As with any review wherein the material is an adaptation, I must specify that since I have not read the book, I can only review this as a movie. With that out of the way, on to matters of substance.
This is not a controversial statement. Whatever your ideology, I’d argue the vast majority of people in the world would agree that for various reasons, the real world kind of sucks. So why do we do it? The obvious answer for most people is because, apart from hallucinogens and certain types of mental illness, both being unquestionably terrible alternatives, the real world is our only option. With Steven Spielberg directing, Ready Player One explores the possibility of a reality where we do have another option called the OASIS, a virtual world where you can do anything, be anyone, and in general just live your life in any way you want.
As a gamer, this isn’t a foreign concept to me. Escapism is part of the reason video game addiction is as real as drug addiction or alcoholism for many people. When presented with this option, people react exactly as one would expect them to: they quickly make it the center of their lives, abandoning reality in every way barring the basic necessities. The opening scenes are a powerful demonstration of this, as the main character Wade Wattz traverses the Stacks, a kind of first-world slum that gets its name from the trailers piled on top of one another on top of metal scaffolding. Almost everyone in the background is seen to be living within the OASIS, completely oblivious to the poverty surrounding them, and rarely is a background character seen without the ubiquitous VR headset.
The setup for the movie’s plot comes from the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday. A socially awkward but intellectually gifted pop culture-obsessed recluse. Prior to his death, he left an Easter egg, a kind of hidden message or reference left by developers for players to find – within the OASIS. The first player to find this Easter egg would receive Halliday’s stock, worth half a trillion dollars, and sole proprietorship of the OASIS. With the introduction of this challenge, the heroes of the story are introduced. These heroes include Wade Wattz, whose screen name Parzival; his love interest Samantha Cook, a famous gamer and Twitch streamer under the screen name of Art3mis; Helen, Wade’s best friend, known online as H; and finally, Sho and Daito.
A couple of things should be noted: the film isn’t really anything new in terms of the story itself; a ragtag group of geeks take on an evil corporation. The concepts behind it, however, are unique and are done very well, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that has integrated pop-culture references so perfectly into the story. Without spoilers, I will say that fans of Kubrick’s The Shining, in particular, are in for a treat.
I should also take a moment to visit upon the movie’s theme. For a movie that revels in nostalgia and pop-culture, it carries a somewhat anti-gaming message. The recurring theme of the movie is that people need to stop trying to escape the world and live in it instead because all the greatest experiences are real. The problem with the delivery of this message is that, when Wade finally decides to live in the real world, he does so after he’s gained a beautiful girlfriend and become one of the richest people in the world through the OASIS. This significantly undercuts the message presented by the film; it’s easy argue against escapism when there’s nothing left to escape.
Still, the ultimate question that must be addressed, is whether or not this movie is worth seeing. For the average person, I’d recommend it. For anyone with any love for all things geeky, this is required viewing. This movie is fun. A masterpiece? Maybe, maybe not, but it is incredibly fun nonetheless. When I over-salted my popcorn and found my drink empty, I didn’t get up for a refill because I didn’t want to miss a scene, and that’s the highest compliment I can give a movie.
Five out of five stars.