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Ready Player One

Platform(s): Movie
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Amblin Entertainment
Release Date: March 29, 2018


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Movie Review - 'Ready Player One'

by Adam Pavlacka on March 29, 2018 @ 1:15 a.m. PDT

When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.

It's safe to say that Steven Spielberg's adaptation of "Ready Player One" is the year's most anticipated video game movie. Though not based directly on a specific game, the original novel relied heavily on popular culture and video game references to move its story forward. It was a book that succeeded on the strength of nostalgia. Spielberg's film manages to avoid the worst excesses of the novel, but it falls short of being a classic.

The movie is set in the future, when the world has become a dystopian place. The masses are kept in line with the Oasis, a virtual reality world that allows players to get away from real life and indulge in fantasy. It's not just fantasy, though. There is an economic tie to the real world in that in-game money is real money. If you "die" in-game, you lose all your in-game possessions, including your funds. It's like Second Life meets eSports meets VR meets gambling.

This state of affairs is presented to the audience as a good thing that's worth preserving, simply because a rival company wants to take over the Oasis and add in-game ads. The only way to prevent this is to solve a mystery that was embedded within the Oasis by its original programmer and earn the keys to the kingdom. The bulk of "Ready Player One" is the race between our heroes and the "evil" IOI corporation to solve the mystery first.

If "Ready Player One" focused on the mystery aspect, it could have been a fun adventure in the vein of "National Treasure." Where it falls short is in its ability to raise the stakes for our heroes. With the bulk of the film occurring in VR, there is little chance for tension to build. Rarely does anyone feel "at risk" because a virtual threat is not a real threat — unless you discount the stupidity of the people playing.

One of the pieces of tech in this grand vision of the future (aside from the HTC Vive headsets in what felt like an all-too-obvious instance of paid product placement) was a full-body VR suit that allowed users to feel every sensation. That sounds cool, unless you plan on fighting others in VR. If you plan on duking it out, in what plane of reality does it make sense to ensure that you feel every shot, punch, and kick to the balls? Yes, that happens, and it's just as silly on-screen as it sounds on paper.

It doesn't help that there is little on-screen charisma between the two leads. Tye Sheridan (best known as Cyclops in "X-Men: Apocalypse") portrays the hero, Wade Watts, with little emotion or passion. Olivia Cooke is slightly better as Samantha, though she flips from online rival to love interest in record time. It's also somewhat amusing that the film's explanation for her "shyness" is that she isn't happy with her looks, when Cooke is the one playing the role.

The supporting cast is much better than the lead actors, with Lena Waithe nailing the role of Wade's best friend online, and T.J. Miller voicing i-R0k, the legendary online mercenary with the perfect mix of fake bluster and geek cred. If any element of "Ready Player One" feels authentic, it is the character of i-R0k. Anyone who's ever played an online MMO or multiplayer game has encountered someone just like this.

Hannah John-Kamen is wasted in her role as IOI's real-life enforcer. Having seen her in "Killjoys," it's obvious that she can play a badass and has the requisite physicality to boot, but "Ready Player One" just has her look menacing while she walks around or stares at a screen. It's a complete missed opportunity.

Where the film shines is as a special effects showcase. Spielberg knows how to produce an effects-laden film, and "Ready Player One" doesn't disappoint in that department. The visualization of the Oasis is nicely done, but the film's standout moment is when it re-creates the hotel from "The Shining." In a film that's packed with references, it's a reference that you wouldn't expect, but it works. If only the entire film had been able to maintain the perfect mix of character, story, and nostalgia that this sequence delivers.

Ultimately, it is the overuse of nostalgia that hurts the film the most. Whereas "The Shining" reference was well integrated into the story, most of the references feel like they were thrown in just to seem "cool." Oddly, the references are focused on the '90s, with only a spatter of things newer or older. The reliance on nostalgia may have helped gloss over some of the book's flaws, but it only accentuates some of the issues with the film and the story.

In the end, "Ready Player One" is a nifty special effects showcase, but it's not a film that is going to stand the test of time. If you distill it down, "Ready Player One" is little more than a version of the 1981 novel "The Secret" that's set in a virtual world. This isn't "TRON." It's not "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" It's not even on the level of "Hackers." It's another CGI fest in the vein of "Pacific Rim: Uprising," with the biggest difference being that "Ready Player One" wants you to take it seriously, whereas "Uprising" knew it was pulpy camp, through and through.

Score: 6.8/10

"Ready Player One" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes. It is showing in 2-D, 3-D, IMAX, and IMAX 3-D.

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