The nostalgia-fueled novel is adapted for the big screen and brought to life with big budget special effects and dozens of pop culture references.
This review discusses plot points for both the novel Ready Player One and the film adaptation.
Ready Player One finally brings the nostalgia of Ernest Cline’s nostalgia driven novel to the screen. Although not a strict adaptation, Steven Spielberg captures the spirit of the acclaimed novel set in a future where humanity escapes the harsh realities of global warming by venturing into the OASIS. Simply put, the OASIS is a virtual universe in which anything is possible. Users create their avatars to reflect any appearance they so desire. Entire worlds emerge in the OASIS that resemble everything from every classic video game to the blockbuster movies of yesteryear. The OASIS is everything to everyone. The only limits on what the OASIS can be are defined by the imagination of its users.
Summary of Ready Player One
The stakes of Ready Player One are control of the OASIS itself. Its creator and owner, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) has died. With Halliday’s death, there is a void in ownership of the OASIS. To resolve this issue, Halliday hid an Easter Egg within the OASIS. Whoever finds and completes three tasks will inherit Halliday’s fortune and control of the entire OASIS. Enter Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a kid from the Stacks outside of Columbus, Ohio, who uses an avatar named Parzival in the OASIS. Humanity has retreated from the warmest and harshest climates of the world and immense cities constructed of trailers stacked upon one another emerged as the fastest growing population centers. Wade, along with his friends and allies Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Morisaki), and Sho (Philip Zao) are the first to get on the leader board and comprise the High Five that leads the fight against Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and his international company IOI. At the behest of IOI’s Board of Director, Sorrento will stop at nothing to gain control of the OASIS and he throws the corporations immense assets towards winning the hunt for Halliday’s Easter Egg.
Nostalgia and Adaptation
As mentioned previously, Ready Player One is not a strict adaptation of the novel by the same name. However, the novel’s author, Ernest Cline, was the film’s co-writer with Zek Penn. Despite differences in some of the characters and plot, the movie successfully captures the spirit of the film. The novel frequently engaged in lengthy, albeit engaging, descriptions that dove into the minutiae of 80s popular culture. For instance, the first challenge of the novel includes a dungeon from an infamous gaming module from Dungeons and Dragons that ends with Wade challenging an undead king to a game of the classic arcade game Joust. The dungeon is complete with insidious traps, and only those with detailed knowledge of the traps stand any hope of surviving. In addition, the Joust challenge is lengthy. While it makes for an interesting and engaging read, especially for adults that played Dungeons and Dragons in their teens, the translation of the dungeon and watching two characters play a video game for 15 minutes, let alone hours, likely doesn’t translate well to the screen. Therefore, Kline and Penn did the next best thing. They wrote an engaging first challenge that still called upon the nostalgia that made the novel a huge success by creating a race in which the contestants rode classic vehicles, such as the Delorean from Back to the Future. Thus, the nostalgia was captured in a format more palatable for the big screen.
The Themes of Ready Player One
The film successfully explores several themes appropriate to today’s online culture. During the films’ final act, Wade and the High Five called upon the denizens of OASIS to rally to their cause against Sorrento and IOI. Meanwhile, in the real world, the High Five are in a van racing away from IOI in downtown Columbus. As some members of the High Five look out the windows, they see countless people wearing their virtual reality goggles that are so engaged in the online fight that they are oblivious to the conflict in the real world. The metaphor and symbolism are obvious in today’s technology and social media obsessed culture.
In addition, the film makes explicit comments about identity. In particular, both Aech and Art3mis remark that individuals in the OASIS often, and in fact most likely, are different than their counterparts in the real world. Indeed, Aech appears as a giant, make, ogre like cyborg within the OASIS. However, when Wade runs into her, literally, in the real world, Aech is a black woman in her mid-thirties. This was a major reveal and plot point in the novel, but it gets much less emphasis in the film. Although Aech was specifically warning Wade about Art3mis at the time, she cautions that one can’t trust anyone’s true self to match their avatar in the OASIS.
Other examples are even more subtle. Wade adopts an avatar in the OASIS that is slimmer and more fashionable. Art3mis elects an avatar that has a less pronounced birth mark. Sho selected an avatar that made him appear older if for no other reason than to discourage others from picking on him. Even Sorrento, who cares little for the OASIS itself, selected an avatar that projects himself as a huge, aggressive, and strong, mafia-style brute. The avatars for each of these individuals either reflect wish fulfillment, disguise, or in some cases both.
Finally, Ready Player One also comments on living in the moment and taking chances plus not pushing away those closest to you. Halliday regretted not going for it and taking a chance with the woman of his dreams. He also regretted pushing his friend and the co-founder of the OASIS, Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) away and out of the company. His regret was so that he integrated the lessons into his challenges as part of the hunt for his Easter Egg. Not only did Wade, Art3mis, and their friends must master pop culture, they had to learn from Halliday’s mistakes. By the end of the movie, after they have taken control of the OASIS, they close it down twice a week to force their users to stop and smell the proverbial roses.
Concluding Thoughts on Ready Player One
Ready Player One is a return to the movie spectacle and grand story telling that made Steven Spielberg famous. Although the film shies away from the in depth look at the pop culture discussion that made the novel so enjoyable, the film contains a plethora of visual references from video games, comics, television, movies, music, and more to hit the requisite beats on the nostalgia meter. In fact, the references are so plentiful that numerous viewings will be required to catch them all. Unfortunately, the film couldn’t acquire all the permissions and licenses necessarily to make it a completely immersive 80s or 90s experience, but pop culture fans should find plenty to be pleased with.
As for criticisms, Ready Player One moves at such a frenetic pace that some of the story developments border on feeling slightly unearned. In addition, the overwhelming application of pop culture figures inevitably leads to the question as to whether they are used correctly. The appearance of the Iron Giant comes to mind as the giant robot features in a climactic battle in a fashion some have questioned.
Overall, Ready Player One is an enjoyable romp through pop culture. Older viewers will delight in the call backs to the culture of their youth. Younger viewers are still treated to a visual spectacle that has plenty of potential to inspire. Ready Player One is unlikely to win any awards as the best picture of the year, but the film is likely to garner a cult following similar to that which attached to the novel.
Dennis Keithly is a graduate of the University of Missouri, North Texas attorney, husband, father of two, and co-host of Starships, Sabers, and Scoundrels. In addition to Star Wars, Dennis is a fan of science fiction, fantasy, and super heroes in general. When not engaged in fictional universes, Dennis is reading a good book or watching the NHL, football, or studying the NFL draft.