Not having read the original novel, and not being much of a gamer, I went into this without much of the baggage that many have. I figured this would mean I might enjoy it more, because I had no geek nirvana that it was betraying. And, sure, it’s an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, and the storyline makes a change from the usual comic book save the world plot. But it’s an odd failure. The fundamental problem is apparent from the opening shots of the “Stacks” where the hero resides, a ghetto of trailers stacked on scaffolding. It looks good, but it doesn’t feel grubby enough. The essential problem with Ready Player One is that Spielberg is too square. You sense it immediately in that depiction of poverty that lacks the requisite squalor or Blade Runner grime. This becomes increasingly problematic as the film proceeds. Spielberg can’t help being Spielberg, he doesn’t have the savvy to make a high end Mr Robot, where you believe you’re being immersed in hacker culture. Instead we get The Goonies meets Tron.
I can’t comment on how well it follows the book. If faithfully then its success puzzles me. The 80s references are just tiring and check boxes, like saying “ooh, remember padded shoulders?”. This isn’t even much fun, and it certainly offers no critical insight. Yes, we get that it’s a reference to Monty Python. And?
Another failing is the endless exposition. Characters are continually explaining things that their interlocutors would obviously know. One of the things I admired about my previous outing, A Quiet Place, was the lack of exposition, or the subtle manner it was cued up for the viewer. Ready Player One lacks any such nuance.
The main problem with RPO though is that it seems dated. For a film that idolises the 80s it seems narratively and politically stuck in that era too. Had this been released in 1990 it would’ve been a cool film. I don’t know what it is doing in 2018. As with The Post, Spielberg seems unable to create cinema to match the new realities of Cambridge Analytica, Amazon Alexa, Gamergate. In a time of Trump, Spielberg is making Clintonesque era movies. If a 2018 movie could have been made from the source material, it would have needed a more savage, ironic take.