Ready Player One (2018)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Ready Player One</strong> (2018)

(On Cable TV, December 2018) I really enjoyed (with reservations) Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, but then again I was supposed to: I’m very near the nerdy child-of-the-1980s demographic that the book celebrates and aims for. There is nothing wrong in writing a novel meant to stroke the nostalgic sense of a particular audience (after all, the boomers have been doing it for at least thirty years), but Ready Player One got a particularly severe case of spotlight rot as it became a publishing success and people farther away from its intended audience started reading (and rejecting) the book. With the adaptation of the novel to film, I was looking forward to the result almost as much as I was wondering how it would smooth some of the rough edges of the original. Expectations ran high for the result—after all, there was no better outcome for the film than to be actually directed by Steven Spielberg, given Spielberg’s stature in shaping the 1980s and the novel’s frequent nods in his direction. As a director, Spielberg could also be counted upon to deliver the wow factor of a big special-effects-driven production. Fortunately, Ready Player One lives up to the hype and the apprehension. Much of the novel’s cheerful homage to 1980s geek-culture remains intact, and most of the plot has been ably adapted on-screen despite the mountains of exposition that Cline (and readers) loved along the way. It’s still a story about a young man in a dystopian future trying to make something of himself through an epic Easter egg hunt in a virtual reality environment. In the details, however, many things have changed. Even though the movie’s licensing team made heroic efforts to obtain permission to use a flurry of pop-culture references, some changes were still necessary and arguably improve the experience. I far rather enjoyed going back to an astonishing digital re-creation of The Shining than Wargames, and I suspect that Spielberg did as well. Ready Player One does fix a few of the novel’s more vexing moments, although a few annoyances do remain. Still, the point of the film is the giddiness of playing hard with pop culture, and having fun along the way. The special effects are often astonishing, and the giddiness of a few scenes (such as the Manhattan Race) are well worth a look, showing Spielberg once again at his most entertaining best. (He even had time to begin and complete The Post in-between Ready Player One’s production and completion). It’s clear that Ready Player One does remain a very specific kind of film for a very specific kind of audience, but the film expands its reach beyond the novel, and the result is an enjoyable future thriller with terrific special effects and probably as many pop-culture references as we’re likely to ever see again under the current IP framework.

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