“No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful” That’s Wade’s second pass phrase to login to the OASIS, as he is free-falling into brooding teenage depression. That one line should resonate loud and proud in every fans heads as they leave Ready Player One.
Before taking a comparative deep dive into this, be WARNED, this take is SPOILER heavy and is very much intended for those who have seen the movie and have read/familiar with the book.
Most fans seem to develop a deep love and obsession for Ernest Cline‘s hit novel from which the movie is based. The novel is revered for it’s fun adventure and rife use of 80’s pop culture references. In that regard, many fans may find themselves disappointed with the changes or, with the important bits just left out entirely. The fan reactions since the films release seem to be laser focused on how different it is from the source material. At first pass, that certainly seems to be the first reaction one would have for RPO… but in reality, it is so much closer to the book than anyone seems to give it credit for, even if it takes multiples views to realize it.
The opening credits were simple and a simple font. Very reminiscent of the 80s sensibility, like the beginning of a Schwarzenegger movie. Fade in to Van Halen’s “Jump”, viewers are buckled in and ready for the ride. Within ten minutes they manage to get up to speed in what took EIGHT chapters to do in the book. In the book, Ernest Cline paints the world down to the most mundane detail. He gets into how the world economy works with corporate rule while civilization itself is in dire straits. How the stacks were conceived and built. He goes into tech visionary James Halliday’s entire life story and how the ultra-immersive VR that is the OASIS works. As well as the hero Wade Watt’s day to day life and his obsession with OASIS and its creator. Not to mention any chance Cline has to put in an 80s nod, even if it’s shoehorned in, he takes it. How they managed to take all that data and fit it into 10 minutes of screen time in an easy to digest way is something to be admired, not criticized. The setup is bit clumsy with the V.O. narration but, can forgiven as it’s a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time. BOOM, exposition out of the way and it’s off to the race for The Copper Key, the first of 3 keys in the hunt for Halliday’s Easter Egg.
The race has had fans of the books panties in a bunch since a rough draft of the script leaked on the internet two years ago. It got even worse when the first trailer hit and the race replacing the copper key challenge became a reality. If one curbs the curdling rage however and actually think about the challenge in the book then director Steven Spielberg’s choices begin to make sense. In the novel there’s a secret limerick hidden in the pages of Anorak’s Almanac, which references an old D&D module Tomb of Horrors. People have spent 5 years looking for its location. Wade finds it. Then he challenges an undead king to a best 2 out of 3 games of Joust, then he goes to a recreation of Halliday’s home plays Dungeons of Daggerath, it opens the gate, he then has to play as Mathew Broderick in Wargames and when he gets through the movie he gets the clue to the Jade Key. It was so much fun in the book but, let’s be honest, that is so much to do and involves a character playing TWO old video games. One of them in its entirety. Let’s be real, all the challenges are more or less the same. When the book ends, Wade has played five videogames. Joust, Dungeons of Daggerath, Pac Man, Tempest, and Adventure. He plays two 3d simulated versions of old games; Zork and Black Tiger. He plays through two movies in their entirety; Wargames and Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Three if you count taking the test in Blade Runner. He then goes into the story that was the basis for Rush’s concept album 2112. Rush not being a more important element… eh, yeah… that was a real bummer. Overall, that is way too much repetition for an average movie goer to be interested in.
In the book, a moron named Stephen Pendergast lets slip to the world that the Almanac contains the secret limerick. Then the world, basically for 5 years, stares at words on a page wondering what it means. That sounds like fun to watch right? Yeah you’re right, it doesn’t. In the movie, they don’t say his name but Pendergast figures out the location of the race and people have spent five years trying to beat it. The race, the way everyone plays it, is really just the limerick. If you look at the race as the limerick, then what an epic change that really is. The race is so beautiful and breathtaking to watch. It’s so fun. Running the race backwards is the actual challenge. It’s the thing that Wade figures out before everyone and it’s the thing that he sees first. Breaking the race down to two parts makes it fall so much more in line with the book. It is also where the love story begins when Wade meets Art3mis for the first time. We are treated to the same awkward, yet charming, interaction with Parzival and Art3mis that took place in the book just in a different setting. Character development is where the book struggles the most. All the characters in the book are flat cookie cutter, hero, villain, racial stereotypes Etc. If it wasn’t set in the 80s pop culture Oasis backdrop it’s a pretty cliché story at its core. Come on, it’s friggin; Willy Wonka in VR for gods sake! To expect the movie to transcend so far above the source material they had to work with, it was futile to think it was going to happen. What they did do, was build upon what was there, raise the stakes, and give it all around more dimension and heart than the book. Nowhere was this more apparent than the wonderful performance of Mark Rylance as Halliday. Points in this article are debatable but, not that. Spielberg and Rylance pulled the character right out of the book, put him on screen, and made him so much better. It was brilliant.
As we are introduced to Aech, Diato, and “Sho” to fill out the rest of the High Five gang (aka good guys) you can see on screen the care taken to give them more depth. By the time Parzival and Art3mis meet at Distracted Globe, which looked exactly how many readers must have envisioned it, all the characters are likable enough. Remember, when it comes to the Parzival /Art3mis love story, it plays out with the exact paces of an 80s movie like Say Anything or, Pretty In Pink. That’s how the movie feels. The book does have a lot more time to develop their relationship but, it doesn’t build much more than the 80s puppy love movie. Which is the book’s charm as some could argue, and their affection/love for each other in the movie captured that.
The movie also took two throw away characters from the book and made them into much more interesting adversaries. Mr Wilson the IOI indentured servant collection agent was changed to Fin’ale and they gave her more to do. The other was I-ROK who was a fun Boba Fett style background guy you can’t help but like better than the main Villain. His one liners are witty and oozing with sarcasm just as you would expect from T.J. Miller (*and yes, there is an online resistance to Miller, who has has been previously accused of sexual assault with fans wondering why he wasn’t recast/re-dubbed in RPO due to said allegations. Still, the lines and whit are funny). The end of the Distracted Globe scene Art3mis show us the depth of her motivations. In the book it’s just a hippie save the planet motivation. Win the contest and feed the world. It’s hokey. Making her father die as an indentured servant as her motivation is far more deep. Stopping IOI from causing any families more pain is the most earnest of motivations. At the same time, however, it undermines her character a bit. She is portrayed as second fiddle to Parzival. It also makes her seem only interested in the contest to destroy IOI and not because she is elite enough to win the contest. This aspect for sure must have rubbed Female fans of the book the wrong way. Can’t blame them really. She is still the one that figures out the Jade Key first and is still the first to complete it just like the book.
The Jade Key! It is arguably the movies high point. There’s a line in the book where Wade talks about all the different things he thought the challenges could be but, when he finally was in Wargames it was the last thing he expected. When they walk into The Shining, every fan of the book should have felt the same way. People spent months wondering what the Flicksync would be and The Shining wasn’t on anyone’s radar. It was the perfect choice. So many kids that grew up in the 80s remember the VHS box of the shining and for some, it was there first jump into horror. The Shining Flicksync (*simulation in which an OASIS avatar assumes the place of one or more characters of a given movie) was a masterful substitution for the other two. This is also the first moment where they flip the script so to speak. In the novel Wade is the one that has, as he put it, “unforgivable ignorance,” in not remembering the clue to solve it. Aech helps him. In the movie Aech not seeing The Shining was the unforgivable ignorance. It also was a blast to watch this Hulking half cyborg orc act like a scared kid.
As the third act starts to build steam it gets to the part in the book that is easily the weakest chapters. The infiltration of IOI. This is the part of the book that after you go through it once and you know there’s no real “chase scene” it’s a boring anti-climatic slog that slows the book way down with almost zero payoff. It’s also the section of the movie that involves the most changes. The most highly debated being Wade and Samantha meeting in the real world at the beginning of the third act instead of the end of the story. It can’t be argued that they downplayed the online romance themes that were so prevalent in the book. To the point though, the meeting plays out exactly like the book and has the same level of emotional awe that Wade has being in the real world with her. It’s just in a different spot. Same can be said for the chess match of words between Parzival and evil IOI business man/douche Sorrento in the chat link session. The one that ends with high explosives blowing up Wades trailer. The whole affair was straight out of the book. Just earlier. It all serves to raise the stakes leading into the third act and it just works. This is where they flip the script again having Samantha indentured instead of Wade. It is the Princess in the castle sort of stakes but, the real world danger adds to the suspense. It also contains all the elements that were important in the book. They hack IOI, get Sorrento’s confession and find a way to bring down the shield. In that regard its carbon copy really. Every thing else about the infiltration of IOI is so much better and more dynamic than the book. With the exception of using the magic spell from Excalibur to turn off the shield. It was the only part of the movie where fans were truly robbed.. Johnny 5 from Short Circuit should have disabled the orb with a massive explosion!
The final battle! Oh man the final Battle! There’s another thing to point out. There were 2 big battles in the book. The Battle of Froboz is where Diato and his Avatar died in the book. Then the final Battle at Castle Anorak. Combining it all to one to make room for the chase scene in the real world made sense. The final battle was the only one that mattered and it played out exactly like the book in almost every way. Swapping out Ultraman for the Gundam worked great, period! Since Aech piloted the Gundam in the book it was certainly a nod. Adding the Iron Giant to replace Leopardon is fine because that was pretty obscure anyway. Everyone knows the Iron freaking Giant! There is also a very strong resemblance in Aech’s face to Vin diesel…Ya know…The voice of the Iron Giant. It also gave Aech a lot more to do during the final assault. If you go back, she doesn’t do much in the book. Neither does Art3mis really. Nothing changed, Spielberg just gave them things to do. If there was a choice for “something” that wasn’t in the book over “the nothing” that was. It’s not really a choice. Having Parzival cruise through the battlefield in the Delorian from Back to The Future was also way more awesome. Sorrento also nails his delorian and destroys it pretty much like his giant robot in the book.
It all ended with Adventure which is the game that gets him the egg in both the book and the movie. Having him play it in an Ice cave just gave it a similar surreal image that the joust match conjured up in the book. Amping up Halliday’s lost love Kira into the DNA of all the challenges was a nice touch too. It made her impact on Halliday’s life so much more obvious than just a password as it is in the book. Then we get to the one thing that was the most important. The quote. “Thanks. Thanks for playing my game.” Fans without a doubt have gone through the audiobook at least once. Will Wheaton delivering that line hits you in the feels every single time! Rylance delivers it the exactly same way and it is the exclamation point on the whole movie.
Then the movie ends with Wade and Samantha logging out and having no desire to go back in. The whole time, Og being the curator the whole time equal parts works and doesn’t work. It works because the curator acts as Wades system agent software Max. The lack of Max Headroom was another disappointment but, the curator was a decent substitute. It also was a lot less creepy way for Og to keep an eye on the High Five. Again, all the elements were there but, just in a different order.
If you’ve read to this point and it didn’t dawn on you that that there wasn’t much mention of Shoto and Diato. It was to prove a point. They were secondary characters in the book they do very little to add to the story and it’s a little bit ironic that Diato was red. He certainly acted as a redshirt in the book. His only purpose was to die. It isn’t until the end of the book that they even matter. There has been entirely too much criticism of the movie saying there wasn’t enough of them blah blah. You know why? Because Spielberg made them better! What we got was so much more than the book ever gave us. Daito’s avatar still zeros out like a badass just like he did in the book. Again, how is that really different? Diato and Shoto’s legs are also the legs of the stork and ostrich from Joust. Which, let’s be honest, is the most important easter egg in the movie. Joust was the thing fans wanted most and it was there the whole time if you were clever enough to see it.
Is it a carbon copy? No. The best adaptations never are. Look at The Shining. Arguably one of the best and most popular adaptations of Stephen Kings books ever made. It wasn’t even close to being faithful. Ready Player One is far from a flawless movie nor, is it Spielberg’s best. It’s a romp. It’s fun to look at and has smiley parts. It has a bunch of glaring “movie” problems but it was a fun ride, fun characters and a lot of heart pieces. It also pushed photorealistic CGI to a whole new level. No doubt it is ripe for a Ready Player Two!