Ready Player One centers on a young outcast named Wade Watts. In the near future, Watts escapes from his daily drudgery by logging onto an MMO game called ‘The Oasis’. When the game’s billionaire founder dies, he offers players his fortune as the prize in an easter egg hunt within The Oasis. Watts gets in on the action then after five years finds himself facing off against corporate foes who will go to any lengths to get the money — in both the real world and a virtual one.
That is a simplification in the truest sense as the Ernest Cline novel based on the same name is an adventure story unlike any other. The book takes place in a not so distant dystopian future (2044) in both the real world and a virtual one called the OASIS. Climate change and a depletion of fossil fuels has created an energy crisis which in turn has created massive social decay and widened the economic gap to detrimental proportions. People have resorted to spending their days logged into the OASIS to escape their dreary lives using visors, immersion rigs and haptic tech suits. It is so massive that it’s currency, called credits, has become the most reliable and valuable resource in the world.
The book drops us into the story five years after the death of OASIS co-founder James Halliday and the launch of the largest easter-egg hunt every created. The winner getting his entire billion dollar fortune and complete control of the OASIS system so naturally there are companies and organizations that want this for not so altruistic reasons.
Ernest Cline’s love of all things pop culture is on full display here as just about every popular video game, comic book, novel, film, TV show and celebrity is mentioned extensively throughout. It’s a veritable nerd-gasm of name dropping for all things geek-dom and anyone my age (41) will travel back in time and place you squarely in your old childhood bedroom. Video games and video game systems are obviously a massive part of the narrative so I hope you’re up on your video game history because it goes through them all from the earliest consoles to classic arcade stand-ups.
In fact, there are so many pop culture references in the book, many thought this wasn’t adaptable as acquiring the commercial rights to so many properties would be either impossible or too expensive or both. So how do you get around that? Simple, you don’t, you go right at it and hire the right man for the job. Someone with enough credibility that would attract these properties not keep them at bay.
Now, if you think this book is below board or to full of kitsch to attract the top echelon, you’d be wrong. The list of directors mentioned for this film at one point or another during the courting phase have been Christopher Nolan, Robert Zemeckis, Mathew Vaughn, Peter Jackson and Edgar Wright. Not what I would call a bunch of unknowns. But ultimately it went to the man who practically guided a generation of consumers through the 1980s and 1990s and is quite literally mentioned in the book, Mr. Steven Spielberg.
A passage from the book describes Wade Watt’s obsession and research of Donovan Halliday’s journal, Anorak’s Almanac, which is rammed with 80s/90s references to books, movies, TV shows, music, and video games. One of the filmography’s that Wade studied from the Almanac and whose properties are mentioned throughout was, you guessed it, Steven Spielberg’s.
So apart from my biased opinion that Mr. Spielberg is the greatest director of all time, it really makes the most sense for him to helm this film despite his age (70). If you’ve read the book then take a look at this photo on the left and tell me he isn’t the top choice. All of the things seen in this photo are mentioned in the book.
But before they decided on a director, Warner Bros. saw movie potential in this book even before it’s release. In fact, WB bought the film rights for Ready Player One on the day Cline finalized his publishing deal, a year before the book hit shelves. Studio’s pay people to scout upcoming book releases with the purpose of securing the rights but this one seemed to have magic and whimsy literally written all over it. While its not the formula for one of the great works of modern fiction, it unabashedly wears it’s heart on its sleeve and creates a futuristic adventure that is equal parts fantasy, social commentary and grounded reality. Again, not to belabor the point, but take a look at Spielberg’s library, that’s his comfort zone.
Casting calls went out and it would be a year before we heard names. And while originally we heard they were looking for relative unknowns, they ended up going with rising stars instead. Tye Sheridan (X-Men) was cast in the lead as Wade Watts aka “Percival” along with Olivia Cooke (Me, Earl and the Dying Girl) as Samantha Cook aka “Art3mis”. For James Halliday, the man who starts this whole crazy egg hunt, they went with Spielberg favorite, Academy Award Winner Mark Rylance. For baddie and relentless pursuer Nolan Sorrento they casted Ben Mendelsohn (Star Wars: Rogue One) which, in my opinion, is just the about the best casting based on a book in recent memory. If you’ve read this book and seen Rogue One, then Mendelsohn’s portrayal of Orson Krennic gives us that seedy deceiver almost snake charmer mentality that is perfect for this part. You can read Natasja‘s excellent one year preview HERE which goes into further character details.
It would be some time before set images would start to appear online and fans were getting anxious and impatient. But it was during San Diego Comic Con, at the Warner Bros. panel in Hall H, when Spielberg chose to show everyone that the wait had been worth it…
Not only was it Spielberg’s return to SDCC after a long absence but he brought the cast with him also. They all discussed the unique story telling approach and their excitement of working with the material and Spielberg himself. It was one of the highlights of the weekend for sure and the trailer has been “officially” viewed millions of times since.
Reaction by those unfamiliar with the source material has been mixed and their reasons are typical of someone who hasn’t read the book or are cynical about “brand” material. Others simply slag the book as not up to snuff and use that as a reason to turn their noses up at the film’s prospects.
Either way this film, like the book, is going to be an immersive experience unlike any other. It will draw us in with its visual radiance, empathetic and engaging characters and it’s ability to elicit felicity by calling to mind memories from our youth. It’s sure to fire off a memory response of events from your past that will trigger the neurotransmitters responsible for happiness, that I have no doubt. I typically prefer to watch movies alone but seeing this with friends I imagine would only enhance the experience.
Oh, and it’s got huge space battles so who doesn’t like that right?
Are you ready player one? I am…
Till next time…
Ready Player One hits theatres March 30, 2018.
*All images courtesy of Warner Bros.