Do yourself a favor. Run, do not walk, to your nearest multi-plex, plunk down the outrageous amount of money they charge you to see a movie these days, buy some popcorn and settle into your seat for the most fun you’ll have in a theater this year. Go see READY PLAYER ONE, director Stephen Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s SFR tribute to Everything Eighties. You’ll thank me for the recommendation.
I was over-the-moon about the 2011 book that serves as the source material for this movie. For those of you who missed it, I’ll reprint my 2013 Spacefreighters review here, only because it serves to describe the film, too:
It is that rarity among modern SF—a readable page-turner of a book, with a wonderful set of characters, a lovable geek of a hero and even a little romance. Yes, romance! An arc (barely discernible, but there) and **spoiler alert** an HEA!
The set-up is this: in the near future the economy is collapsing in on itself, with the predictable energy and global-warming crises reaching critical levels. Those who can (which is anyone with a nickel to spare), escape the gray drudgery of daily life by logging into the Oasis, a virtual universe which is combination Internet/entertainment center/shopping mall/travel service/role-playing enabler/alternate reality. Think Xbox on steroids, with the ability to put you anywhere or –when you want. You go to school in the Oasis (that much is free). You shop in the Oasis. You travel to see the Pyramids in the Oasis (much too dangerous and expensive to try and do that in the real world). Want to explore space with Captain Kirk (or Banzai Buckeroo or Captain Mal Reynolds)? There’s a world for that. Want to fight orcs with Aragorn? There’s a world for that. You just slip on your visor and gloves (or your full body suit or sit in your chair, depending on what kind of gear you can afford), become your avatar, and slip away.
Then the man who invented all this, by all accounts an antisocial geek of epic proportions, dies. In his will he states that all of his worldly goods (and control of the Oasis) will be bestowed on the person who finds an Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the vast universe of his Oasis. The race is on, with our hero, a lowly nerd in high school at the beginning of the quest, matching wits with thousands of other experts on this man, as well as the bad guys, sent by a corporation out to gain control of the Oasis.
The fun part is that the inventor was obsessed with the 1980’s—its movies, music, TV shows, technology and, especially, videogames. He’s filled his Oasis with sly references to all these things, and the quest for the Easter egg depends on knowledge of them. So the author of Ready Player One can gleefully send his hero through stargates or use warp drive or have him fight robots with names true nerds would recognize (but I, regretfully, didn’t) because it’s part of the Eighties thing. One test for our hero had him reciting the entire script for MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. Hilarious!
Fortunately, of course, our hero shares his hero’s obsessions. He can actually play those ancient videogames, even the ones we might have played on old Commodore 64 computers and the like. For those of us who can remember what it was like to type in instructions for role-playing games (which is why I quickly bored of such games and never went back), this book is a hoot.
Of course, some things from the book had to be changed for the film. The action elements were played up, the slower character interactions played down. In the film there were only three keys to the Easter egg; in the book there were, I think, seven. But the romance survived the cut. And seeing the Oasis on the big screen was worth every penny of my entrance fee. The CGI was amazing and just as imaginative as Cline’s agile mind.
Speaking of Cline, who was a newbie author back in 2011, that nerdy fellow must be walking on air right now. To see his quirky vision of the near-future up there on the screen, directed by no less a figure than Stephen Spielberg, must be a dream come true. I’m thrilled for him, and for all of us who can enjoy his success with him.