Reel Shorts | Ready Player One

by Tom Clocker

The year is 2045. And the future is not bright. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is living in Columbus in an area called “The Stacks.” It is so called because, due to lack of space in an overpopulated city, homes are stacked on top of each other. They consist of trailers, school buses, and any other structure people can reasonably use as a home. For 20 years, the people of this depressing future have been escaping to a virtual reality world, known as “The Oasis.” It is a place where your wildest dreams come true. Basically, if you can think it, you can do it. People create avatars to use in this world and they too can be anything you want. Wade’s alter persona is called “Parzival” and is humanoid in appearance. Ok, this place seems great. But, what are you supposed to do when you get tired of just hanging out with other avatars?

That’s where the challenges come in. Before he died, Oasis creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) created a contest. The objective is to find an “Easter egg” hidden somewhere in the Oasis. An “Easter egg” is a term used to describe a hidden item in a video game. In order to find the egg, players must first locate three keys that are awarded after completing separate challenges. But, finding the challenges may just be the hardest part of it all. Halliday is revered by many people in this bleak society. His “followers” study his life. They know everything there is to know about the man, the legend. After all, in a world as vast as the Oasis, any little thing may be the clue that unlocks all the secrets. And there is a lot on the line. The first to find the egg inherits Halliday’s vast fortune and is given total control over the Oasis.

Halliday was in love with the pop culture of the late twentieth century. The Oasis, the challenges, and many avatars draw their inspiration from the video games and films of that time. Parzival will need to team up with a few friends if he is going to beat the evil IOI Corporation to the egg and save the Oasis.

Steven Spielberg directs this nostalgic romp and is able to sprinkle a little bit of his magic in all the right places. Ready Player One is a beautiful film. The Oasis looks incredible and the action that unfolds can be breathtaking. In stark contrast, the real world is a cold, ugly place. It is no wonder the citizens choose to spend every moment they can in the virtual dreamland. Visually, “Player One” hits all the right marks.

And you can’t make a film about a virtual world filled with pop culture references and not have a little fun. Screenwriters Zak Penn (The Avengers) and Ernest Cline (who also wrote the novel) do a wonderful job creating characters and situations that bring out the inner child in each member of the audience. Even viewers who were not into the pop culture, or miss some of the references, will find something to enjoy.

But, it’s not all “power-ups” and extra lives. Ready Player One suffers from a lack of identity. One minute the film appears to be a straight action/comedy targeting people in the 30 to 50 age range. These are the people who grew up playing the games and watching the films idolized in the Oasis. But then, Player One seems to shift into a teen fantasy film direction. Being noncommittal means neither demographic is fully satisfied.

Ultimately, this film is utterly forgettable. It is fun to watch, but it won’t go down as a Spielberg classic like E.T. the Extraterrestrial and Jurassic Park. Part of the reason for this may be the lack of a truly despicable villain. Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) is the head of the IOI Corporation, and he is a total throwaway antagonist. Both the character and Mendelsohn’s performance, are lacking in many ways. Oasis muscle-for-hire I-R0k, voiced by the hilarious T.J. Miller, is much better as a cameo villain.

Ready Player One is a beautiful, fun film that will have geeks, nerds, and pop culture fans smiling and laughing. But lack of a solid villain, a loss of identity, and no lasting qualities prevent it from being a great film.

Grade B-

* * *

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

The fate of the virtual world is on the line as the long awaited film adaptation of the ultra-popular novel comes to life thanks to Steven Spielberg in the feature Ready Player One.

Wade (Tye Sheridan) is a regular high school teenager in the year 2045. Student by day, Wade becomes just another Egg hunter or “gunter” in the online video game, the OASIS by night. He dreams of getting out of the “Stacks”, a dilapidated urban slum made of stacked up mobile homes. Years ago when James Halladay (Mark Rylance) died, he left an Easter egg in the game which when found would entitle the finder to the inventor’s fortune and the game itself. One day, Wade wins a game that gives him the Copper Key, a major artifact in the Egg hunt, which shoots him to the top of the Leaderboard. Wade becomes instantly famous (or infamous) and the race for the Easter Egg takes on a dangerous, deadly turn.

Ready Player One claims to be one of the most highly anticipated movie projects of the year and is based upon the phenomenal debut book of the same name written by Ernest Cline. The acclaimed and super-successful book is the basis of the movie however, it is only the basis. While the book was a hard read but enjoyable, screenplay writers Zak Penn and Ernest Cline (yes, the author of the book) have streamlined the best parts of the book and created totally new scenes that were not in the book in order to make this experience unique and refreshing even to those who have read the book. The movie departs from the book in a number of instances some great and some small that make the movie even more enjoyable than the book. (Yes I said it. The movie is better than the book!)

First, the movie is set in Cleveland instead of Oklahoma City. Why? Unknown. Is it more believable that there would be slums in the city of Cleveland vs. Oklahoma City in the future? No comment but being that director and producer Steven Spielberg hails from Cincinnati, it could be a cute dig on his cross state rivals. Second, many of the Dungeons and Dragons references of the book are replaced by video games references. (The pivotal Pac-Man scene from the book is replaced in the film, although.) This makes the movie feel less “Big Bang Theory” and more “MacGyver.” Third, the whole homage to The Shining is incredible! It’s scary and hilarious at the same time.

The whole point of Ready Player One is to create a whole new world that harkens back to the good old days of the Eighties (an era for which super-nerd James Halladay had a great affinity) and who better to do the creating than the master of the Eighties blockbuster Stephen Spielberg himself. Spielberg (E.T, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park) has always been a master at creating worlds and immersing the viewers into them. He reclaims his legacy as one of the best directors who has ever lived by returning to his blockbuster family-friendly roots in this film. Spielberg seamlessly integrates the virtual world of the OASIS into the real world existence of Wade and his digital friends.

On the other hand, if you are not into embracing the pop culture of the Eighties or video games or arcade games or even social commentary then this is not the movie for you. And you will miss Oscar winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) doing his best Garth from Wayne’s World impression. You will also miss Ben Mendelsohn (The Darkest Hour) being the corporate bad guy, Neil Sorrento, the head of IOI whose main desire is to please the stockholders and take control of the OASIS. Basically, you will miss a great movie.

Rated PG -13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language, Ready Player One is a stylistic delight. It’s not going to win any awards for being the most deep movie experience of the year but it is raucous and rollicking. There are so many pop culture references and Easter Eggs within the movie that it almost demands to be seen more than once to make the viewers feel like they caught all of them. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the book, the movie is outstanding and a surprisingly better ride than the book.

Grade B+