Adapted from the cult novel by Ernest Cline and directed by Steven Spielberg, Ready Player One is often dazzling to look at. While so many imitate Spielberg, no one has quite the eye for spectacle and awe-inducing moments and Ready Player One is full of them. When the film is not in the OASIS and tries to build an emotionally rich story it sputters a bit but not enough to dampen the fun that this film brings.
Set in 2045 in the slummy "stacks" in Columbus, Ohio, the film follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) as he embarks on a virtual reality laden adventure. After about 20 minutes of exposition explaining the future is a grim place and most people prefer to spend their time in a virtual world where anything they can imagine can happen, that adventure begins. The creator of the OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), has died and in his final act, he delivers a message to the world. He has hidden three keys in the OASIS and whoever can find them will get full control over the virtual world. Of course, a corporation wants to control and at the head of it is Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Wade and his friend Aech (Lena Waithe) are gunters who are trying to crack the easter egg within the game and find the keys. They are soon joined by Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and this is where Spielberg releases his magic.
The search for the keys takes them on a wild ride where Spielberg openly riffs on his creations from past films as well as a slew of other 80s references. For fans of the book, there are some key differences that may seem to rob the original novel of some of its better qualities. For example, by changing Will into a more attractive screen presence, something does feel lost in translation.
In the book, Will is overweight and on the ugly side. He is the definition of an outcast and someone no one would expect to be a hero. This is what fuels Cline's book with a sense of nerd redemption that is not felt in the film. The book revels in obscure references of a forgotten era, testing the reader's memory or often forcing them to Google to look something up. Speilberg opts to crame his frames with pop culture references that most people are going to recognize. In this way, the film is fascinating as Speilberg riffs on the nostalgia he created with films like E.T. Had anyone else directed the film, we may not get such an indulgent sequence as when the heroes enter the Overlook hotel. Much in known of Speilberg's love for Stanley Kubrick and here he lovingly plays with The Shining in both an homage and a smashing together of styles.
The final act doesn't quite have the payoff it goes for. This is in part due to the clunkier moments of the film that involve reality. The film never really feels as revolutionary as it may want to be. Spielberg wants to have made a film about a younger generation raised on pop culture who take over the world to make it a better place. In many ways he has but somehow by the end of the film I didn't feel moved or very hopeful. Instead I felt a bit drained from the barrage of references and the lengthy pace of the film. Still, Ready Player One is a feast for the eyes even if it doesn't hit the heart.