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‘Ready Player One’ is all reference, no substance

Main+character%2C+Wade+Watts%2C+has+on+his+VR+glasses%2C+and+is+in+the+Oasis
Main character, Wade Watts, has on his VR glasses, and is in the Oasis

Main character, Wade Watts, has on his VR glasses, and is in the Oasis

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

Main character, Wade Watts, has on his VR glasses, and is in the Oasis

Matt Withers, Arts Editor

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“Ready Player One” written by Ernest Cline was released as a novel in 2011, where before it was even put on the shelves, it was purchased by Warner Bros. to be a film with Steven Spielberg set to direct.

The book itself is a fun, but flawed romp through Cline’s nostalgia of the ’80s. and truly was a celebration of pop culture. Fast forward to today, and the film adaptation of “Ready Player One” is finally put on the silver screen, and well… it’s a mess.

Both the book and the film follow the same basic premise, most of the world is addicted to the virtual reality experience known as the “Oasis,” where you can do anything, go to school, do business, and hang out with friends. When the creator of the “Oasis,” James Halliday, (played by Mark Rylance) passes away he leaves a video telling the world that he will give his share of the company (valued at about a trillion dollars) to the person who can find the Easter egg that he has hidden in the game. It’s up to Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan) and his friends to get the egg before a corrupt corporation, can take control of the “Oasis.”

The plot of “Ready Player One” is simple yet effective and could have been even more poignant for todays film audiences, with parallels to the current fight for Net Neutrality.

Instead, what I took away from my viewing of the film is that I think Steven Spielberg hates video games. While the film is clearly dripping with references to video games, all the references just boil down to, saying a thing you like (i.e. Pac-Man, Asteroids, Overwatch, Halo) and then just moving on with the plot. It doesn’t come across that these characters actually care about pop culture, it feels like they are reading a grocery list. Although worse than that, is in the way that Spielberg sees and portrays gamers.

The main character Wade is really nothing of a character. He is just there to be a nerdy kid that we root for. He has no outstanding characteristics besides liking video games and being bad with girls. There are moments where he can be cocky, and come off like a jerk but these moments are portrayed as fun as quirky rather than things we hope he sheds by the end of the story. This is a huge problem when the main driving force of the film is his romance with Art3mis (played by Olivia Cooke) and I never once bought their romance.

In the novel, Art3mis was an activist who just wanted to help the world that was clearly crumbling around her. Her eventual romance with Wade is because of their mutual intrests and the realization in that they could help each other through their major flaws. In the film, their romance never really evolves beyond Wade having a crush and not stopping when she tells him no. In a particularly groan worth scene, minutes after watching his loved ones die and being kidnapped, Wade creepily starts touching and hitting on Art3mis and then we are just told they are in love. In what feels like 20 minutes they meet, flirt, have a dramatic falling out, then fall in love two scenes later. I don’t feel this is the fault of the actors, Sheridan and Cooke give the best performances they can with the less the mediocre script that they are given, and that goes for every performance in the film.

The final scene left me feeling extremely uncomfortable, with Wade narrating how real life relationships are way better than online ones and a shot of Art3mis in his lap in a sexy outfit. This is the final nail in the coffin of Art3mis feeling like a prize rather than a character, and the message that real life relationships are superior to digital feels tone deaf in a film where are the character meet and connect in a digital space.

This movie isn’t without its strengths, for being a film that’s half CGI, the world feels cohesive. I was worried going in that the animated sections in the “Oasis” would feel weird and out of place but Spielberg’s strong direction helps keep you engaged with the film until the script pulls you out.

In the end “Ready Player One” is a very pretty film that is weighed down by a plot that feels rushed, characters that feel hollow, and a sloppy message that feels opposed to its source material. If you can tune out the lazy world building and character writing, there is a fun popcorn flick here that is outshined by its own premise.

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‘Ready Player One’ is all reference, no substance