Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Ready Player One

I enjoyed the book by Ernest Cline several years ago. The other night, I also mostly enjoyed the movie, directed by Stephen Spielberg from a script co-written by Cline and comic-book-movie maven Zak Penn. It stars Simon Pegg (Scotty in the Star Trek reboot films), Mark Rylance (an Oscar winner for Spielberg's Bridge of Spies who also played the BFG for Spielberg), Ben Mendelsohn (whose aristocratic lisp, here minus the British accent, is the reason I recognized him as King George VI in Darkest Hour), and a bunch of younger folks who have been in stuff I haven't seen. There is one actor, T.J. Miller, whose voice was paired with a virtual-reality character; otherwise, I might have recognized him as the bartender in Deadpool who told Wade Wilson that his mutilated face was "haunting." Which reminds me of the reason I enjoyed main character (in this movie) Wade Watts' line about how he got his name - his dad thought it made him sound like a superhero's secret identity.

Of course, being a film adaptation of a book, it inevitably fell short of being a totally satisfying alternative to reading the book. The stakes didn't seem as high, what with (for example) one of the "High Five" getting killed in the book but staying alive in the movie, and (for another example) the hero being the one who lets himself be enslaved by the evil IOI corporation in the book, while another character plays this gambit in the movie. The overall texture was less completely saturated with 1980s pop culture references. Putting a few years between reading the book and watching the movie probably helped ease my sense of injustice about some of the changes the movie made. So, I would grade the movie with a B-minus overall for being fun to watch, but perhaps not as much fun as it might have been.

The cast was cute; the virtual-reality effects were cool; there was a lot of action and, in many scenes, an impressive swirl of imagery, concepts, and issues for the viewer to process all at once. But I missed some important things, like the fact that the Oasis allows kids to go to school in a bully-free virtual world carpeted, from pole to pole, with schools; more emphasis on Wade's poverty holding him back while other gunters ("Easter egg hunters") were able to travel more freely and accessorize their avatars better; and the whole social scene of Aech's virtual basement where, for example, you might run into an IOI spy pretending to be a regular gunter. A certain surprise about a certain character wasn't as surprising as I would have liked - demonstrating, for once, the impact sound editing can make on the quality of a film. Also, if there was a closing credits Easter egg in a movie that prominently featured the idea of an Easter egg, and that came out (I thought very significantly) right around Easter, it didn't materialize during the portion of the credits I stayed for. Bummed.

Three scenes that made the movie for me: (1) How the High Five scams IOI baddie Sorrento into mistaking a virtual reality for his real-world office, and how Sorrento figured it out; (2) The whole sequence set in the haunted hotel from The Shining; and (3) Wade's creative use of Chucky, the evil doll from Child's Play, as a melee weapon. Now let's see what the cinema world does with Ernest Cline's Armada. Maybe, if fans of the book are very lucky, the answer will be ... nothing. Failing that, maybe the writers and filmmakers will learn from this movie's shortcomings. Naaaah, never happen.

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