Too Many Easter Eggs, Not Enough Substance

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline has been recommended to me by many people, so of course it has ended up on my never ending “to read” list.  I went into this film not having read the book, but I was still really excited by the trailers I had seen as this looked like a film with a lot of potential.  Unfortunately, the best thing that I can say about Steven Spielberg’s film overall is that it was cute. I’m glad I saw it, but I’m also glad that (thanks to a gift card and a coupon) I didn’t have to pay full price to see it.

From what I have heard, this film is nothing like the book.  Now that’s not always a bad thing but, apparently, the plot of the movie deviates quite a bit from the plot of the book and sometimes that can be frustrating for people like myself who have enjoyed a book so much that it is a huge letdown when a film adaptation is much too different from the original source material.  My boyfriend has read the book and he said he was very disappointed by the differences in the plot.  Personally, without having read the book, I was also disappointed in the plot as it was far too simple and predictable.  There was nothing all that surprising or unique about Parzival/Wade’s (Tye Sheridan) story or his motivations as a character.  He’s the archetypal hero who is motivated by a sense of justice and the love of a woman as he tries to save his world.  And, of course, he succeeds: he saves the day and wins the girl.

Even the identities of the gamers, which I’m assuming as supposed to be a surprise, are really not all that shocking.  There is so much emphasis placed on the fact that the avatars in the OASIS are so customizable that the gamers associated with them could easily be the last kind of person you would expect.  Between Aech/Helen (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki) it is no surprise that a character that is shown to be male is female, and a character that is shown to be an adult is actually a child.  And the least surprising gamer/avatar combination is the token hot girl/love interest of the film, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke); she is still “hot girl” Samantha in the real world.  The only difference is that in the real world she has a birth mark that she sees as a defect, and that no one else seems to really care about.  It felt as if the birthmark was a feeble attempt at a plot device; it was as if Samantha had to have something “wrong” with her physically, simply so that her avatar customization could involve creating an ideal version of herself.  Plus, it was really distracting that her birthmark kept changing its size, shape, and overall surface area throughout the film (i.e. sometimes it reached up to her eyebrow, sometimes her hairline).

In a film where the plot essentially revolves around Easter Eggs, based on a book that I have heard contains many references to the 80s, I was expecting a lot of pop culture references.  In this area, the film did not disappoint.  In fact, the only reason I would consider rewatching this film would be to try to look for any references I might have missed the first time around.  I noticed there were pop culture references and Easter Eggs of all sorts hiding in plain sight in the form of OASIS avatars, and even hiding in more obscure areas like graffiti on a wall in the background of a scene.  I can truly appreciate the thought that went into setting up all of these Easter Eggs.  And, of course, the film featured some fantastic songs from the 80s.  I was really pleased with the music choices and I still have some of those songs stuck in my head as I am writing this.

The most disappointing aspect for me, however, were the visual effects. Based on the nature of the story, added with what I had seen from the trailers, I was expecting this film would be a real feast for the eyes.  Instead, I found it messy and chaotic.  It wasn’t like this for the whole film, but there were some key scenes that just had far too much going on.  The older I get, I find I am more prone to motion sickness, and there were a few moments that definitely had me worried due to the camera movements in some of the more cluttered scenes.  The race near the beginning of the film stands out for me in particular as being very difficult to watch.  There was too much happening, too much too look at, all going by very fast as the camera followed the erratic movements of the cars in the race.  It was exhausting to watch and very difficult to focus on what was actually happening.  In scenes like those, I got the feeling that the creative team behind the film was perhaps trying too hard to pack the film full of Easter Eggs.

Despite some of my negative feelings towards the film, I still chose to classify this as a “cute” film.  There were moments that made me smile, moments that entertained me, and that scene that was inspired by The Shining was so much fun to watch (particularly Aech’s reactions to everything).  So although this film had its issues, and I may not retain much about it in my memory overtime, I am glad that I have at least seen it once.  But once is enough for me.

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