Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Ready Player One


Based on the book by Ernest Cline that's an absolute smorgasbord of 80's pop culture, Ready Player One takes place in a near future where the rundown world is all but abandoned by its populace. In its place -- the OASIS, a virtual reality where people can go anywhere and do or be anything, all from the comfort of their cramped, neglected homes.

Laws of reality need not apply.

One such person is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), whose life outside the OASIS is, well, nonexistent. But in the OASIS, he's Parzival, a gunter (egg hunter) who looks for Easter eggs left by the game's creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Upon his death Halliday instigated a hunt for three keys that would lead to the ultimate Easter egg. The finder would receive Halliday's inheritance and full control over the OASIS itself. The hunt has been going on for years without even the first key being found when Wade finally figures out the first challenge, and the discovery launches him into adventure, fame, and real-world danger all at once as the race for the OASIS begins.

It's been a long time since Steven Spielberg has done science fiction, and the result it something that is a little -- and pleasantly so, I might add -- out of time. The featured tech and special effects are fully modern but the plot and characters move in a more traditional "blockbuster" sphere. The three keys make the act structure strongly defined, with no room for anything unprecedented, and characters are well cast but then left to catch what little bits of development and arcs they can on the run, as the action-driven plot breaks for nothing. Though deeper development without sacrifice elsewhere would've been more ideal, the characters are accurate to their book counterparts -- stunningly accurate to my memory -- and that is due to pitch-perfect casting.

I knew it was perfect when I first saw the cast list but they still managed to wow me.

Every actor I know here has given a better performance elsewhere, yet I don't think the cast could be more perfect. Tye Sheridan was more comfortable and natural in Mud, and Olivia Cooke had even more genuine charm in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl -- they both still fit their characters to a T. Ben Mendelsohn is basically playing Krennic from Rogue One, but boy is it fun to watch him be that type of baddie. I am sure that Mark Rylance has never given a bad performance in his life, but even he has his exceptionally charming turn as the eccentric geek Halliday beat elsewhere -- though this may be a personal favorite for me due to the charm and humor he gives alone.

Simon Pegg's American accent threw me through a loop and his small part felt almost like a cameo, but he still managed to sneak some dramatic oomph in there. The adults are undoubtedly the acting highlights of the film. Aech, Daito and Sho are good casting as well, but used only for support, comic relief, and to make the point of how anyone can be anything in the OASIS. Sheridan doesn't lead the film so much as he's swept along at the front of the wave that is the plot, but the fact remains: he embodies Wade ideally. The roles here are on the shallow side by nature. More depth may have improved them, but whether it would've served the movie as a whole is another matter.

As much as I love character, I do think putting them on a lower priority was the right move here.

After all I would hate for a scifi adventure flick to have to give up any time adventuring, world-building and wowing for the sake of unnecessary character development -- however great the development may be. There were a few times I would have tended more toward character briefly, but I understand the idea. This is a crazy and complex scifi world here, and explaining and exploring it satisfactorily takes priority. Spielberg erred on the safe side, over-explaining at times, but the flaw isn't in the intention. He took the right track of making the character/plot balance the same ratio as the book, and was impressively successful in it.

I liked the book, but it's flawed. Most of the movie's flaws stem from that, as a fundamental part of the story. I've seen plenty of worthy but flawed books be adapted into film and commonly, "improvement" is the name of the game. Sometimes said "improvement' makes the story so convoluted that it becomes completely different, and often falls apart. (The Divergent series springs rapidly to mind.) I'm surprised to say, that I'm impressed to say: Spielberg refused to play that game. Instead he took the story as it was and put in on film. "But what about all the changes?" you may wonder. Simple: those changes were for the purpose of making the story as enjoyable as possible on screen, not to improve a story cynically seen as lacking.

I loved this scene, mixing live action with animated avatars.

Forgetting the book, this film is a sight unlike any other. The motion-capture does excellent job capturing personality as well as performances, so characters are consistent even as animated avatars. Everything has that Spielberg sheen, and the detail of the OASIS is thrilling and visually stimulating without being too overwhelming. And pop culture. Pop culture everywhere. I loved it, but that's the sort of thing that's about personal preference, not so much a if-it's-done-right-everyone-will-love-it type thing. I do think it transcends the references it makes -- much like Stranger Things did -- but admittedly I love 80's pop culture already. I especially enjoyed the music, since that was something the book was incapable of doing.

This is a movie about Easter eggs, so it's no surprise that its main feature be Easter eggs. Still it doesn't settle for fun references only, putting commendable effort into garnering maximum enjoyment out of its entire runtime. Even if you don't get the references it should be a thoroughly entertaining flick -- through a fast-paced plot, fun characters, a straightforward and sincere theme, a general lighthearted tone, and that patent Spielbergian element that adds just a dash of cheesy magic.

I promise -- this movie does have a point to it, and a heart.

This is certainly not a movie without flaws, but the more I watch films by Spielberg, the more I realize that his filmmaking greatness isn't in making unflawed films, but in making films that will stand the test of time by their joy and the unique experiences they give us, long after a film's given technical expiration date. And the more I watch movies in 2018, the more I realize that it's this kind of simple, honest joy that I want to see on the screen -- that reaffirms my love for the singular magic of escaping into the movies.

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