Ready Player One could have been worse. A lot worse. It also could have been better. A lot better. Split the difference? It was an entertaining movie with, as my older son noted afterwards, “more holes in the plot than you could poke a stick through.” My younger son, who has read the book by Ernest Cline at least six times in the past two years, added, “The book was better.” I was more charitable with the movie than my three boys were, it turns out (which is usually the opposite).
We watched Ready Player One in 3D in the XD theater and that was a good move, as the immersive storytelling element of the movie — part of which takes place in a virtual environment known as The Oasis — was made livelier by the 3D experience. And Steven Spielberg sure knows how to pack a visual punch, and to allude to all sorts of 1980s pop culture elements.
If you don’t know the story, Ready Player One is about the world in the future where the collapse of energy and food resources has people living in the Stacks — literally, mobile homes and cars and such all stacked upward — with the only real ‘escape’ from the apocalypse is virtual reality in The Oasis gaming world, where endless smaller worlds can be created around themes. The story revolves around our teenage hero — Wade Watts — as he tries to find the hidden Easter Egg left behind by the creator of The Oasis. Finding the Egg will mean gaining ownership and direction of The Oasis.
The game design element of the novel is what lured me into the story years ago, and my youngest son loved the book when I passed it along to him. The movie captures some of that tension between real life, outside of technology, and the digital life we create and make for ourselves inside the spaces we inhabit. The use of avatars and digital identity, of ethics of shared virtual space, of commercialization of online experiences, and of the imagination in building worlds all emerge as themes of the story.
Elements of the game itself get buried in the movie by all of the 1980s pop references, though, and the potential to use the intricacies of game experience to drive the plot (sort of like Wreck-It Ralph did pull off) falls by the wayside in favor of a more typical good/bad battle.
I did appreciate that one of the underlying messages, made a bit too obvious by the end, is that collaboration and cooperation for a greater good are more powerful than profit and personal gain. The corporate loses. The collective wins.
Also, the new rule created by Wade and his friends in the end that The Oasis gets shut down every Tuesday and Thursday, in order for users to break from the technology and reconnect with friends and family (cue end scene of Wade smooching with Artemis, the real heroine of the story), seemed rather relevant to our modern times. Imagine if Facebook or Twitter decided that two days a week, no one could use the site?
Peace (with popcorn),