A Few Random Thoughts on Ready Player One From an 80’s Fanboy
First, full disclosure. I absolutely adored the book. So, this whole discussion should be preceded with that knowledge. Like, I think, maybe, the book was one of my favorite things of the last 4 or 5 years. So much so I created a minimalist poster for the film. Want to support THiNC. and assist us in continuing to bring you in depth movie deep dives? Buy a dozen.
Anyway, so yes, while I adored the book, it came to be that I only begrudgingly saw Ready Player One. I was originally very excited about the coming film. But the more I learned about the coming movie, and the more trailers I saw, the less amped I was. So much so, that I only just saw the movie last night, two weeks after it opened. And what did I think of it intrepid interwebs traveler? I’ll get to that in due time, because, you know, nothing is simple at THiNC. There will be light spoilers throughout the discussion of this film and the book. If you’d prefer to go in to the movie blind (which you should) then pass on this discussion until you’ve experienced it yourself. I mean heck, read the book first and then go see the movie.
My concerns are best illustrated by just watching this trailer:
Did you miss it? YOU SEE!? Just kidding. Ok, well, this is going to sound super lame. But here it is. The entire thing, from beginning to end? Is a cartoon. A complexly animated cartoon. And the low-res poly count animation is actually intentional! You have to denote that we are in a virtual world, right? We need to get visual queues that this world is fake. But even the real world, the stacks, Columbus Ohio, looks fake. The opening scene of the movie establishing the vertical RV park was so obviously animated that I wondered maybe if I missed something.
Why is this important? Well, in the book, the real world is horrific. It is a dystopia to end all dystopias. If I remember correctly, several cities had been destroyed in the United States by nuclear strikes. There was famine, disease, etc etc. The real world was so bad, everyone scurried to the OASIS to avoid reality. But Spielberg isn’t really capable of dystopianing anything. Some would say Minority Report was dystopian, and I’d argue no, no it wasn’t. It was high-tech consumerism. So, with the trailers, the thing that stood out to me was that this would be an animated movie for adults, paying homage to our childhoods.
The Changes From The Book To The Movie
As the movie kicked off, I was almost instantly lost. I mean, I generally recognized the overarching idea and the overarching direction of the film that Spielberg was taking. But right out of the gate, the very first challenge was so confusing to me I couldn’t concentrate. You see, because the movie made it clear that the first challenge was known by everyone. It was a huge race that no one was capable of finishing. I mean, you know, King Kong and all. But Wade figures the trick out… go backwards!
In the book, the first challenge couldn’t even be found! It’d been years of everyone searching and searching. And Wade? He couldn’t afford to even explore the OASIS because he was too poor. But the elite and notorious gamer Art3mis found the challenge. And Wade, who had been following Art3mis was the one to actually solve the puzzle and beat the game of Joust against Halliday’s avatar.
I am not griping about the change from Joust to the big exciting car race. I’m not kvetching about Spielberg not keeping exactly with the book. But I am saying that some of the themes of the book were completely lost. For example, that the OASIS was a serious pay to play world and Wade couldn’t get anywhere in it. Not only that, but the only reason he had access to the OASIS at all was because his public school gave him access to the free areas. This idea, the disparity between the elite and the impoverished and Halliday’s quiet support for the lesser than. I mean, he did hide the first challenge in the public areas after all. But as far as big movies go, the race was more exciting and more interesting. And yet, started the relationship off between Parzival and Art3mis all wrong.
Pretty much every single challenge is significantly changed. A 3D Zork walk through and a Captain Crunch whistle gets ditched. A Wargames emulation is flipped to a Shining emulation instead. A Blade Runner Voigh-Kampff test is ditched, as is a game test within Black Tiger. But I really didn’t mind these, except that it definitely de-geeked a ton of the über geekiness that oozed out of the book. But, sure, 90% of movie goers just wouldn’t understand these references. So I agree with the changes… generally. Not annoyed. But here’s what I was annoyed about…
The Key Twist of Ready Player One’s Book
If you have not read the book – stop here and jump to the next heading. Ok? Because this twist in the book is definitely worth experiencing first hand. Go read the book.
Alright, so in the book, Wade moves to Columbus after Key 1, and assumes a false identity. And after Daito is murdered and an attempt has been made on his own life, Wade becomes an indentured servant at IOI headquarters under this false identity. And from the inside Wade uses exploits and passwords he purchased on the black market before coming in, in order to hack IOI and steal key information. And then he uses the hack info in order to escape from indentured servitude. It is probably this one key interlude that is the single most important section of the book. And it is all the more important in that the reader doesn’t really know what is going on. And yet, it ultimately allowed Wade to turn the tables on IOI and get key evidence of the murder of Daito as well as footage showing attempts on his own life. Instead, in the movie, Art3mis is captured and it is her efforts that help bring the shield down, etc.
In the book, Wade intentionally gets himself arrested using the Bryce alias. He becomes an indentured servant at IOI headquarters, but only after purchasing IOI intranet passwords and systems exploits that allowed him to steal data from IOI before escaping in a maintenance uniform. In the movie, Samantha (aka Art3mis) is taken by IOI agents raiding her house looking for Wade. Her friends break her out of her indentured servitude pod by tricking Nolan into thinking they’ve broken into his office while he’s still in OASIS.
Overall Thoughts on Ready Player One Movie
I was a huge huge fanboy of the book. This much is obvious from the write up I have done here. But I don’t blame Spielberg for jacking with the arcane 80’s trivia. It totally wouldn’t have been accessible to a modern audience. If I had a real complaint, a serious, what the heck did you do to this movie sort of a complaint, it would be about the relationship between Parzival and Art3mis. Art3mis was a legend in the OASIS. Almost a myth in the community. And she was a viable contender for the prize on her own. And Wade? He was totally awestruck. And in the movie, it is this relationship and the tumult and growth of their competition and then alliance against IOI that drives the storyline. Not the prize. Not the fate of the OASIS. But in the movie? All of these characters and their import is lost. 100%. They are there. But we, as viewers, don’t even know why.
So, last night, I went with a buddy, a mate as he would say – as he’s an Australian – and he said something profound as the lights came on. And it was something to the effect of… “It is really rare to see a positive 80’s kind of ending anymore, and that is what Spielberg just did. He gave us a good feel good, optimistic movie that was a good ride.” Or some such something or other. And you know what? He was right. I have an intrinsic disdain for Spielberg generally because of this truth. Normally, he pulps and marmelades everything. Smarm and more smarm. But with this movie? Maybe he was the perfect director to smarm the heck out of it for us. It was an 80’s tribute movie afterall. And for an 80’s tribute? It was fun and it was a good ride.
And at the end of the day, if you are an 80’s fan, and you enjoyed this movie? You’d enjoy the book even more. Check it out and you won’t regret it.