Dare to dream
In 2011, Ernest Cline released a book titled Ready Player One. The story was familiar. A simple tale of adventure and love mixed with Willy Wonka. It was a story of a world lost in a video game known as the Oasis. An undoubtedly inevitable future of our own present. However, the truly unique aspect was the inclusion of every aspect of Cline’s childhood. The films he watched, the food he ate, the soda he drank, and so on.
Like any great artist, he literally put himself on the page. In doing so, he managed to put millions and millions of other people on the page as well. Because Cline tapped into a shared childhood experience millions had. Reminding every reader that the last 40 years of the 20th century was a Renaissance of Art by way of Entertainment. Personified in the invention of the blockbuster film.
So it makes sense that Cline’s novel, a love-letter to nostalgia itself, could be brought to life by none other than Steven Spielberg – the first, and arguably best, blockbuster director.
Together, with the addition of screenwriter Zak Penn, this team of artists set out to adapt this beloved novel. Adapting a novel is no simple task, not even for the best in the business. But this is Steven Spielberg.
Ready Player One is filled with just as many memorable moments as the novel, even if they differ. The bevy of films and media put under the microscope is slightly different, but much more cinematic. Aficionados will be nit-picky about setting changes and minor name changes, but the heart and soul of Ready Player One is right there on the big screen. It’s a beautiful and wonderful film from one of the most magical wizards in Cinema.
See a world of Pure Imagination
In the future of 2045, the Oasis is essentially the best Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game ever. So much so that it has literally taken over every day life. After’s the game’s creator Jim Halliday passed away, he created a contest wherein a player must gather three keys in order to win control of the Oasis itself. Sound familiar? Cline took the premise of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and took it inside out. Cline actually borrowed a few aspects of that story, including the world of a genius creator.
The Oasis is one of the most beautiful settings ever realized on film. It should come as no surprise that the director of Jurassic Park may have created the most seamless CGI to ever grace the big screen. Again. That’s not to say it isn’t noticeable. It’s that you don’t care. Somehow, Ready Player One is a bridge between animation and motion-capture. A modern day Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
The visual splendor never stops. The film is shot by longtime Spielberg-collaborator Janusz Kaminski. While some of the real world sequences can feel a little flat, that may be purposeful. A commentary on the state of the world in 2045 and our trajectory toward it. Luckily, our hero has always had a good head on his shoulders.
Unsurprising with a Spielberg film, the acting is superb. Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance and especially Lena Waithe chew so much scenery it makes sense why so much of the film was computer-animated. Despite the ensemble, the story mostly belongs to Wade Watts.
The story of Wade Watts
Watts is clearly an amalgam of various heroes, as well as Cline himself. Hell, anyone who’s ever been a kid can see themselves in Wade Watts. As a turn on the normal story, Wade Watts doesn’t really learn from the world. The world learns from Wade Watts. From the very beginning, he’s the valiant Parzival. Never really alone, but always seeing himself that way. Which leads the story to one of its only problems. Wade Watts lacks a very important principle: character development.
Tye Sheridan’s performance as Wade can seem a little static because the character is static. From the very beginning he announces what he would do with the grand prize. From the moment he sets his eyes on Artemis he knows he’s in love. There’s no indecision or fear for Wade. Thus, there’s no need for the character to do anything other than to literally complete the actions of the story. No need to learn; no need to grow. Almost every other member of the troupe endures a hardship and reveals their insecurity. But not Wade.
It’s as if Ernest Cline designed the character after the archetypical “Knight in Shining Armor,” without realizing that there is no such thing. Neither Arthur nor Lancelot nor even Parzival were perfect. Even the film’s villain, Nolan Sorrento, seems to go through more emotional maturing throughout the film, evidenced by his final decision. Wade never doubts his place in the story. He never doubts his quest. An admirable trait, but it makes him far less compelling. When Darth Vader and the Emperor asked Luke to turn to the dark side, the audience was on the edge of their seat with tension and drama. But the audience will never wonder if Wade will turn to the dark side.
Steven Spielberg’s deft hands can move easily between art-house and blockbuster. From quiet films like The Post to grandiose epics like Ready Player One in a matter of months. Like writer Ernest Cline, he understands that sometimes an artist’s job is to entertain their audience for as long as they’ve asked for the audience’s attention. Sometimes, that’s all that matters.
A gorgeous panoply of songs, movies, and characters will keep the eyes peeled, if the incredibly fun and well-acted film hasn’t already done it. Witness a story about the most beautiful and elaborate game of all time, that actually manages to look like the most beautiful and elaborate game of all time. If many wanted the world of Pandora to exist after seeing Avatar, one can only imagine how many people should be calling for the creation of the Oasis.
Everyone has been Wade Watts at some point in their life. But a compelling story needs a journey, not just an adventure. A process through which the hero must learn to better themselves.
Nothing is made to look easy for Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan. But it is. His part in the story is assured; his success is inevitable. He knows it and the audience knows it. But drama comes from doubting that for a few moments. For believing that things might not go as planned, or that the hero wasn’t as resolute as once believed. It doesn’t keep the film from being a fantastic 2 hours and 20 minutes, but it keeps Wade Watts from being a great character.
Ready Player One is a masterwork of nostalgia and fun from some of the best in the business. A reminder that sometimes, filmmakers are only telling the audience one thing – Enjoy.
- A Nostalgic Love-Letter to Games, Movies, Shows and Stories
- Gorgeous and Seamless Motion Capture and CGI
- Great Performances from an Ensemble Cast
- Hero Needed Character Development