“The book was honestly a bit of a let-down to me, but the movie wasn’t much better.”
It occurred to me after re-reading this review that it contains pretty heavy spoilers for Ready Player One in general. That means both the book and the movie are discussed in detail, so be warned.
I’ve had an interesting relationship with Ready Player One since I first heard about the book a couple of years ago because the word of mouth that caught my attention was overwhelmingly positive. This rocketed the book up my ‘to read’ list, and really cemented my excitement for experiencing what people I look up to were praising so heavily. Of course like most other things in my life I never actually got around to reading Ready Player One, but those moments of praise stuck with me throughout the years. That is until the movie adaptation was announced, and the tides turned drastically. Before I had only heard words of praise towards the book, now the words were filled with venom. Terms likMy Thoughts e ‘fan-service’ and ‘shit’ were thrown around so willy-nilly that my world was turned upside down. Is this book that I had built up so heavily in my mind really terrible? Well I decided to read it for myself finally to find out.
Now the biggest gripe I have with Ready Player One is the overabundance of references that are only there to serve the author himself. We get it, the dude in the book liked the 80’s and a lot of the stuff in The Oasis is inspired by stuff from that time, but when your sentence takes three detours to describe exactly which episode of which obscure cartoon a sound effect was ripped from your narrative kind of falls apart. I get that world-building is an important aspect of storytelling, but there is certainly a point where your little tidbits are purely in excess. Ready Player One crosses that line more than a few times. Painful throwaway lines about obscure shit from a time period you could care less about really make Ready Player One tough to get through at times, but luckily the rest of the writing helps pull you through.
Just kidding, Ready Player One is not a book that I would call well written. It is made abundantly clear while reading Ready Player One that the author, Ernest Cline, was the kind of kid to spend hours crafting fake scenarios in his head to always come up with the perfect comeback. The glorification of nerd culture in this book is almost enough to make me sick, and not because nerds are ‘uncool’ but becasue who gives a shit? If you like Star Wars good for you. You don’t need to write five pages justifying your decision to like Star Wars. And the character of Wade brings all of these unlikeable qualities to life. Obviously Wade is the personification of what every nerd wants to be: Not terrible looking, kind of shy but still able to hold a conversation with a woman (barely), and most of all a leading man. Everyone wants to be the star of the show, and that is what Wade gives Ernest Cline. The characters in Ready Player One, Wade included, are not written very well. They act as surface-level hosts for the plot to progress, but I was strangely okay with this. Despite the often times excruciating conversations between Wade and Art3mis, they did their job of being real enough for me to buy into the story.
Now the story on the other hand is the one thing Ready Player One got right; at least to a point. The idea to have a character run around a giant video game simulation and collect clues and solve puzzles was brilliant, and it really makes for a good read most of the time. The problems arise when the story turns from one fantasy into another; an action fantasy into a romance-based one. The relationship with Art3mis in the book really throws a wrench into the works and slows things down for the worst. And to make matters worse, by the time the author realizes that the book has slowed to a crawl he does a shitty job of wrapping things up in a satisfying manner. The first two thirds of the book were great, but the ending portion really rushes things and makes you feel as though the reward came to easy to the victor. It was as though the world stopped being tough and just started handing out prizes. This ruined the rest of the book in my opinion because it makes everything else mean less. I will admit that the very end of the book was really sweet and did a good job of wrapping up the character side of the story, but the story side of the story was left a shitty mess with glitter sprinkled on top.
After seeing the Ready Player One movie I can’t help but feel conflicted. I’m of the mindset of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, but I’m not going to say that Ready Player One wasn’t broke in the first place. As the last part of this review indicates the book was kind of a mess at times. My issues with changes made for the movie are as follows: if you’re going to change something from the original book, at least make it a change for the better. It seems like everything that deviated from the book in this movie either did it worse, or just as bad. Neither of those things warrant a change, becasue you’re either moving laterally or downward. One of the largest changes made in the movie centres around the characters. Now each one probably could warrant their own essay, but I’ll try to fit them all in here.
First of all let’s discuss the characters of The High-Five (the five main characters of the film). In the book a point is made that none of these individuals want to work together. They are friends (at least by the end of the book), but throughout their adventure they have no desire to work together. This isn’t exactly a smart decision for the characters, but at least it gives them conviction. It gives them something to stand for that they stick to until the end. The movie breaks this rule and immediately gets them in a ‘clan’ together. I understand that this is to preach teamwork and other mindless messages used to penetrate the minds of children, but in the movie it felt a little rushed. Well not rushed, but it made the characters feel a lot more bland. They had almost no individual skill, so to solve the puzzles they had to stick their heads together. And this also makes the challenges in the movie a lot less challenging. In the book Wade works on some of these puzzles for years, but in the movie they are all solved within a couple of days becasue everybody is helping everybody. I do want to briefly mention that the character of I-Rok was very different in the movie than in the book; but although it was strange I was okay with it. His character in the book is only a minor nuisance, but in the movie he’s actually given something to do. It was fine. What I wasn’t okay with was the characterization of James Halliday.
The Ready Player One book has an agenda. However annoying it is, it’s there. It wants to make nerds cool. James Halliday dies, and the vision of billions of dollars gets everyone in the world obsessed with the 80’s, much like Halliday was. That was his vision. He wanted everyone to share his loves and obsessions. He accomplished this vision, but in a cool way. Never once in the book is Halliday described in a way that does anything but idolize him. Even the conversations had by tertiary characters in the book idolize nerd culture. People get high-fives and fist bumps for knowing which scene in Star Wars gives you a glimpse of Luke Skywalker’s left testicle or some other obscure shit, and it isn’t subtle at all. This is Ernest Cline’s way of normalizing the thing that he probably got bullied for when he was growing up. In the movie however, we take a step back. Halliday is portrayed by Mark Rylance as a pseudo-Rain Man, stammering and shy as ever, and instantly we are transported back into the whole “nerds suck” mentality. Nerds don’t suck. If you’re a nerd, that’s fine. I don’t understand why this movie, even though it was released in a time where nerd culture is all the rage and based on a book that had the exact opposite message, decided to persecute the idea of nerds so much. I don’t want to say that I was offended, but I would be genuinely surprised if Ernest Cline was cool with all of these changes. And it wasn’t even just the characters that were changed in this regard, but also some of the references.
You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting at least five obscure references in the Ready Player One book, and the same can be said for the movie too. I personally believe that the movie was a little more bearable than the book in this regard becasue it can show rather than tell. Instead of me reading a page about how a battlefield is filled with thousands of characters from pop culture, all wielding different weapons and driving vehicles from separate pop culture franchises, I can just see it. If I get the reference, great. If I don’t, that’s fine too. This also presents a lot of re-watchability opportunities becasue people will want to try and catch everything (including the eight separate references to Overwatch. Seriously, why?). But there were some moments that stood out to me as exploitative in the sense that the movie was using references only to use the references. Does that make sense? Let me explain. There is a portion in Ready Player One (the movie) where Wade buys a Holy Hand Grenade (as made famous by Monty Python). Now there is a very specific way to use a Holy Hand Grenade, as anyone who has seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail would know. If this weapon was in the book, the same book where Wade actually acts out the entire Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie, you bet your ass Wade would have used the grande properly. But that happens in the movie? He pulls the pin and throws. That’s it. No counting. No comedy relief. Just an explosion. It was such a wasted moment, and it is only one example of this feeling I’m left with.
Apart from those pedantic arguments, Ready Player One also had to streamline a lot of the plot (understandably). A four hundred page book does not a two hour movie make, so of course things had to be chopped/trimmed. This is the root of a lot of the changes I mentioned previously, including the teamwork thing. This was kind of disappointing considering my favourite parts of the book were the ‘hunting’ portions which were almost entirely cut, but I will say that the movie flowed well and was actually pretty fun. My one gripe in this regard is that a lot of the action was changed for the movie to being based in the real world rather than The Oasis. This was a weird change in my opinion becasue you have a digital playground to do whatever you want with but instead you make the climax a boring car chase? It just didn’t really make sense to me. But I guess this goes hand-in-hand with a lot of the other changes made in the film, making characters particularly bland and boring.
That being said, there was one part of the movie that will probably get me out to the theatre to see it again. That’s right, one part that so perfectly captured not only the feel of the original book, but also my imagination so well that I will pay money to see just that part again. What part of the movie is that? The Shining. How they got the rights to arguably Stanley Kubrick’s most popular work is beyond me, and why they chose The Shining over literally any other property mentioned in the book that has to be dirt cheap to acquire the rights to (ahem War Games) also confuses me, but I’m not complaining in the slightest. This portion of the movie was essentially flawless. The incorporation of the digital characters into familiar backdrops of the Overlook Hotel was seamless, and adherence to rules from classic scenes from the movie gave the audience a sense of accomplishment and attachment for knowing what was going to happen next. But it wasn’t all rehashing, because there was enough new stuff added to the experience to make it fresh without stepping on the grave of the original film.
One last thing I do want to add becasue I’ve heard a few people mention it: No. Ready Player One does not feel like a Steven Spielberg movie. I fucking guarantee that if I had erased everyone’s memory of this movie, and showed even the most experienced (read: pretentious) critics what we have now absolutely none of them would say “Oh yeah, that’s definitely Spielberg”. Maybe JJ Abrams, but even that’s a little bit of a stretch. Now this isn’t to say that the movie is directed poorly, as a matter of fact the action scenes are what make the experience so fun, but it doesn’t feel anything like Spielberg. The characters are bland, the story isn’t all that great, and The Oasis, the part that would have been the most Spielbergian, is essentially turned into a giant game of nerdy I Spy. I don’t want to insult the man, but I feel that every single person saying that Ready Player One is “The quintessential Spielberg movie” and shit like that are really doing his craft a disservice. Ready Player One isn’t bad, but it’s just such a throwaway movie that it will most definitely be forgotten in five years time. If it was truly a Spielberg movie there would have been more of a focus on the real-world repercussions of The Oasis, as well as a focus on adventure; not just a billboard advertising all of the sweet new action figures you can buy.
Overall Ready Player One was an interesting experience. The book was honestly a bit of a let-down to me, but the movie wasn’t much better. There were segments of the book that would have been great if they were written by a competent author, and there were parts of the movie that would have been great if Spielberg actually had a vision and wasn’t blinded by the giant cheque he received for directing it (giant like monetarily. The cheque was probably normal-sized). I think I liked the movie better than the book if only because I could avert my eyes during really uncomfortable parts and the story still progressed.