The world is slowly descending into chaos and a general apathy runs through the veins of most of the population. Eventually, the people stop trying to solve problems and simply try to outlive them.
In 2011, Ernest Cline published his best-selling first novel, Ready Player One. It’s the story of Wade Watts, a teenager living in abject poverty within the dystopian landscape of the year 2045. Like many of his generation — and the wider population — Watts escapes into a virtual reality simulation called the OASIS, a vast wonderland of pop culture references, movies, music, video games, comics and more. One can be anything they can imagine within the simulation, which not only provides an escape but also acts as a school, workplace and combat environment.
The OASIS was created by James Halliday, a massive nerd and fan of 1980s pop culture, who embedded much of it into the OASIS itself. The book — like the film — begins with his death and the announcement of an Easter egg hidden within the simulation. There are three keys and gates leading to the egg, with only the most obsessive of Halliday fans having a fighting chance at obtaining this “holy grail.”
While the book is much more detailed and contains challenges for both obtaining the keys and clearing the gates, the movie streamlines this approach.
The first challenge is a massive race that takes place in the RoboCop version of Detroit. There’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park, wrecking balls and an angry King Kong at the end of the race. Wade drives his modified DeLorean time machine in the race, alongside the other two lead characters: Art3emis on her Akira motorcycle and Aech in his Bigfoot monster truck. This differs greatly from the book, but it works within the context of a visual medium and sets the tone for a faster pace than the book.
The action continues with a trip to an anti-gravity bar, a dance contest, a budding romance and some evil corporate shenanigans. Eventually, the top five egg hunters (or Gunters) are Wade’s avatar Parzival, Art3emis, Aech, Sho and Daito, who discover the second gate: an interactive movie.
In the book, this was known as a “flicksync.” In the film, it’s never labeled as such, but is based on a popular horror film. This part is exceptionally well done and captures the same sense of urgency as the race. The plot keeps running at a rather fast pace, with a spectacular final battle sequence worth its weight in Easter eggs.
There’s something for everybody in this film and while it isn’t as faithful to the source material as it could have been, it’s still a blast to watch. The movie managed to successfully maintain the spirit of the novel while significantly altering the original challenges, and getting away with it.
The visual effects are spectacular and the film score composed by Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future, among others), harkens back to the glory days of the blockbuster film while maintaining its own identity.
Viewers should remember that although the author of the novel co-wrote the screenplay, the film is not the book and the book is not the film. They are two separate entities that, for maximum enjoyment, should be taken as such. I like to think of the film as one of the movie adaptations Wade talks about at the beginning of the book — it didn’t quite tell the story as it happened, so that’s why he wrote down the story as it happened to him.
I enjoyed the film immensely and, as of this review, have already seen it three times. Each time, I’ve seen something new and had a blast watching it. Spielberg’s deft direction, combined with Cline’s screenwriting, is a match made in nerd heaven.
Oh, and for the record, I’ve been a huge fan of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension since I first saw it in 1989 — five years after it came out.
In the end, the Ready Player One film expands upon the core message of the book, about which Wade is very clear: reality sucks, but it’s all we’ve got.
If you enjoyed this review, check out David’s other posts, including his recent Ready Player One Book Club series.