Rob Reviews "Ready Player One"
I now know how the hard core fans of “Game of Thrones” feel.
I am a fan of the hit HBO series, but I never got into the series of books that it is based on. Speaking with those that have, it apparently starts out straight in line with George R.R. Martin’s epic saga, but at a certain point it drops off. Even worse, the show has surpassed where the books have stopped leaving many to wonder if the next book Martin releases will course correct at all.
When I heard that there would be a feature film made based on Ernest Cline’s popular novel “Ready Player One,” I had heard so much about it that I went and bought a copy to see what all of the hype was about. As a guy that has always immersed himself in pop culture and trivia, it was a virtual (no pun intended) smorgasbord of awesome. It is the tale of Wade/Parzival (Tye Sheridan), who lives in Oklahoma City in “the stacks,” which are columns of mobile homes due to overcrowding in most American cities. His entire world is lived in The Oasis: a virtual world where he goes to school, spends his spare time, and even interacts with other people. When the man who invented The Oasis, Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away with no heirs, he reveals through a posthumous video that he has hidden an “Easter egg” somewhere in the vast virtual universe that can only be obtained by finding three keys that will unlock the gate where it is. The first person that finds it will not only control The Oasis but also inherit a half trillion dollars in the process. Wade embarks on that journey along with his best friend, Aech (Lena Waith) to try to beat the evil IOI Corporation and its leader, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) to keep it free forever. All the while, he is smitten with another avatar representing a blogger that rivals his own skills in Art3mis (Olivia Cooke).
In reading the book, I knew that there would be no way that even the greatness of Steven Spielberg and Cline himself co-writing the script could translate properly to the big screen. There novel is so dense in its storytelling with so many things that Warner Bros. would need to acquire the rights to that there was no way that it could live up to my hopes for it. The odd part is that I am not the kind of person that would normally read a book knowing a movie was coming, so when I went to this screening, the only two words I could describe my mood with were “cautiously optimistic”. And that is where I am torn.
I feel like I have to review this film from two different points of view. From the standpoint of just reviewing a film, I can’t say that I find too much to criticize here. There are a TON of things to keep an astute audience member busy trying to look for all of the cool things like a “Re-Elect Goldie Wilson” poster in Aech’s “basement” hangout to clans of characters from “Battletoads” and “Halo”. There is also really good use of a two-hour-and-twenty-minute runtime, but I do wonder if that is because I knew where the story basically was and how much we had less to go. This is visually gorgeous whether dealing with the real world or in The Oasis with a solid cast that carries the script well. Mendelsohn is at his slimy best as the main antagonist, and Sheridan works well as the fly in his proverbial ointment. There are even great turns from T.J. Miller as i-R0k, Sorrento’s right-hand in The Oasis and Simon Pegg as Ogden Morrow, Halliday’s partner in forming the virtual universe. So, on that front, this is a very enjoyable film.
On the other hand, this story veers WAY TOO MUCH from the source material. Again, there was no way this would translate exactly from the novel, there was a lot they could have done to make it at least close. The fact alone that Wade lives in Columbus, Ohio cuts out a huge plot point in the book for his journey from Oklahoma to Columbus. So many huge pieces of this storyline are removed or changed that there really should be a credit that reads “LOOSELY based on the novel by Ernest Cline”. Even simple things like some of the things that the challenges entail along with Parzival’s motivations while living in a virtual world and the origins of his associations with Aech, Art3mis, and even I-R0k (which was completely changed for the film) would have been much better served showing on the big screen. Even one of the most pivotal moments that takes place at the end of the book is thrown into the middle of the film, paired with another huge section with a change of character and timeline simply made no sense to me. From the first ten minutes, I was already shaking my head at the changes made that took a lot of the “oomph” out of the film’s emotion for me. In comparison, it just continued to careen out of control story-wise.
I have said since finishing the novel that this would be better served as a Netflix or Starz series that could really flesh out the characters and the universes that they live in. Given the complexity of the story and pure fun I had reading it, I cannot say that “Ready Player One” disappointed me. I simply should have waited to read the source material until after seeing the film. Again, I enjoyed watching it, but I really simply wanted more.