It was a few years after the book came out that I got around to reading Ready Player One. It’s the only book in my adult life that I read from cover to (digital) cover without putting down. I picked it up for a plane trip, continued it on the cab ride to the hotel, and then stayed up way too late to finish the night before a day of work. I absolutely loved it. If you ask me for one book recommendation from the last 10 years of my life, Ready Player One will be my go-to.
And now we have a movie. Because that’s what happens to all good books. Some of them fare well. Some of them fare poorly. Ready Player One seemed unfilmable. The myriad of pop culture references could never all be negotiated, right? When I heard that Steven Spielberg was taking the reigns of one of my favorite books, I was relieved. When I read that he insisted on getting tons of nostalgic references in, I cheered (internally; I’m not a weirdo). I’ll always like the book better, but I still think Spielberg nailed it.
First off, the smartest thing they did with the movie was to distance it from the book. This is not a page for page retelling. It’s more like they took the basic plot and the spirit of the book and then built it from the ground up to make sense as a movie. This means that the references span more than just the 80s, and there are as many film nods as there are video game references. Among the crowds, I caught Ninja Turtles, Batman, Batgirl, Joker, Harley Quinn, the Iron Giant, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Chun Li, Ryu, lots of Overwatch characters, King Kong, and I’m pretty sure I saw a mogwai attacking someone’s leg at one point. That’s not all of them. It’s just all that I can remember off the top of my head. It’s a feast of visual references.
All that’s great, and I’d probably like the movie just for that reason alone, but it also has a pretty optimistic, fast-moving plot that makes good use of the setting. Sure, it’s a bit saccharin at times, but I think that was the point. This movie not only references the 80s, but it is a movie out of time in and of itself. It’s an adventure film the likes of which we haven’t seen since they heyday of… well, Steven Spielberg. It’s thrilling and exciting, but also fairly low stakes compared to the world-ending stories we get at the movies most weekends. That makes it approachable and almost family friendly (there’s a pretty hefty helping of some four letter words).
It’s easy to forget how much better at making movies Spielberg is than just about anyone. The way that he follows the action, and uses his soundtrack is superb. There were scenes with no music at all that were just as impactful as scenes blaring classic 80s hits. Also, the CG is phenomenal. Easily the best since Avatar. Flipping back and forth between the Oasis and the real world was almost seamless, such that you had to sometimes force yourself to remember which one you were currently watching. At the same time, the tone between the two was carefully constructed to ensure that the viewer understands that to these people, it’s the virtual world that’s most “real”.
March has been good for movies in 2018. I’ve enjoyed every movie I’ve watched this month, but this one is the best. I honestly can’t see how anyone could dislike this movie, but if you were a kid or young adult in the 80s, then I think you’ll like this even more. I remember going to drive-in theater to watch Goonies. Ready Player One made me feel like that again. I never thought the good guys were going to lose, and as nice as it can be to have those sorts of stakes in a movie, it’s also nice to just sit back and watch something optimistic and, in the best way possible, simple.
So, yeah. Go watch Ready Player One. If you don’t like it, we have to fight… but we’ll do it in the Oasis so I can be Voltron.