Ready Player One (2018) – Film Review

ready player one film review joy division t-shirt

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Simon Pegg
Certificate: 12A

by Roger Crow

It’s a couple of years since I read Ernest Cline’s best selling novel Ready Player One, a glorious homage to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It boasts a similar set up: young impoverished protagonist gets a shot at owning a magical corporation, not via a golden ticket but three keys hidden in a digital wonderland called the Oasis.

Following the death of creator James Halliday, the hunt is on to find said keys to his kingdom. Of course the quest is not easy, and as orphan ghetto-dweller Wade Watts, a mysterious young woman and assorted mates take on the quest, they attempt to outsmart corporate bad guy Nolan Sorrento, who uses slave labour to find the keys.

The book was bursting with pop culture references, many of which were films directed or produced by Steven Spielberg. So who better than the geek master himself to helm the lavish conversion?

ready player one film review virtual reality

“Dazzling eye candy”

The fact I share the same birthday as Watts; was weaned on the films of Spielberg and Atari 2600 games, and heard countless Rush albums booming through my brother’s bedroom wall at a formative age means for the first half of the film adaptation I feel like it was made just for me.

Remarkably, portions of the movie were shot in Birmingham, just round the corner from where I went to college, and like Wreck-It Ralph, there’s a feeling of wallowing in the countless knowing references.

Thankfully it’s been long enough since I read the book that I’m not too precious about what’s been left in and what’s been removed. So yes, this is an adaptation of the book, but it’s also very much its own beast, a little like The Hobbit movies which used the novel as a springboard into something bigger and more elaborate.

I can see how Spielberg managed to go off and direct The Post while he was waiting for the endless special effects and CGI to be completed by an army of visual effects artists. There’s so much dazzling eye candy on display, I’ll be going through certain scenes frame by frame to spot all of the references.

ready player one film review alien

“Star quality”

There’s the pulse rifle from Aliens; Han Solo’s belt and holster with a Thundercats buckle; the incantation from Excalibur, and scenes from The Shining are splendid. As an uber geek, I get that fuzzy feeling of spotting stuff others are bound to miss, but though it doesn’t all work, it comes so close to hitting the bull’s eye, it’s hard too quibble with the shortcomings.

As it’s a Warner Bros movie, obviously most of the references are from their back catalogue, but there are also some great references to Star Trek and other none-WB properties.

Tye Sheridan does a good job as the hero while Rogue One’s Ben Mendelsohn is a fine villain. Good support comes from Simon Pegg and Mark Rylance as the thinly veiled Jobs and Wozniak types.

However, it’s Oldham’s own Olivia Cooke who steals the movie, with a near-perfect American accent, as both the real world heroine Samantha and her avatar alter ego ’Art3mis’, she has that star quality that ensures every scene she’s in levels up. (And as she proved during Press interviews, she’s even more entertaining as herself).

Obviously there are sub plots which barely get a mention or feel glossed over. That’s often the way with movie conversions; epic spectacle usually takes precedence over character development, but it is remarkable how close Spielberg comes to matching some of the source material, such as the zero-G dance routine I recall from the book.

ready player one film review battle

“Tribute to thousands of artists”

Sadly the Iron Giant, which was an anti-war droid in the classic cartoon, is now anything but, even if he is a weapon in a virtual battle. And while key book nods to Blade Runner and Rush are either ‘overlooked’ (unintentional The Shining pun), or just referenced as posters and tee shirts, it doesn’t affect things too much. I’ll happily watch the whole thing again and judge it on its own merits instead of comparing it to the book.

Ready Player One is a tribute to the thousands of artists who helped Cline and Spielberg’s vision come to life, and it’s hard not to be dazzled by that gobsmacking race in which the Back to the Future De Lorean and Kaneda’s bike from Akira race at breakneck speeds against a wealth of obstacles and competitors.

At 71, Steven Spielberg still delivers the sort of dazzling escapism most directors half his age can only dream about.

Do your eyes a favour and see it on a huge screen with great sound. It’s worth every penny.


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