Spielberg Excels Visually But Struggles to Bring Heart
Set in the not to distant The film adaptation of Ready player one does not hold back in it’s visual flair, however I can’t help but feel this does not cover up it’s lack of heart. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the movie, but after reading the book a number of times previously I can’t help but feel that a lot was lost on the way to the big screen.
Early on RP1 introduces us to ‘The Oasis’. A virtual reality MMORPG if you will, where the majority of humanity now spend most of their time. When it’s creator dies he leaves a challenge to become his successor: the quest to find three hidden keys in the Oasis in the form of Easter Eggs. Those who find all three will inherit the company and control of everything he had built. The story follows a group of Gunters (egg hunters) as they try to beat a huge corporation to the keys.
For those that have not read the book. It’s main appeal is that it is a love letter to 70's/80's pop culture and in particular gaming. The online community has often called Ernest Cline out on the list of references as nothing more than tantalising readers but I have never considered his use of the shout outs as particularly cheap. The movie is not shy about throwing in cultural nods, however I feel it lacks the focus the book did and as such loses some of the endearing qualities. In my opinion one of the main problems is that whilst a book can exist to please a specific demographic (in this case the 30 something gamer who grew up in the 80's), the movie needed to touch a wider group of people to justify it’s production costs. As such Penn and Cline have, I feel, shoehorned in more recent references in order to create mass appeal and in that, has sacrificed being 10 people’s favourite thing, to be 100 people’s 10th favourite thing.
There is no escaping that the acting in this movie is, on the whole, not good. Whilst certain roles stand out as impressive (Ben Mendelsohn’s ‘Nolan Sorrento’ springs to mind) the majority of the cast are either flat and unmemorable or their characters are just not given the investment to allow the actor any room to impress. The writing lacks any of the arcs that draw you to the characters in the book and I feel the casting is a little too “Hollywood”. My biggest example of this is the casting of Olivia Cooke. I think she is a great actress, but the book goes out of its way to describe the character Art3mis as follows:-
“Art3mis’s body was also somewhat unusual. In the OASIS, you usually saw one of two body shapes on female avatars: the absurdly thin yet wildly popular supermodel frame, or the top-heavy, wasp-waisted porn starlet physique (which looked even less natural in the OASIS than it did in the real world). But Art3mis’s frame was short and Rubenesque. All curves.”
So it’s a little disappointing that given the opportunity to buck the trend of making all love interests the stereotypical Hollywood starlet that they would cast a stereotypical Hollywood starlet.
I understand a movies need to condense the action from maybe a 15-20 hour reading experience into a two hour feature but I feel that the film misses huge opportunities to push the feeling of the underdogs which has a huge presence in the book. In the Oasis the characters are gladiators with the abilities and skills to crush their foes, but in the movie they seem to carry this over to the real world too in that a number of them actually have fight scenes, or times where they need to stealthily outrun a real life mercenary army which I just feel your average gamer would totally fail at. I know I would! It’s fine to suspend disbelief in the virtual parameters of the Oasis but it feels cheap in the “real world” sections.
However, as much as I they have not treated the source material in the right way. I did enjoy the last couple of hours watching the movie. The effects show what Spielberg is such a dominant force in the industry and he delivers a master class with RP1. There are plenty of little nods to characters, games, TV shows, movies etc in scenes and I imagine you would have to watch the movie a number of times to pick up who’s in the background of a lot of the group scenes.
Ready player one is a must watch for games fans, but I would say go in with a mind to separate the book from the film and not to hope for the visualisation of the book if it’s one of your favourites.
The good: Pop Culture References a plenty, Stunning visual effects, non-relenting action.
The bad: All shine and little heart, Tries to appeal to wider audience, Characters are flat.