Thursday, April 26, 2018
READY PLAYER ONE
Steven Spielberg has spent most of the 21st Century making respectable historical dramas, but with READY PLAYER ONE he returns to his popcorn movie roots. The film is based on the best-selling novel by Ernest Cline (who is credited as co-screenwriter on the production).
My brother Robert lent me his copy of the READY PLAYER ONE novel, and I finished it last week before I saw the film version today. I thought the book was fascinating--like all great science-fiction, it isn't really about the future, it's about what is going on in society today. The story is set in 2045, where the world has basically fallen apart, and ordinary citizens spend most of their time hooked into a virtual reality world known as the OASIS--a program that can best be described as the internet on steroids. The OASIS was created by the late reclusive genius James Halliday, and the man's last will & testament set up a giant video game inside the program. Whoever can decipher Halliday's clues and win the "game" will gain control of the OASIS and its creator's billions.
What intrigued me the most about Cline's tale was how it mirrored today's world. Nearly everyone now would rather go on social media and spend time wallowing in retro pop-culture nostalgia--why do you think I'm writing this blog?? The character of James Halliday was obsessed with 1980s culture, and those who wish to partake in the quest for OASIS have to geek out on the geek, so to speak.
In all honesty, reading a novel and then almost immediately seeing the film adaptation of it is probably not the best thing to do--while watching the READY PLAYER ONE movie I kept getting distracted by the differences between book & film. But for the most part the main story is about 85% there--I wouldn't call the movie version a major overhaul of the novel.
The major difference between the book and the film is how the three "keys" are accumulated. (The "keys" are like trophies in a video game, and gathering them allows a player to get closer to winning the overall prize.) Getting the "keys" in the movie involves 1980s pop cultures references, like in the book--but the cinematic version key sequences seem to be shaped for a more mainstream audience. There's still plenty of throwback cameos here from all sorts of movies, music, and TV shows--this movie will be perfect for home video, since a person will need rewind and freeze-frame capabilities to catch them all. It goes without saying that the entire film is somewhat of an Easter egg. (One of the major geek references that is carried over from the book is a certain robotic kaiju.)
Tye Sheridan is Wade, who, while in the OASIS, poses as an avatar named Parzival. Wade is an ordinary young guy, an orphan, living an unrewarding life, who is destined for grander things (you can't help but think of Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, and dozens of other classic heroic characters when observing Wade). Wade's life changes abruptly when he becomes the first person to obtain the first key in Halliday's game, and he joins with his "friends", people he knows as only fellow avatars, to stop the omnipotent IOI corporation from winning the game and taking control of OASIS. The main villain representing IOI is one Nolan Sorrento, who is described in the film as a "dickweed". If there's any actor working today who is absolutely the perfect person to play a dickweed, it's Ben Mendelsohn. (I hope folks reading this realize that's meant to be a compliment on Mendelsohn's talent.)
Tye Sheridan is okay, but just like in the novel his avatar is far more interesting than his human side. More impressive are Olivia Cooke and Lena Waithe as the human versions of Wade's closest companions. Mark Rylance, who is Spielberg's latest actor crush, plays James Halliday as something of a Wizard of Oz--Willy Wonka type figure. (From my perspective, both THE WIZARD OF OZ and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY have major influences on the plot of READY PLAYER ONE.)
Obviously this film has a ton of CGI in it--but at least this time there is a legitimate reason for it. The entire story is right up Spielberg's alley--especially the idea of a group of likable youngsters involved in a dangerous quest. The movie does carry over one of the main themes of the novel--that no matter how cool the virtual world may be, it can't replace real life. (Truth be told, though, I wouldn't mind spending most of my time in the OASIS.)
I wouldn't put READY PLAYER ONE on the same level as, say, JURASSIC PARK when it comes to Steven Spielberg's catalog, but it is a fun, entertaining film. You don't have to read the novel to enjoy it--but I believe that those who are fans of the novel will appreciate this adaptation.