Film Review: Ready Player One

I can still vividly remember reading Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. It’s by far the best book I’ve ever picked up. I couldn’t stop reading as the pop culture of the ‘80s and 90’s that I grew up with was brought joyously back to life, digitised into a world of virtual reality and mixed into an amazing futuristic Willy Wonka inspired treasure hunt. It was a book that just oozed a narrative quality I have yet to see matched.

After turning over the final few pages my mind, I instantly thought: “this’d make a cracking film” so when I discovered that it was already in production, with Hollywood heavyweight Steven Spielberg at the helm, it seemed like all my Christmas’s had come at once. Ready Player One was coming to the big screen and I couldn’t wait.

But wait I’ve had to, and that delay meant the initial excitement I felt had somewhat cooled. I simply didn’t know when it was going to be released, and with the media seemingly silent towards it as well, it became nothing more than “a movie I was waiting to see” rather than a simmering bubble of excitement as a date of arrival neared. Then the trailer previewed – and my heart sank. The 2-minute glimpse into what was awaiting just not what I remembered. Every second of the trailer felt wrong. The true passage of time may have faded the book’s imagery in my mind, but this preview did nothing to reignite it. I felt completely disconnected from what I had longed to see and questioned whether I’d even want to see the film, for fear of destroying my memories of the book.

I can, however, say that thankfully, the trailer is a long, long way from being a true reflection of the film. The film does manage to breathe life back into my memories of the book, but sadly, for every good moment, you can find an equivalent but heavier flaw.

The first thing to jump out with the use of pop culture. So powerful in the book, referenced to create a warm nostalgia as you read, but the film simply gives them a passing glimpse. They feel limp and lacking, as if Spielberg knows they must be there, but doesn’t trust them enough not to disconnect and confuse a younger audience. The problem this creates, though, is that the story needs to hang and pivot from them to really work. Only giving them this minor role causes the story to suffer, as the narrative struggles to cope on its own without the depth they should provide. The twists and turns, quests and puzzles, that made the book so joyous, are now too linear and too simplistic. You can really feel the film missing that sense of depth as a result.

This shallowness is only saved from tearing the film apart by the fact that it’s in the hands of Spielberg. At the moment when you are starting to lose focus, he manages to tease a quality of storytelling and construction into Ready Player One that feels on a par with ET or Jurassic Park, pulling you back in. These moments, however, go as quickly as they arrive and Ready Player One won’t live on as a modern classic as a result. It deserves credit for the fleeting moment of absolute quality it holds, but even without them, it never stood a chance of standing alongside the modern classic’s in Spielberg’s back catalogue, for one major reason. It’s length. It’s 2 hours 20 minutes! And, while it doesn’t feel slow, never grinding to a halt or dragging its feet, it’s not fast either. And worse of all? It never changes pace.

And continuing the issues, I must also mention the cast. There is a positive, the main characters gel as a group, and their personalities overpower any sense of what has gone before. Tye Sheridan was never the kid from Mud and/or Joe, while thoughts of Olivia Cooke as the girl in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl never entered my mind. But that’s it. A huge arc in the film’s plot revolves around characters played by Simon Pegg and Mark Rylance. Two extremely famous, and instantly recognisable, faces. And Ready Player One has decided to dress them up, under cheap wigs and rubbery prosthetics, drawing attention to who they really are so much that you cannot take them seriously. They both feel like actors playing a sketch show parody, rather than characters at the fundamental heart of a story.

I feel like this sounds as if I truly hated Ready Player One; that I found nothing but fault after fault with it. Honestly, I didn’t. Yes, it’s got a lot of flaws. I haven’t even mentioned the single swear word, that comes completely out of nowhere, and is so out of tone with the rest of the movie that you wonder why they bothered to include it, but even that isn’t enough to stop me shouting – I thoroughly enjoyed it! All the worries I had from the trailer, the fear that the precious memories I hold of the book, would be ripped to shreds, never came to fruition. It brings the basic ideas of the book to life in a way that feels fitting. It’s everything it’s capable of being, and that is its problem. It’s simply hamstrung by the medium of being a film. The book could throw pages and pages at creating the depth needed to draw you in and keep you engrossed, but the film cannot. It needs to keep one eye constantly on the clock. Spielberg already pushed the limits of time to make a film that feels fitting, if flawed, to the source material. And that is all you can really ask. Given the choice, however, on how to enter the world of Ready Player One – through the book or through the film – there is only ever going to be one answer.

The book.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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