By Dorian Grayson
“Ready Player One” is a movie about a near future where humans have capitalism-ed the world into ruin. People spend as much time as possible in a virtual reality world called the OASIS. Our hero, Wade Watts a.k.a. Parzival, goes on a treasure hunt for an egg hidden inside the OASIS by its creator, James Halliday. Whoever finds this egg will receive Halliday’s fortune and control of the OASIS.
“Ready Player One,” the novel by Ernest Cline, used this structure to compose a book that inundates the reader with Wikipedia articles about the author’s obsessions from his childhood in the 1980’s. When the adaptation was announced, I was wondering how they would recreate that experience in a movie. Just as I was hoping, they didn’t try. References bling by with not a second wasted on explaining something that has no relevance. The one extended reference in the movie isn’t about anything from the book, and doesn’t need much exposition. That doesn’t mean the movie is good, though.
How you experience “Ready Player One” will be quite different depending on what you’re expecting from it. If you’re expecting a faithful recreation of the book, you’ll leave disappointed. If you’re expecting an entertaining action film with some engaging escapism, you’ll leave amused and won’t think about it ever again. If you’re expecting a good film, though, like I was, you’ll leave disappointed as well as amused. For the next week or so you’ll keep thinking about it, mulling it over, until you realize it’s a bad film.
The book was an interminable monologue from a whiny misogynist who d e v o t e d his life to media that he never critically engages with, but it had some charm from Cline’s palpable passion. The movie strips Wade of his worst qualities and beliefs and the trials become more about understanding the mistakes Halliday made in life so as not to repeat them. In the book, the treasure hunt involves wholesale memorization of entire movies and mastery of multiple arcade games, rather than a test that would actually determine if someone is worthy of being the richest person in the world (not that anyone’s ever worthy of that).
I’m about to spoil what that extended reference is, so avert your eyes if you think you want to go in completely clean.
The extended reference I keep alluding to is a reference to the classic horror movie “The Shining.” Those working on the CG for “Ready Player One” imposed the game avatars over actual frames from “The Shining,” creating an immersive, nostalgic experience in the same way the book made many feel. I believe this is because this is one of the only things in the film that Steven Spielberg, the director, cared about.
Spielberg is a prolific director and an amazing testament to the range of interesting, great work a single person can have a hand in. Because he’s such a successful figure, though, he’s also a safe bet for Hollywood administrators who want to risk as little of their immense fortunes as possible. The quality of work you turn in for a class you care about and one you don’t, though, can be immense.
“Ready Player One” benefits from having such an experienced head at the helm and doesn’t fail to be an engaging ride, but Spielberg didn’t care and it shows. There’s a reason “Rosebud,” the iconic line from “Citizen Kane,” is referenced so often in “Ready Player One,” and I think it’s because Spielberg cared about the classic movie references and not any of the video game or TV show references.
In the end, I wouldn’t recommend you see “Ready Player One” unless you’ve set your expectations aside. It isn’t immediately and offensively bad, but it’s akin to an M&M with no chocolate inside, only the candy shell. If you’re still interested, I’d recommend waiting until it inevitably ends up on Netflix.