There is a phenomenon out there known as the ‘unfilmable book’. This doesn’t necessarily deal one book, many have been termed this over the years. The kind of book that has so much going on, is so deep with intent, that no 2 to 3 hour feature could truly showcase it’s talent. Catch 22 was one, The Life of Pi another.
Now, you may have noticed that both of the above have been made into films, to varying affect. The same was said about Ready Player One, the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline. The reasoning behind that was the book being chock fun of of references to the 80’s, various film franchises from various properties and companies, that even attempting this would show up any director.
Step forward, Steven Spielberg. If there was ever a career filmmaker you could trust with such an endeavour, it’s him. The film, which has been in the works for a while, Spielberg starting and completing the Post while this was in post production. But it’s testament to both the director and the source material that, the resulting effort, has all the makings of a new classic.
Set in a semi dystopian 2049, we follow Wade Watts (Ty Sheridan), a young man who, like the rest of the population of the earth, lives in the Oasis, a virtual reality world where you can be any, meet any one, and become anything. For the past 5 years, there has been an opportunity within the Oasis to win, well, the Oasis itself. The creator, James Halliday, passed away but before his life ended, he left a game within the virtual world.
The aim is to find and figure out the clues that Halliday has left but, since his death, no one has made any significant movement. There are the independent gamers that wish to win it all, such as Watts, and also the villainous corporation Innovative Online Industries. Headed by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the CEO aims to win control of the Oasis to turn it into a pay to play fortress which the world is already addicted to.
And so, when the first clue is inevitably found, there is a race against time and the bad guys to get to the finish, and save the world that’s bigger than our own. The film take place both in the Oasis and in real life, but never feels over zealous in its intimations. The virtual world never seems your in a sea of CGI, but is never real either.
Spielberg, tried and tested in crafting great family films, does so again but takes his efforts to the out and out CGI template we haven’t seen him do since Tintin in 2012, but this is on a much larger scale. An out and out blockbuster, Spielberg has shied away from this for some time.
But Ready Player One quickly fortifies itself as something of a Spielberg staple, and once the film kicks off, you know you’re in good hands, though were you ever worried? Spielberg has such a way with catching his actors at the right time, and there are scenes throughout which are of his signature. There’s a sequence of events which pays homage to The Shining which is simply brilliant. Parts of it will go over the heads of younger viewers who haven’t read the book/seen the film, but those nods for the older generation are part of what Spielberg does best.
That said, one joke that has been made about the film is that it plays up to nostalgia. That you’ll simply like the film because you’ll recognise comic book and video game characters from your youth. And there certainly is that, especially the climatic final ‘boss’ battle at the end where the screen is inundated with characters from every conceivable franchise available.
But Spielberg somehow manages to wrangle this in a way which doesn’t feel overcooked. There’s a pacing to this aspect of the film, as it could have very easily and quickly reduced the experience to simply a who’s who on screen. But the director manages the push attention back onto his largely young cast who do a fantastic job under his scrutiny.
Ultimately, the film could have been an unmitigated disaster, and under a lesser director, it would have been. We sometimes forget just how accomplished Spielberg is at the tentpole, summer time blockbuster films, as he hasn’t provided us with one in quite a while. Maybe that adds to the nostalgia of Ready Player One, that not only are we witnessing craft from the 80’s on the big screen, we’re also seeing one of the most accomplished directors do what he does best for the first time in quite a while.
There are some ham fisted parts to it, but Ready Player One is a fantastic effort, with memorable set pieces and a pretty great telling of Cline’s story. Another unfilmable book has made its way onto the big screen, and once more, it’s turned out pretty all right.