Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One improves immensely on the book

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There are legitimate reasons to hate the successful novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and many of them are summarized in the paragraph where the teen protagonist, Wade Watts, describes the virtual car he built for himself in the vast online world where he spends the most from your waking hours:
The DeLorean comes equipped with a flow condenser (which does not work), but I have made several additions to its equipment and appearance. First, I installed an artificially intelligent onboard computer called KITT (purchased at an online auction) on the board, along with a red Knight Rider scanner just above the DeLorean grid. Then I fitted the car with an oscillation override, a device that allowed it to travel through the solid matter. Finally, to complete the theme of my 1980s supercar, I slapped a Ghostbuster logo on each of the DeLorean gullwing doors, then added custom plates that read ECTO-88.
That's a very specific verbiage to say two pretty basic things: people in the online world can express their personal tastes in hyperspecific ways, and Cline is so obsessed with the culture of the 80s: the fodder-fodder of his youth – that he thinks is convincing even in the form of a shopping list. The book is a vertiginous adventure, but this type of cultural references difficult to handle acts as an obstacle. There is no attempt to consider why Wade finds these specific objects attractive, of the one billion options available to him. The book assumes from the beginning that readers find everything on this list unbearably cold, jealous to the extreme, and that reading an exhaustive list of Wade's favorite things is enough to make it attractive, easy to relate and enviable.
The new Steven Spielberg film adaptation of Ready Player One features prominently that same car, but in a context that improves it immensely. Spielberg does not have Wade to speak to audiences through him, and he does not spell references. He simply hits the car in the middle of a tremendous early action scene, where he is prominent, distinctive and memorable. Fans who want a trip full of nostalgia, who want to get every Easter egg out of the experience, will eventually be able to pause the film and frame by frame through it, looking for the flow condenser on the board, reviewing the dishes, and scanning extra extra material. But in the middle of the action, even for people who never saw Back To The Future movies and are not making vibrations about the connection, the car does not need explanations. It's just an elegant piece of visual energy, a breathless element among dozens of others. It is not an appointment or a list. It is a piece of integrated and effortless action.

That dynamic extends throughout Ready Player One, scripted by Cline and X-Men: the writer of The Last Stand, Zak Penn, and directed by Spielberg as a quick tear through a video game that spans the world. The story, which mostly takes place in the world of virtual reality called The OASIS, rarely slows down enough to explain the references, or geek about them as the book does. It is still a visual festival of the culture of the 80s that sometimes contains meaningful jokes about the assumption that the public knows the filmography of Robert Zemeckis, or will make fun of a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But the film improves significantly in the book by prioritizing the story over the signifiers. The crowd of hardcore pop culture that is the final audience of this movie will have a lot to emphasize and separate in this movie. But the story moves fast enough, and with enough giant-sized, screen-friendly emotion that it does not feel directed only and specifically towards them.
Part of that speed occurs at the expense of art. Ready Player One opens by painstakingly climbing a mountain of voice-overs, explaining the scenario: the year is 2045, and the world is terrible. Most people live in depressing poverty and spend as much time as possible in the fantasy world of OASIS. There, they can do and do whatever they want, or at least anything they can afford to buy with coins won in the video game scenarios of the universe that run forever. The OASIS was created by the lone genius James Halliday (Mark Rylance of Bridge of Spies), who filled it with his own favorite culture. When he died, he created a search in three parts of the world, linked to his favorite movies and games, but also to his own remorse and frustrations. Whoever finds the three keys that he hides in the game world and the last Easter egg he unlocks, will get total control of the vast fortune of OASIS and Halliday.
The mission has created a subclass of "egg hunters" or "hunters": search obsessives whose full-time occupation is hunting the keys. A malignant dystopian megacorpopolis was also created, led by former Halliday resident Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn, of Rogue One and Starred Up), and dedicated to gaining control of OASIS to market it. Wade (X-Men: Tye Sheridan of Apocalypse) and Gunters, particularly Art3mis, lonely hunter too cool for school (Olivia Cooke, also protagonist of the creepy Thoroughbreds) and Aech, the great mechanical partner of Wade (Master of None & # 39; ; s Lena Waithe)) – everyone wants the keys and the egg for their own personal reasons, although they are barely articulated.
Cline's book assumes that everyone will know that a DeLorean is great; Spielberg's film assumes the same about a teenage protagonist who loves video games. Wade (or Parzival, as he is known in the OASIS) finally develops an ethos, but for the most part, he is like any other gamer who has ever sat on a couch and press "start" on the controller. He may appreciate the gameplay or the story or the people he meets online, but ultimately, he just wants that elusive victory. It is more a personalized avatar of the audience than a real character, but that is appropriate for a world that is so tainted, at least out of the virtual paradise where people prefer to spend their time.

Image: Warner Bros

The movie version of Ready Player One has some important advantages over the book. The exhibition is equally bald, but once it is done, Spielberg can focus on the infinite dynamism of a world where everything is possible. As Wade and others continue their search through careers, battles and riddles, they encounter a dizzying blur of visual references that act like "Hey, remember this?" In jokes with the audience, including some important ones that were not in the book. But the filmmakers also delve deeper into Halliday's past and his wounded psyche, in a way that gradually becomes a bit soulful and tragic. (A conversation with Halliday's online avatar closely resembles a similar scene with Professor Falken in WarGames, and has the same melancholy feeling.) The film also goes beyond the book in explaining why Halliday's retreat to A fantasy world was not necessarily good. for anyone, especially not for Halliday himself. No matter how validated gags are on screen, they remain a reminder of a man who found more emotional resonance in the Jurassic Park T-Rex than in a connection with a living human being.
The film inevitably has its cake and is eaten at the time of approaching fantasy of wish fulfillment and delirious nostalgia: the story can only go so far as to be saddened by Halliday's surrender and withdrawal from the world, while continuing to convert every piece of game in a celebration game of Cline's favorite culture. Ready Player One is so strongly inspired and diverted by the broad black-and-white morality of the geek culture of the '80s that any attempt to find the gray areas seems a bit daring, even if it feels slightly misplaced. Given that Sorrento is a dejected thief with the stony face of an evil lord, directly from Tron, there is not much space for the narrative nuance in this story. But at least Cline and Penn make the effort, recognizing some of the biggest complaints directed against Cline's book, and trying to take the story a little deeper.
The film version retains some of the most notable defects of the book, especially a suspicious dependence on narrative convenience and coincidence. The characters are thin, and most of them are little more than great avatars and exclusive moves. It makes no sense that no one involved in the story really cares about the details of the real world in this future without a future, given how little the real world scenes are held together. And the film takes a particularly light as a feather focus on what significant emotions should be, especially when a death that devastates Wade is minimized in a matter of seconds, and then returned for an undeserved moment, much later. Spielberg's distinctive feeling is operating with full force, since he constructs a highly symbolic confrontation solely by the feelings of triumph and justice he creates, and then he has absolutely nothing. And in some places, the story progresses so fast that it seems that necessary connection scenes are missing.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Unequivocally, the movie's biggest problem is the half-love story between Wade and Art3mis, which operates with approximately 75 percent desire satisfaction and 25 percent apathetic inevitability. When they meet for the first time, Wade is dazzling: he meets Art3mis from his cool girl representative online and, seeing her in action, sees her as a über-badass with leet skills and an attitude of punk-de-can-care . It is a short and shocking leap from there to him telling him that he loves her. What follows must be important and revealing: she reminds you that you do not know each other, that you are seeing an online avatar and a mental image that you have invented to a large extent. (And, of course, he thinks they are perfect for each other because he gets his references).
But the film never reaches that mature and useful point. The instantaneous relationship that develops between them is as false and insulting as the central romance in Scott Pilgrim vs. Edgar Wright vs. The world, without any sense of irony or intentionality. It is bad enough to follow the model of "hero wins the girl as prize" without examining it at all. It's even worse for the characters to examine it, find the flaws and then forget about them instantly. This is not a film with a long memory (except when it goes back to 40 years for visual gags), but it is exasperating to see that it tries to examine its own tropes responsibly, and then does not take any steps to address the problems it poses .
And yet, when Wade is on his DeLorean rig, destroying an absurdly difficult game circuit, threatened by King Kong and dodging flying debris while his fellow runners collide and burn, very little of that matters. The pure dynamism and energy of the film are convincing, even when the character is not the drama. The action scenes are overwhelmingly overlooked, turning Wade's quest into an exciting blur of giddy decisions and endorphin highs for a good gaming experience. More importantly, the film is openly funny, so it constantly reminds the audience that there are people behind the avatars of the game, and specifically people who are sometimes young, self-absorbed, immature and trapped in their own badassery self-images. The human weaknesses behind the avatars of the game are a good mood of confidence for Ready Player One, and the script takes a full and hilarious advantage.
And while the real world of the film is left behind with haste, the attention to detail during the OASIS scenes is absolutely amazing, not just the details that Cline salivates on the page, like the Knight Rider scanner on the car's grille. Wade, if not the subtle nuances, such as the way Wade's avatar seems to be constantly standing in a flattering breeze waving her hair in the most charming way possible, or the way the too-large eyes of the Art3mis anime catch the light. The mysterious valley effect is strong in these game avatars, but Spielberg uses it to his advantage, reminding his audience at all times that what they are seeing is mainly a fantasy, created by people who see the image as almost everything. It's a fantasy with a polished and elegant surface, sure. But for people who share Cline's worldview, or identify with the culture of the player in general, it is an immense stroke of validation and recognition, delivered with joyful abandon and inescapable enthusiasm. All those feelings of love and obsession appeared clearly on the page. But on the screen, they are larger and better, because they are much more intense, and much closer to the memorable images that made Cline obsessive in the first place.
This critique comes from the premiere of Ready Player One at the 2018 SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. The film will be released on March 29, 2018.


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