I went to see Ready Player One on Wednesday when the early bird release came out. I went to see it again last night with my wife because I loved it so much.
It’s been years of waiting and anticipation. I’ve been following the movie ever since I read the book back in 2015. I thought the book was a hilarious, rousing, sometimes poignant cyberpunk masterpiece at the time and I still listen to the audiobook version every six months or so.
And yes I realize that the book has some problems. There are a lot of information dumps and from a pure writing point of view there’s a lot of telling rather than showing, but I don’t care. I’m also not as willing to lay the sins of GamerGate at Ernest Cline’s feet the way a lot of publications seem to have done in recent years.
The book is a fun fast-paced piece of entertainment that invites you to turn off your brain for a little while, but at the same time there are some deeper social commentaries buried in there for anyone who cares to look. I think if a lot of the critics who write the book and the movie off as nothing more than supercharged nostalgia actually took the time to look at that subtext they’d see a piece of pop culture that is subtly thumbing its nose at the very critics who hate it, but that’s neither here nor there.
We’re talking about the movie. And how awesome it is. Seriously. If you were a fan of the book go see this movie. Don’t go in with expectations either. Don’t go in hoping to see your favorite scenes from the book rendered in loving CGI glory, because that’s not what you’re getting with Ready Player One the movie.
They’ve said from the beginning that the movie is inspired by the book, and I think that’s a good thing. I’ve seen a lot of diehard fans moaning and groaning that they’re not getting the point by point adaptation of the geeky deep cuts they’ve always been hoping for, but that was never going to make a great movie. The general public and the average moviegoer has probably never heard of Zork or The Tomb of Horrors or any of the other stuff that forms the backbone of the book’s plot.
What the movie does give us is a fun ride that resembles the hunt presented in the book. Sure there are still pop culture references, but they’re the sort of thing that a wider audience is going to pick up on. It’s the sort of fun that allows that wider audience to be in on the fun rather than walking out of the theater confused and wondering why the hell they just paid $30 per ticket to see a geek standing at an arcade cabinet playing an ancient video game with a creepy skeleton.
The great thing is those deep cuts are still there, but they’re hanging out in the background where people familiar with the novel can pick up on them. Rush 2112 shows up in the background a few times. There are games and ancient computer systems that appear faster than you can see. I spotted a “Re-Elect Wil Wheaton” poster next to a “Re-Elect Mayor Goldie Wilson” poster from Back to the Future which is a fleeting nod to one of the funnier throwaway lines in the book.
All that stuff is still there for anyone who wants to go looking for it.
The point is Ready Player One is a movie. it’s been adapted for the screen. Go in with that expectation and you’re going to love it.
Because the movie is amazing. It’s a visual treat. There are so many references that fly by so fast that even watching the movie twice I was still picking up on things I didn’t see the first time around. This movie is going to be a joy for the kind of people who love picking apart pop culture.
If that’s all the movie was then yeah, it would be the very thing that a lot of critics accuse it of being. A pop culture greatest hits list flashing by at a reference a second overloading people on a nostalgiagasm to the point that they don’t realize what they’r watching is empty fluff.
That’s not the case though. There’s plenty going on to elevate it above the mere fluff that so many people seem deadset on making it out to be. The Spielberg touch makes the relationships between the characters feel far more substantial than they did in the book. I actually prefer the way they come together in the movie to the way they did in the novelization, and there are a lot of rough edges that are sanded away in this version.
The plight of the average Internet user pitted against the evil corporation that wants to use a wonderful resource that’s freed humanity to turn around and sell stuff has also never been more relevant than now when we’re increasingly facing a world where corporate interests are using the levers of government to push an anticompetitive agenda as they monetize away everything that made the Internet great.
Ready Player One is a story that still has a lot to say, and the movie delivers it in a tight fun visually stunning package that feels like it goes by way too fast despite clocking in at nearly two and a half hours. Seriously, if ever there was a movie that might’ve benefitted from the otherwise egregious Hollywood practice of splitting books into multiple movies it’s this one. The one complaint I had about the movie was that the plot felt a little rushed and hurried along at times when they could’ve done more to show the passage of time.
Some of my favorite spoilery moments, you’ve been warned, below:
- Mark Rylance’s portrayal of James Halliday stole the show. Seriously. It was a revelation that tugged at the heartstrings. I was nearly in tears at the end when he said “Thanks for playing my game.”
- “It’s fucking Chucky!” has to be the best use of a PG-13 f-bomb since Wolverine’s cameo in X-Men: First Class.
- I really enjoyed the changes they made to Samantha/Art3mis. She took a more active role, was warmer and less standoffish, and having them meet halfway through the movie rather than at the end made their whole relationship arc seem more plausible. She always took an active role even in the book, she was never the hero’s prize that some critics who obviously never read the book claim, but having her work with Wade earlier felt better and made the romance more believable than the standoffish romance they had in the novel.
- It was nice that they didn’t off Daito. The Daisho character development was about as thin as in the novel, but there were plenty of ways of proving how evil IOI was within the context of the film without offing one of the High Five.
- It seemed like the movie world was a little less dystopian than the book world. That might be that there wasn’t enough room to show it considering everything they had to pack into the runtime, but everything felt a little less bleak.
- Mechagodzilla. Holy. Fucking. Shit. I was worried that Toho might not play ball considering how protective they are of their biggest international star (the 1998 movie notwithstanding), and it was a pleasure to see Mechagodzilla. And what an appearance! The design was beautiful, and the fight was one of the greatest kaiju battles ever put to film.
Go see this movie if you’re a fan of the book. Go see it even if you’ve never read the book. It’s seriously awesome, and well worth the ticket price.