Spielberg took a much-loved book (which you may have noticed includes a few flattering references to his own work) and failed to (excuse the pun) bring it to life. Though it’s visually spectacular, the film feels disconnected and a bit thin on the plot-side.
Ready Player One’s redeeming factor is the OASIS (the VR environment created by James Halliday, initiator of the Ultimate Easter Egg Hunt). It’s brilliantly executed, and something only a director of Spielberg’s talents could make work in a blockbuster film. It would have been easy to get lost within the animation aspect needed to create a virtual environment, where 80% of the film takes place. You need to be entranced and believe that you could put on a set of goggles and be an avatar in the OASIS, which I think he has absolutely nailed on the head.
The film’s main problem, on the other hand, is the narrative. It simply tries to achieve too many things at once. At first glance, Ready Player One tries to play on pop culture nostalgia to carry the audience through, which during the first section of Jurassic Park and King Kong cameos are fresh and amusing, but it quickly becomes forced and overused. I mean, I love Halo as much as the next gamer, but the novelty of hidden pop-culture references wears thin, fast…
The film occasionally gets side-tracked by trying to explain the nuances behind each little clue (for example, why the Atari game, Adventure, was the final challenge), whilst trying to indulge in the social criticism of our technological dependence. This leads to mixed messaging around Wade Watts’ ability to escape and be more than he thought he could be in the OASIS, to Art3mis and Halliday enforcing only happiness in real life is actually tangible.
Whilst Spielberg is trying to juggle these opposing narratives, the audience loses what I would consider to be a key element of the film – why Wade Watts and the High Five deserve to win the competition instead of the evil capitalistic corporation, IOI.
Now, the film is never going to absolutely mirror the book, but the changes to the challenges and puzzles the ‘Gunters’ must face to find the egg don’t feel like they provide enough screening to their victors. A lot of the challenges could have been solved without vast knowledge of Halliday’s history or obsession with pop culture, or much dedication to the hunt at all. So, what makes the High Five so special?
And I can’t help but bring up why, when compared to Art3mis, who wants to ensure the money is used to change the world (forgiving, for now, the idealism behind the idea), do we want to root for, Wade Watts?