SXSW 2018: “Ready Player One” Review: Totally Tubular
The announcement of the world premiere of Ready Player One hit Austin like a storm. Based on the beloved book by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is a nostalgic trip back to all things 80’s and like the Oasis, the film gives the audience a chance to escape reality for a few hours. Tye Sheridan plays Wade Watts/ Parzival, a young kid growing up in the Stacks. A man named James Halliday (Mark Rylance), created the Oasis, a virtual world where everyone goes to escape from the real world and has the chance to be someone else and do things more significant than they can do in the reality. After Halliday’s passing, he sends out a message to the world that he has hidden an Easter Egg in the game and that there are three keys that you must find in order to gain control of the Oasis and all the money he had left behind.
As you can imagine, people went wild looking for the clues, challenges, and the keys, but after months, no one had made any progress until Parzival managed to figure out the first challenge and find the first key. Hot on his tails, the IOI, an evil company hell-bent on controlling the Oasis and turning it into a giant corporate owned ad revenue generator. Heading the IOI was Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), an evil man who would stop at nothing to get control of the Oasis. Wade lived a lonely life in the stacks, but when he was in the Oasis, he had a few friends such as Aech (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Morisaki), Shoto (Philip Zhao) and Art3mis (Olivia Cooke). After Parzival finds the first key, they team up together to find the rest of the keys and win the game before IOI can.
From the opening scene, Spielberg leaves no doubt in your mind that this is going to be a spectacular adventure. The visual effects of this film are awe-inspiring from start to finish. The first scene serves as an introduction to different parts of the Oasis, full of color and other-worldly effects; it pulls you in for a ride that you will not soon forget. He strikes a perfect balance between the real world and the Oasis giving each world a chance to shine in its own unique way. The design of the real world is also incredibly well done with detail from the graffiti on the sides of the buildings and cars to the sort of post-apocalyptic world of the Stacks. It is familiar enough that we can see how that would be a future but strange enough to give us the distance we need to appreciate what the world has become.
The performances in the film are excellent. It has to be a challenge to act both physically in front of the camera and also do a voiceover for another character and manage to still convey the same performance. Tye Sheridan is terrific as Wade/ Parzival. He embodies the awkward teenage boy searching for his identity and some hope out in the universe. Olivia Cooke as Samantha/ Art3mis is an excellent casting choice because she can convey the vulnerability of the character as well as the strength and resistance. Ben Mendelsohn is terrifyingly chilling as Nolan Sorrento, and I didn’t think he could be so scary. The rest of the supporting cast was great, with a particular shout out to Lena Waithe as Aech. She was spectacular providing a lot of humor and pure fun into her character. I’d have to say that having Mark Rylance play Halliday was a spectacular choice and one that I would never have expected. Watching Rylance play an awkward gamer and geeky character was an absolute joy. He was perfect. Rylance gives a performance that does justice to the character and brings Halliday to life.
Buried in the film are some spectacular Easter Eggs and references to other pop culture things that you’d have to watch it multiple times to see them all. It is indeed an homage to the great classics of the 80s and 90s reminding the audience of a simpler time. There are some scenes in the film that we have been asked not to spoil, but I’m telling you, you’re in for a fun trip down memory lane. It is so apparent that Spielberg was so dedicated to getting this film right. Each scene and shot is perfectly aligned and orchestrated to maximize the emotional response from the audience. The song choices in certain scenes and the characters you see will elicit emotions and bring joyful memories for many members of the audience. The script, written by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline is as faithful to the original book as you could hope. It captures the essence of what the book wanted to do and brings it to a whole new level in the film.
Ready Player One is the epitome of a fan film. It is not made for the critics; it is not made for the arthouse demographic, it is made purely for the fans. It is meant to be celebrated, cheered, and championed. It is for the underdogs, for the escapists and for those fans who believe that “video games are the only thing that make life bearable.”