Do you like the 80s? Sure! We all do!... Well, all except Steven Spielberg, director of the movie based off of Ernest Cline's 80s-fest novel known as Ready Player One.
Wait, what? But Ready Player One is nothing BUT 1980s references and shit. What are you talking about?
Yes, the book Ready Player One is, but the movie, wisely, isn't. Spielberg did the smartest thing ever when he signed on to make the movie version of the most pop-culture-referencing book of all time: He left out almost all of the masturbatory 80s pop-culture references.
But THAT was the book's only saving grace!
Well, some would argue that that was the book's worst aspect, followed closely by the shitty characterizations, the Mary Sue-ness of the protagonist, and the uber-nerd wish-fulfillment fantasy... but regardless, it would NOT have translated well to the big screen had the Maestro Spielbergo left all those references in.
What he did instead was focus the story on one man's regret, and how a group of talented kids could (kind of) fix things, and quite possibly save the world (of Warcraft).
But before that, let me back up and give people who aren't familiar with the book a quick synopsis of the plot.
Things start out in the 2040s when super tech-head and dreamer, James Halliday, dies. Halliday was part of a team that developed the OASIS, a virtual reality universe that was super affordable, and able to transport its users to whatever kind of world that they wanted to explore or hang out in. From vacation planets, to shoot 'em up adventures, to global race-car tracks, and even Dungeons and Dragons-type worlds... And just like Zombo.com, the only limit was people's imaginations.
When Halliday expires, a video is released to every player in the OASIS at the same time, informing them that he hid an Easter egg (a concealed something) inside the system, that, if found, would grant the discoverer majority ownership in his OASIS company, valued at half of a trillion dollars, and give them the ability to guide the OASIS into the future.
The shitty Comcast of this world (known as "IOI") wants this prize for its corporate self, so that they can force all of the OASIS users to see paid ads in their virtual displays non-stop whenever they log into the system. They also want to charge users out the ass too, because corporate greed and shit.
Anyway, into this comes teenager Wade Watts, a slacker who is a gunter (an "egg hunter"), along with his online ogre-pal Aech. Together (with some new, sexy friends), they begin to discover all of the autistic Halliday's clues leading to the three keys needed to unlock the egg, because they're special and they LISTEN to people's pain, fool.
During all this crazy online shit, the real-world IOI declares war on these kids, and tries to either coerce them into joining their side, or legally enslave them due to debts owed. Then there's a giant finale that combines both real world and virtual world peril, and then a big American dance party!
That... That sounds just like the book. What are you talking about, with all your "Spielberg changed shit up" claims?
Yeah, the basic plot is the same, but the clues used to decipher the ways to the keys are all about aspects of Halliday's life that he regretted. Wade has to dive deeper into the man's psychosis to figure out how to move forward (or backward, for that matter), and there are no Easter egg challenges where he has to 'member Rush lyrics, or find the Captain's whistle, or play the Lych King in a game of Joust. Honestly, I was hoping beyond hope that they'd leave in the parts of the book where Wade has to "play through" War Games, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail in a first person quotable and actionable playscape... But alas, earwax.
Really? Those were like the lamest parts of the already lame book! Ugh, you elitist fanboy.
Wait, didn't you just say that those references were the book's only saving grace? Fuck you, you little bitch. You just like to complain about shit, don't you.
The book, while not high art, was fun as fuck. You're just hating 'cause you weren't enough of a lifeless nerd to catch all the references!
But like I was saying, Spielberg took only that basic premise, and then he went rogue with it. The characters are different (read, less annoying), motivations are different and better defined, situations are switched up, solutions to clues are not nerdy but psychological understandings of Halliday's desires, etc. It is exactly what needed to be done to this story in order to make it work in a 2 hour and 20 minute motion picture format... And, of course, Spielberg understood this, cut out all the fat (like the listing off of 80s TV shows, movies, and video games every ten minutes), but he kept in things like people's OASIS avatars looking like the Battletoads, or Chun Li, or Freddie Krueger, and he left in things like people driving the A-Team van around, or the Mach 5, or the Adam West Batmobile.
Virtually every scene has SOMETHING hidden in the background that will make a true fanboy smirk in smug appreciation. But it's never in the forefront. Well, not until the big final battle... but that couldn't be helped. That's when one needs to bring in the big guns.
Anyway, Spielberg's Ready Player One has a lot going for it. For one, it's better than his previous family-friendly movie based all about an adult's lifelong regrets — Hook — but also, it's surprisingly well acted. The guy who plays Wade looks like a douchebag, but he actually comes across as a decent enough hero, and the guy who plays Halliday in all the flashbacks (and Halliday's avatar Anorack), is phenomenal. I really felt his regret, and his pain, and his, well... that'd be spoilers. That's the heart of the movie, and it was what I remembered most about it. Not that the Iron Giant and a Gundam fight side-by-side, but that the man who created this amazing universe, and virtually gave it away to the world had monster heartbreak and remorse that led him to try and do something about it later in his life. Something that would give someone else the chance to do something good with their lives.
That does sound better than "I love the 80s, and YOU should too... At least in order to win my billions of dollars" that the book was all about.
I do not deny that.
Anything else to add?
The music, by Alan Silvestri, was mostly forgettable, which is sad in a Spielberg movie. The soundtrack is really only good when it calls back to other, better, more memorable scores. The guy who wrote the music to Back to the Future and Forrest Gump should be capable of more though.
The OASIS world itself, while an amazing piece of technological wonder, takes a little to get used to. I don't know if I would have preferred it to be filmed more like a live action movie (where the camera isn't always sliding and swooping and moving due to limited physical restrictions), or if it should have simply gone full-on video game and gone super over-the-top with a more graphical look than it already has. I thought its overall look could have been tweaked a bit more... Maybe I'm just reaching now.
Oh, and the funniest thing to me (and the saddest) is how perfectly timed Ready Player One - The Movie is to speak about net neutrality, and how IOI is just a company filled with greedy and evil dickholes whose ONLY goal is to charge people more for using the internet. They want everyone to pay for faster speeds on the OASIS if they win Halliday's challenge, and still force them to watch unwanted ads all the time. Everyone in IOI just wants money. Money, money, money... Until Wade makes it to the last challenge, then everybody in the world (except the two biggest turds in IOI) starts to cheer him on because movie logic. Anyway, yes, this appears to be Spielberg's preaching to the world the necessity of continued net neutrality. And although he's a bit heavy-handed in his preachiness, I applaud him for his efforts.
Yes, Spielberg's Ready Player One is still a wish-fulfillment fantasy like the book that spawned it, but it's not half as obnoxious about it as Cline's novel was. I found it much easier to root for Wade, Aech, and Art3mis in the movie due to the focus on them as a team and not so much because of their basic knowledge of games, movies, and music from a long-dead decade... But as a total 80s kid and uber-nerd, I was sad to see that there was no first-person Black Tiger video game to be played, and no Max Headroom personal assistant for Wade in the OASIS.
I will tell you what... I miss the 80s. I miss being 40 years younger, and most of all I miss NOT having any of a dozen government agencies on my back preaching "safe lab practices," and "no human experimentation" all the gosh darn time!
By the way, I tried building a virtual world all my own back in the 80s too. Yes, the graphics weren't quite as sharp as they would be now, and yes, I had to forcefully recruit the volunteers to test out my "Dave's World 3D" in order to work out any bugs, but I had a noble goal in mind for my experiment: brain-dead teenagers playing my virtual games forever and ever, and never coming unplugged, lest they suffer the "real world bends."
In fact, I had to set up an automatic feeder and waste removal system to take care of my volunteers once it became obvious that they were in fact completely addicted to the Tron-like grandeur of my Dave's World 3D hypnotic colors and almost seizure-inducing flashing lights and OH MY GOODNESS!!! They're still all plugged in in the sub-basement of Bunker 3! Oh no!.... All this time, hooked into my psychedelic and now primitive world of kill or be killed 3D game of survival against their other volunteers! Dying and re-spawning over and over again for over 30 years!.... Just think of all the data I need to collect and go through!
I've got to go!
I plan to create a giant OASIS-like program that will ensnare the world, just like that Holiday guy in this movie... But when I die a multi trillionaire, the game that I leave behind won't have an Easter egg hidden in it, even though I'll TELL people that I hid one in it! I may even hide 2 keys to this imaginary egg, and claim that I hid 3.
Oh man, I hope that Heaven is real so that I can look down at all the plebes playing my great game, losing their shit thinking that they have a chance of winning my company because they think they know me and my likes and dislikes in movies, video games, and TV shows. Suckers.