Friday, March 23, 2018

Review of READY PLAYER ONE: Virtual Virtuosity!

March 22, 2018




"Ready Player One" was first a sci-fi novel written by Ernest Cline, published in 2011. Warner Bros. saw so much potential in this novel, they bought the rights for its film version a full year before it was even published. Cline adapted his own book into a script, with the assistance of veteran screenwriter Zak Penn. With Steven Spielberg signing on to direct in 2015, this film had all the ingredients for a blockbuster film.

It is 2045. Wade Watt was an orphaned young man who lived in the "Stacks," a dystopian slum neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio. Like everyone else at that time, Wade spent his days going inside the OASIS, a virtual world where people can do anything they desire. As his avatar Parzival, Wade wanted to win the game challenge left by the late OASIS inventor James Halliday -- where anyone who can win three keys leading to an Easter Egg hidden somewhere in the OASIS will inherit full ownership of the Halliday's invention. 

I first saw lead actor Tye Sheridan in 2015 in two thematically diverse films like "Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse" (MY REVIEW) and "Dark Places" (MY REVIEW). He then made a strong impression as the young Cyclops in "X-Men: Apocalypse" (2016). His role here as Wade Watts is bound to launch this young 21-year old actor into super-stardom. Although half of the time, we see him as his avatar Parzival, Sheridan ably carried the whole film on his shoulders in both the action and drama components of his role. 

His group of friends in the OASIS were a diverse bunch of very skilled video game geeks. Lena Waithe played Helen Harris, whose OASIS identity Aech was a musclebound male techie and Wade's best friend. Win Morisaki and Philip Zhao play Japanese gamers Toshiro and Akihide whose avatars were samurai Daito and ninja Shoto respectively. Olivia Cooke played Samantha Cook, a rebel activist in real life and Wade's cyber crush Art3mis virtually. Although the book does not have a follow-up, it does not seem impossible if we see this group again in a future sequel for further adventures of The High Five.

Mark Rylance was not easily recognized in his unkempt long-haired geek make-up as the eccentric James Halliday, the timid genius who developed a virtual world to escape the loneliness of the real world. Simon Pegg played Halliday's only friend and business partner Ogden Morrow, who later became estranged due to their divergent philosophies.  

Veteran character actor Ben Mendehlson played the main antagonist character Nolan Sorrento, CEO of the Innovative Online Industries or IOI, manufacturers of virtual reality hardware. He hired an entire army of virtual warriors in order to win Halliday's Easter Egg in order for IOI to gain control of the whole OASIS. There was so much subtle tongue-in-cheek humor in his portrayal of a ruthless character. T.J. Miller stole scenes as virtual mercenary i-R0k whom Sorrento hired to do his virtual mayhem. 

This film was so much fun to watch with all the pop culture references that abound in it. You'd need repeated watching of this film to catch all those little juicy details hidden in the scenes and the dialogue. You will see King Kong, Mecha-Godzilla, Gundam, the Iron Giant in all their glory, and catch glimpses of the Batmobile, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tony Manero's disco moves and many more. 

The musical soundtrack was steeped in 1980s pop songs, beginning with Van Halen's "Jump" from the opening scene, and citations of a-ha and Duran Duran. There were rich references to 1980s movies with mentions of names like John Hughes, Ferris Bueller and Buckaroo Banzai. Parzival's car is a DeLorean from "Back to the Future." There was entire elaborate segment dedicated to a tribute to the horror classic "The Shining" (Stanley Kubrick, 1980), in what is probably the most fun part of the whole film. 

Watching a film like this in 3D IMAX is very much worth the additional ticket expense. The computer-generated world of OASIS really came alive three-dimensionally for the audience as they are drawn in and immersed into what is practically what the characters were virtually seeing and experiencing in their heads. 

From the 1970s all the way to the 1990s, Steven Spielberg had given us some of the most engaging adventure films of all time both by young film fans and old -- "Jaws" (1974), "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982), "Jurassic Park" (1993). It is only now that Spielberg had again handled material that showed that he still had that magic touch when it comes to directing these types of films, making them connect with audiences of all generations. 10/10. 


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