MOVIE REVIEW – A “video game adaptation”, which isn’t about a specific game, but rather the whole industry – put in the future, adapted from Ernest Cline’s pop-culture-soaked novel? That’s what we waited for, right? But is it done right? Can Steven Spielberg make a successful movie about video games after so many failures of the genre? The answer is yes, but not for everyone.
We are in 2045, in the fastest-growing city in the world: Columbus, Ohio. (A city, which was represented floating in the sky in the memorable video game: Bioshock: Infinite.) Around the globe, people play as much as it is possible in an online virtual universe called the OASIS, where the focus is as much on living in a fantasy character’s skin as on shooting things and keeping score. Indeed, you can similar to Beetlejuice and drive a Batmobile 1960; you can dance in zero gravity with a green-skinned swimsuit model; you can do anything in this virtual world, while beyond your VR goggles, your physical body lives in a slum made of RV trailers stacked perilously high atop each other.
The tech-artistic mastermind who shaped the place, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), died not long ago, and left OASIS members with one last game: whoever can solve a series of clues and missions within the online world will become heir to both his vast fortune and total control over what happens in the OASIS.
While mighty corporate interests — like IOI, a proletariat-exploiting company run by Ben Mendelsohn‘s Nolan Sorrento — are hiring teams of gamers to find Halliday’s “Easter egg,” hardcore geeks (the egg hunters, or “gunters”) have the advantage, since the clues draw on every comic book, movie and video game the inventor consumed in his life — not to mention the biographical trivia housed in a vast archive of digitally reassembled memories. (That archive was just a published memoir in the novel; here, it’s an entrancing living museum overseen by a stuffy butler-like robot.)
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), known as Parzival in the OASIS, has been hunting for clues alongside his best friend Aech, a mechanical genius, whose avatar is a giant black man with robot parts in his midsection. (The spoiler-averse should avoid looking at the credits to see whose voice is delivering Aech’s lines.) From far away, the two have been admiring the egg-hunting work of Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), an anime-styled woman whose online motorcycle has Tron flair, and their paths cross in the movie’s first really thrilling set piece: gamers trying to solve the first challenge must win a car race whose course is a fast-mutating obstacle course, where wrecking balls or a T-Rex will kill you if the road doesn’t simply uproot itself under your wheels and throw you off. The obstacle just before the finish line is a doozy, but the trick to beating the thing is even more fun. Soon, Parzival beats the first challenge, followed by Aech, Art3mis and a pair of Japanese players, Daito (Win Morisaki) and Shoto (Philip Zhao).
The Adventures of Parzival: James Halliday’s Secret
In spite of all my love for the bearded director, I was a little worried that it was him to the realization. Indeed, the last time, it had given the soporific and often ugly The Big Friendly Giant. But hey, we can comfort ourselves by remembering The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of The Unicorn. Finally, it is the latter that Ready Player One is the closest. The scenes of action are a total delirium where the director of the saga Indiana Jones is completely loose, because not restricted by the laws of reality. Thank you computer graphics. In fact, the film is an intelligent and successful mix between real and cinematic shooting.
If the mastery of the realization of “cinematics” is breathtaking, especially for the motor racing highlighted in the trailer and the discovery of the OASIS (the virtual universe of the film). I am not totally convinced. It’s quite shocking to say, but these scenes are so dense that I was drowned. The action was sometimes almost illegible to me. Attention, it’s still very fun, but it’s just that emotionally speaking, I was hoping more. I was amazed (and dazzled) by the action and amused by the many and awesome winks, but it stops there. It’s going so fast that we never have time to get involved.
The Chosen One in Ralph’s Worlds
The story remains a foolproof classic somewhere between Ralph’s Disney Worlds and the sf Matrix masterpiece. Difficult to be disoriented in front of Ready Player One, but it does not prevent that it was with a real enthusiasm that I discovered the OASIS. So, how about roaring with the pop-culture easter eggs of the 80’s and 90’s that represent my youth? By cons, it’s a pity that there is no reference to the work of the director … At least I have not seen. In hindsight, I wonder if it is not by dint of wanting to identify all the Easter eggs that I stole from the narration of the action.
Finally, I really liked the humor and characters of the film. Especially the secondary with a special mention for Mark Rylance who finds Steven Spielberg for the third time in three years.
A video game adaptation without an actual video game
Ready Player One will be a real pleasure for all those impregnated with the pop-culture of the 80s and 90s as a bibi as the easter eggs are numerous (really a sick thing). For others, I think its impact will be less. As for the story, it’s Matrix meets Ralph’s Worlds. Not terribly original but in the heart of excellent passages, a couple Tye Sheridan / Olivia Cooke endearing and offering a fun gallery of secondary characters. Small flat all the same for the action scenes much too dense to the point of sometimes becoming unreadable. Anyway, Ready Player One is the best adaptation of a video game to date, even if paradoxically, it adapts none.