By Chris Zuver, A&E Editor
History has continuously shown that movies made about video game franchises are often rushed, poorly written, and full of lines given to the wrong actors. Super Mario Bros., Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Tomb Raider, I could go on. Most of them sucked and with easily-explainable reasons.
Yet, what about a movie that explores the general concept of a video game? Is there potential there?
Well, we’ve already seen this realized as far back as 1982 with “Tron,” which was a success. And of course, there was “The Wizard,” which acted more effectively as a vessel to advertise “Super Mario Bros. 3” than it did a movie with substance.
But now we have “Ready Player One,” a movie which I honestly didn’t expect much from. Though I had never read the book, I understood enough from the trailer I had seen. It seemed like a world full of pop-culture references and CGI effects. My highest hope was that it would at least be watchable.
While it was indeed watchable, and even enjoyable, I don’t see it any Oscars in its future.
Speaking of the future, the film takes place in the not too far-off year of 2045, where life for many has become mundane and unpleasant. However, most people spend all of their free time escaping their reality for the virtual program known as OASIS. In this digital world, people can live as they please and look the way they want to be seen. In OASIS, the late designer James Halliday left behind a hidden game inside the virtual world which promises that the first person who completes it wins control over OASIS as well as some other perks.
Our protagonist, Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan), is a teenager, who lives in the slums, is an avid gamer and seeks Halliday’s prize. He is joined by other gamers along the way, as they seek the prize and also attempt to stop the corrupt conglomeration known as IOI, who also seeks control over OASIS in order to corporatize it. IOI is lead by their CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who isn’t afraid of cheating and using cutthroat tactics to get his way.
In my opinion, the two strongest points of this movie are the pop culture references and special effects. One of the most-notable scenes happens near the beginning, as many players race through a track that includes multiple crashes and a King Kong replica that terrorizes the racers. The movie is visually-appealing, though the standards are rather loose since most of the movie takes place in a digital world, meaning that the actors are portrayed most of the time as CGI avatars.
As for the pop culture references, they’re constant and span many decades, though the mainly focused upon era is the 1980’s, which is evident in the soundtrack which features songs from Van Halen, Midnight Oil, Duran Duran, and Talking Heads just to name a few. Characters from most of the famous video game franchises are present as well, with the exception of Nintendo (which isn’t surprising considering how hawkish they are about their IP).
However, there are some glaring shortcomings in the film as well. Let’s start with the plot, which is essentially about a hero (Sheridan) who goes on a quest and faces off against a strong villain (Mendelsohn) and along the way, finds a love interest in the character known as Art3mis (played by Olivia Cooke) along the way. All of the characters are two-dimensional and lack personality, which is compensated by somewhat-witty dialogue.
While this is not Steven Spielberg’s greatest film, it’s far from his worst and if you’re a fan of pop culture and/or video games, then I would say this one’s worth a watch.