Forgive me if this review feels a bit jumbled and ramble-y, but it's 3:30am as I sit down to write it. I have a screening I have to leave for in about 5 hours, but I'm honestly still amped up after having seen Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One.
Right up front, this was the very first public screening of the movie, which was held during SXSW at the Paramount, a giant movie palace (balcony, paintings on the ceiling and everything) with the majority of the cast and Steven Spielberg himself present. The audience was electric, super into it buzzing even before the film started. There is no way this film has a better audience experience. There was cheering after the action scenes, roaring laughter at some of the jokes, pointing fingers constantly entering your periphery as different people noticed different iconic vehicles/characters/designs.
All that stuff is infectious, so it has to be said that it could influence an opinion. Now you know the setting.
My quick history with Ready Player One: I read the book once, right before it was published. I knew Ernie Cline a bit. He was in my extended circle. We all camped out for Episode 1 together. I sat down to read the book thinking I'd give it a chapter or two and pat him on the back, tell him I'd started it and good job or whatever. I was on an international flight when I started reading and when I looked up the flight was almost over and I had finished the book. It's a very fast read and compels you to keep going. It was a pulpy adventure success and I was happy for Ernie, but I honestly didn't think much more of it. Until Steven Spielberg got involved.
You never count out Steven Spielberg. The man is a master filmmaker and even when he strikes out he at least swings big. By just about any measure I'm an easy mark here. He's my favorite filmmaker taking a stab at one of the geekiest things ever written.
The thing is, Spielberg's a bigger geek than you are. No shit. He was a gamer before there was a word for it. At a core level he understands the appeal of the Oasis, the central online gaming reality the story revolves around, and he just happens to also be one of our most visually inventive filmmakers to boot.
Some of the early marketing was off-putting to me. It felt like CG spectacle and I didn't get any sense of the characters, but I kept telling people openly mocking it that you discount Spielberg at your peril. And it turned out I was right.
For those who don't know the world, Ready Player One is about a poor kid who lives in a future world that's not quite apocalyptic, but super shitty and drab. The one escape isn't movies or TV or reading... it's gaming, thanks to a system called OASIS, which is essentially the internet, but a video game. Everything you could possibly imagine is there. You can create any identity you want, play any kind of game you want, go anywhere you want. It's not quite real, but it's not too far off, either.
Because it's a world of unlimited
possibilities just about every pop culture character can be found in
there. You like Overwatch or Halo or Nightmare on Elm Street or Iron
Giant or Batman or Back to the Future or He-Man or Gremlins or a
million other things? You can choose that as your avatar. Or you can
be something wholly original. The one thing nobody is is themselves.
Our hero, Wade Watts, is fascinated by the man who created it all, the Steve Jobs or Bill Gates of the Oasis, a socially awkward (and sadly deceased) genius named James Halliday who, in true Willy Wonka fashion, left a series of challenges within his huge gamescape that, if solved correctly, will lead to a hidden easter egg, which grants the winner complete ownership of OASIS. This isn't like someone getting to own a big game franchise. It's not even like someone getting to own Sony or Microsoft. Everybody is plugged in. This place has its own currency. This is like someone getting to own the internet itself.
Naturally there are powerful corporate interests that want to own this for themselves and they want to pump it full of ads and pay to play features... they essentially want to revoke net neutrality and take humanity one step closer to a dystopian, corporate controlled reality.
The key to solving these puzzles is to understand the creator and what he was obsessed with. Halliday was a child of the '80s, so his nerdy obsessions are rife with pop culture references and hints, but underneath it all there's a story of a sad, lonely man. Yes, there's a trillion things to dig in a nostalgic way, but what Spielberg does so well is build the world and the characters within it that you're invested in them.
Much of the book is changed in this adaptation, but the breakneck pacing, sense of high adventure and huge beating heart are still there. Spielberg's sense of geography and ability to construct pulse-pounding action scenes is still as sharp as ever.
There will be some that will write this off as a nostalgia trip and conveniently overlook how ingrained in the actual plot and character all the references are. This isn't a movie where you need to know everything on screen. I didn't know everything I saw, and I'm pretty fuckin' nerdy! All you have to be is invested in the characters and be willing to go for a ride. If you can then you're going to find yourself having a ton of fun.
In Ready Player One Spielberg gave us one of the geekiest films ever made. It's certainly the geekiest film he's ever made, and that's saying something.
I wish I could be a little more critical of it. There were a few moments that don't work and some over-explaining that happens in a few scenes, but I had the goofiest grin on my face the entire runtime of this movie and I'm still smiling. I'm sitting here, dog-tired with a big day of interviews and movie-watching coming up and I'm still smiling like a frickin' doofus over this movie.
It's just flat out fun. This will be a litmus test movie. We might be able to get along if you don't like this movie, but we're never going to be good friends. If you can't enjoy something that wants to make you happy so earnestly then I don't know if it's going to work out between us. Sorry, bud.
Again, consider that I saw this in possibly the best setting ever and I'm just about exactly the target audience for this movie, but goddamn did it make me happy.
I might come back with a few more coherent (and not sleep-deprived) thoughts later, but this is where I'm at hours after the experience.