed by flames, whereupon everything blows up. Game over.