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Review: ‘Ready Player One’ is the film version you didn’t know you’d like (Includes first-hand account)

Imagining the future, even by just a few decades, can create an endless string of exciting possibilities. The further into the unknown one ventures, the less their hypotheses need to be grounded in reality. Conversely, extrapolating from the now (or then) can help audiences connect with the narrative in a way not otherwise possible. Ernest Cline relies on a whole generation’s obsession with nostalgia in order to tell his sci-fi fantasy — and the movie version of his bestselling novel, Ready Player One, comprehends this attraction with great acuity.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) feels as if he was born several decades too late. It’s 2045, but the teenager is engrossed in the minutia of 20th century pop culture. Though he loves all the old video games and movies, his interest hasn’t been purely leisure — when Oasis creator and video game developer James Halliday (Mark Rylance) died, he left behind one last contest for all his fans: find the three keys hidden somewhere in his immense virtual creation and they’ll lead you to the Easter egg, which comes with full control of the Oasis and unbelievable real-world riches. Thus, for five years “gunters,” including Art3mis, Aech, Daito and Sho, and employees of rival company, IOI, known as “sixers” have studied everything related to Halliday and searched every virtual corner in order to solve the clues and claim the prize.

As Van Halen’s “Jump” blares from the speakers and the camera moves into “The Stacks,” where Wade is getting ready to plug in as Parzival, fans of the novel will think, “Yes! This is exactly what I imagined.” But the next scene and the one after that aren’t exactly accurate… but that’s okay. And then they get to the race for the first key — and you realize this is a movie based on Cline’s book, not an adaptation. There is an important distinction between the two as the former has creative license to present the characters and story in a way that’s in the same spirit as the original but not identical to it; while the latter is expected to replicate the source material as much as possible. This is definitely not the latter, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good.

For various reasons, including the innumerable licenses required and the incredible detail of the novel, an exact book-to-screen adaptation was never feasible. But it took a lot of insight to alter the narrative as much as they have, yet still satisfy fans of Cline’s source material. Beyond the core concept regarding the keys and the characters, very little is actually lifted directly from the novel; but, at the same time, the inspiration for almost every scene can be found in it. People amusingly quipped that Steven Spielberg is the only one who could give enthusiasts the film they deserved — and it looks like they were right. It’s been a while since the director ventured into the realm of sci-fi, but having been at the centre of some of the ‘80s’ most iconic movies has readily prepared him to create this world that seamlessly blends the past and future.

The Oasis is both the best and worst case scenario for virtual reality. On the one hand, the sheer size of the world accessible with just a headset and pair of haptic gloves is incredible. People can pursue things they may never have done otherwise, as well as exhibit a confidence they may not have in the real world. Offering something for everyone, there’s not much reason to leave… but that’s the rub. Outside of satisfying basic bodily functions, like eating and going to the washroom, the Oasis can be someone’s whole world, leading the majority of the population to be plugged in around the clock. This, unsurprisingly, screams cash grab for a company like IOI and executive Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who can’t wait to take control and monetize every inch of the Oasis — simultaneously ruining Halliday’s haven.

There is a lot of CGI in this picture, yet you can see hints of the actors in their avatars, making them relatable — which is key since they’re shown more than their human forms. Moreover, the many cultural references, all of which are certainly not possible to catch in a single sitting, also help audiences connect with the picture. Of course some of the alterations have made the story more “Hollywood” and there are elements it would’ve been great to see incorporated, but nevertheless it’s clear everyone involved in the making of this movie “gets it” and committed to creating the next best thing to an adaptation — a fun film that can be enjoyed whether you read the book or not.

Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke and Ben Mendelsohn

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