Movies: Ready Player One

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn & Ernest Cline (screenplay), from the novel by Ernest Cline
Warner Bros., 2018
PG-13; 140 minutes
5.0 stars (out of 5)


Yeah, I gave it five stars.

Let me be clear: I didn't even finish the book. It bored me. It clearly wasn't written for the likes of me. Despite having grown up in the 80s and being passingly familiar with gaming culture . . . While I could appreciate the references made in the book, I couldn't like the main character. And since the entire story is told from that character's POV, I bailed.

Ready Player One is also told from this character's POV, and yes, there's even (*groan*) voice over. But they've managed to make him likable. And the story more interesting.

It's not just for fanboys any more.

Quick summary: Wade Watts lives in a near future Cleveland (2045). Most people in this future spend their time plugged in to the VR world known as the Oasis. When the creator of the Oasis (Rylance, doing a version of Garth from Wayne's World?) dies, he leaves behind a contest: find three keys and win the easter egg that will give you control of the Oasis.

At first Wade wants to win just for the sake of the money. He's poor, he's downtrodden and misunderstood, etc. But after meeting Artemis in the Oasis, he has a bigger purpose: stop big business IOI from winning and ruining the Oasis—and by extension, the world—forever.

It's a white-boy nerd savior fantasy if ever there was one, and that's been seen as problematic in this day and age. I get that, and I even agree with it to a point. Remember that I felt excluded when reading the book. But I had faith in my longtime love of Mr. Spielberg, and that faith proved sound. The changes made from the book to the movie tell a very different story, at least as much as I can tell from only having read half the book.

Some of the changes are a simple matter of visual interest. Watching someone watch WarGames over and over would not be entertaining. So the contests have been upped, and I'll admit to pumping a fist and hissing, "Yes!" when Wade (or, per his avatar name, Parzival) figured out the first one. A marked difference from the book: I felt like I could cheer for this guy.

Beyond those surface changes was the sense that this was not just Wade's story. Though told from his POV,  the movie had a more classic Spielberg feel of a group of misfits coming together to beat the big bad. Wade may be Chief Misfit, but there's never a hint that he could have done it alone. He's not a sole savior; he gets saved by others plenty of times. And that's a very important difference.

In short, you don't have to be a fanboy to enjoy this movie. You don't even have to be a gamer (I'm not). It might help if you're of a particular generation that's primed to enjoy the nostalgia factor. And it definitely helps if you love classic Spielberg. Because by the end of Ready Player One, that's what I was left thinking: "This is the Spielberg of my childhood, the one I love." There's nostalgia for you.

(P.S. The PG-13 rating is key; my 8- and 9-year-olds struggled with the scene set in The Shining. Consider yourselves warned.)

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