'Ready Player One' review: Popcorn entertainment

In Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, Wade Watson is the ideal underdog. He is an overweight high-schooler, an unapologetic nerd about everything and anything related to pop culture, who resorts to the Oasis – a virtual reality game – to live the life he can't possibly have in the real world, which, considering he is living in a neighborhood built out of trailers stacked on top of each other, is pretty much hopeless.

His only way out of his sorry fate is to inherit the wealth of Oasis founder and fellow nerd James Halliday by finishing first in the game he programmed inside the Oasis. The game will have players race for a literal Easter Egg by solving puzzles that will require them to be more than just familiar about Halliday's obsessions with pop culture artifacts from the '80s.

Less an underdog

In Steven Spielberg's spectacle-filled adaptation, Wade, played by Tye Sheridan, is less an underdog and more the typical blockbuster protagonist, a charming-enough lad who would not just be capable of physical stunts but would also look graceful doing them. He is still dirt poor and still lives with his aunt in the same dingy neighborhood that unsubtly depicts the film's choice of dystopia. However, instead of being opposite of his cool Oasis avatar, Wade seems to be almost similar in terms of look and swagger.

Part of the allure of Cline's novel is its ability to flesh out a world where humanity has been granted a way to realize their fantasies. In fact, the book's most stirring moments are hardly the ones woven into the adventure to unravel Halliday's mystery, but the ones wherein the characters unmask their Oasis personas and, in turn, reveal the underlying necessities of their double lives.

VIRTUAL. Wade suits up for the virtual reality game.

VIRTUAL. Wade suits up for the virtual reality game.

Spielberg's Ready Player One still has remnants of that pertinent theme of Cline's work, but it is clear that the film has other things. The film introduces a lot of changes, some of which render the adaptation a much tamer work, both in terms of its confidence in the source material's celebration of pop culture and its depiction of humanity's greed and depravity. It is more vibrant and joyous, rarely touching on the book's often bleak portrayal of a future where corporations have taken over civilization.

A different beast altogether

It is probably a good thing.

Cline's work stumbles when it drowns in details, and Spielberg has the intuition to know what works as cinema. His Ready Player One has rampaging races on streets where dinosaurs out of Jurassic Park and King Kong roam instead of solitary characters playing 8-bit arcade games. It has an irreverent take on Stanley Kubrick's The Shining where the characters interact with the infamous movie's most famous horror set-pieces instead of a word-for-word replay of obscure cinematic gems from several decades ago.

Spielberg recruits common sense in carving a blockbuster out of a book that delights in all things obscure. While the film is a lot simpler in terms of theme and tone, it makes up with its ability to enchant from start to finish. Its characters may be less complex than the novel's, but they at least have a definite sense of humor. 

Spielberg has a flair for spectacle and melodrama. More importantly, he aims to please the masses and not just a certain niche, and he goes for the common denominator. He has Cline's characters go through their quest revealing artifacts that are exactly what the nostalgia-hungry moviegoers of 2018 want. They want Chucky on a stabbing spree. They want the Iron Giant battling kaiju.

READY, GO! Wade in his virtual form and accompanied by a friend.

READY, GO! Wade in his virtual form and accompanied by a friend.

Ready Player One satisfies as a treasure trove of what connects almost everyone as consumers of pop entertainment.

Butter, cheese, or barbecue

As a result of its stubborn refusal to surrender to the rigors of coming up with a faithful adaptation, Spielberg's film manages to be a silly but still top-notch adventure.

Ready Player One is popcorn entertainment that everyone can enjoy. This isn't one flavored with wasabi or some other strange taste that a select few will understand and take pleasure in. It is butter, cheese, or barbecue. It is bound to please everybody. – Rappler.com

Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass. Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.