The 400-Word Review: Ready Player One
By Sean Collier
April 3, 2018
Ready Player One, the movie, is only nominally an adaptation of the book of the same name. The characters, premise and a few of the trappings are identical. (And yes, Ernest Cline adapted his own work, with help from superhero-flick veteran Zak Penn.) But few book-to-film journeys discard more in translation.
I’m pretty sure this was the right choice.
The thrill of Ready Player One — both the book and the Steven Spielberg movie — is that of pulpy and madcap adventure. Neither book nor the film could be mistaken for high art; this is Robert Louis Stevenson (Robert Louis Spielberg?) for the 21st century, a rollicking adventure (even if the physical world is traded for the digital). In that sense, subbing in a frenetic and visually stunning auto race where the book had a less-cinematic quest is a matter of turning written talk into filmed action.
It was a fun book. Now it’s a fun movie.
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), known to the virtual world as Parzival, dedicates his time to the pursuit of a quest both existential and capitalist: The late tech billionaire James Halliday (Mark Rylance) has set up a series of secret challenges inside his sprawling MMORPG, the OASIS. The player that finds his hidden keys and literal Easter egg will inherit his fortune and control of the company.
There’s an evil corporation, under the direction of the finkish Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), after the prize; they’d like to monetize the virtual world. There are mercenaries and armies; there’s also a tight-knit but nominally competing crew of lone rangers, including both Parzival and his rival/love interest, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke).
If that last bit didn’t clue you in: Yes, this is basically the wish fulfillment of every nerdy young man with an active Steam account, and not necessarily a demographically broad fantasy. (It must be said that the film handles such limitations a bit more deftly than the book.) To paraphrase a song a bit too late for the nostalgia in Ready Player One: If you don’t expect too much, you might not be let down.
Oh yeah — the nostalgia. Ready Player One has been unfairly derided as an exercise in crass reminiscence; it’s more of a commentary than pure tribute, albeit a limited one. Turn off your skepticism and smile: There will inevitably be a moment or two of pure joy for every viewer.
My Rating: 8/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark