There are between 1-3 films I have circled every year that I absolutely cannot wait to see. This year, it’s Avengers: Infinity War, Sicario 2 and Ready Player 1. One is an obvious superhero sequel, the other is a sequel to what should have been nominated for best picture. And that leaves Ready Player 1, which is one of my favorite books of all time. If you’re not familiar, you need to do so reallllly quickly. It’s the story of a Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young man who along with millions of other of citizens, take on a challenge to find a digital “Easter Egg” in the OASIS. The OASIS is a VR world which is as real as you want to make it. The winner of the challenge presented by recently deceased creator of the OASIS, James Halladay (Mark Rylance), wins his fortune and control of the OASIS. And of course, there is an evil CEO, Nolan Sorrento, (Ben Mendelsohn) who will stop at nothing to control OASIS. Halladay is a Bill Gates type who grew up in the 80’s, addicted to video games and films from the time. All of his challenges have to do with both video games and films so turn the nostalgia factor on full blast. Steven Spielberg directs this film and who better to take us down that road.
Parzival was initially against “clanning”; which is nerd speak for others joining is eventually joined by lady crush, Artemis, ninjas Sho and Daito, and his best friend, Aech. They call themselves, “The Top 5,” and they all mesh together quite well and especially when their real identities are given.
There are an absolute shit load of references, characters, and nods to films/video game characters throughout. You’ll go crazy trying to keep track of whom and what you saw but I’ll give you a few: Goro from Mortal Kombat, Chun Li from Street Fighter, Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Robocop, the baby Alien, and even caught a Jack Slater from Last Action Hero reference. Wade Watts’s OASIS character, Parzival, even drives the DeLorean from Back to the Future with the KITT from Knight Rider lights in the front. Movie nerds and video game nerds, rejoice. Scoring the film are 2 juggernauts from the 80’s, John Williams (if I need you to tell you what films he’s worked on, deport yourself) and Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future trilogy). And you’re going to hear a TON of nods from their previous films in the score. And you will smile.
So let’s do the eventual annoying “book to film” comparison. The book was amazing because Wade had to play Joust with one of the guardians for the keys. Wade also had to do “film syncs” scenes from War Games and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In the film, they don’t do either. The first challenge is a race, the second is a scene within, “The Shining.” And the third is playing, “Adventure” on Atari. I wish that Spielberg would’ve chosen different challenges, including doing the film syncs. I know that would’ve brought the same charm and allure that the book brought. My other biggest complaint is that one of the “Top 5” die in the book but Spielberg pulls the typical “everything ending is a happy one.” Spielberg kept a ton of the book’s integrity (also noted that RP1 writer Ernest Cline did co-write the screenplay) by tweaking a few things, like the Zemeckis cube.
This film is good and you will get sucked into it without question. The ongoing references and nods within the score will always keep an ear to ear grin. But those 2 omissions are glaring ones and major points are deducted for such. Otherwise, it keeps close to the book and Spielberg does his best work in over a decade. It will also be the perfect excuse to get your kids researching the great films and games I/we grew up on.
The book is a 10, the film is a 7.