My first experience with Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was as an audiobook narrated by nerd megastar Wil Wheaton. The novel was recommended to me by a nerd friend of mine and after months of putting it off, I purchased the audiobook and spent a few days getting through it. My thought at the time was that it was a decent story but wasn’t anything special. When Ready Player One was announced as a movie, I was intrigued but skeptical that the weak story would make for a bad movie. As it turns out, my enjoyment with the movie had more to do with what drew me to the novel in the first place: familiar references and video games.
Like the novel it’s based on, Ready Player One is full of references to pop culture of years past. All of these references make up the world of the OASIS, a Virtual Reality MMORPG created by game designer James Halliday which is primarily used as an escape from the dystopia that is the year 2044. The movie starts with Van Halen’s Jump, setting the tone for what you can expect going forward. The movie takes advantage of the visual medium of motion picture and replaces dungeon crawling, e-mail and text messaging, and video game expertise with action sequences and more action sequences. This leads to some plot changes, which may be jarring if you read the novel first but are acceptable changes for the jump to the big screen.
What’s lost in translation, however, is one of the things that the novel does right: character development. Novel-Parzival starts as a portly high school student, but ends up a more mature, physically fit character that’s still a Gary Sue but at least learned a bit along the way. Movie-Parzival isn’t a student, isn’t fat and doesn’t learn the same lessons he did in the novel thanks to the omission of some key story points. Part of Parzival’s character development is linked to the love interest, Art3mis, and her character’s development is just as diminished; In the movie, she goes from “don’t tell me who you are” to “hi I’m Art3mis IRL” within minutes. While I get that the story has to move quickly in a movie setting, the shift between “don’t trust anyone” to “I trust you with my identity even though I didn’t want to know yours” is still a bit jarring. Meanwhile, the other members of the main cast aren’t properly developed as they were in the novel. For instance, Aech was Parzival’s best friend from high school whose knowledge in the culture surrounding Halliday matched Parzival’s. Aech’s private chat room was the cornerstone of a lot of plot events in the novel and really set up and illustrated Aech and Parzival’s friendship, but for the chat room to instead appear as a… mechanic’s garage in the movie (because Aech is a mechanic in this OASIS, apparently) is a change that takes away from the bond that Aech and Parzival have. Daito and Shoto (… *cough*, I mean, Sho) also have scaled-back roles in the movie. One of these characters is straight-up killed in the novel, and while I can see the need for a streamlined plot in the movie, it seems the characters’ development was slaughtered in place of an actual character.
The changes in the hunt for Halliday’s Easter Egg in the movie make sense in a movie setting. First, the number of things the players had to do were cut dramatically, likely for running time reasons but probably for licensing reasons as well (because getting the rights to Dungeon and Dragons and the movie WarGames for minor plot points seems like a waste of resources). In the novel, the players were forced to “do a thing to find a key to get a clue to a gate then do a thing to unlock the gate and get a clue to the next key” repeated twice, while the movie cuts this down to “do a thing to find a key and a clue to the next key” repeated twice. The new challenges for the keys fit the flavor of the original novel, so while it’s different, it’s still in the spirit of what James Halliday would have done to make players jump through the hoops he intended. The challenges themselves are visually appealing and center around action instead of arcade gameplay. It’s clear that the movie wanted to stay away from anything that could be considered “boring”, which is good and bad. Usually, “not boring” is good, but it ends up being bad towards the end of the movie where a lot of the conflict in the climax felt like manufactured drama instead of being naturally dramatic.
Overall, the movie is a decent. It’s neither groundbreaking nor innovative, there’s no earth-shattering revelations, no playing with tropes, and the story is relatively safe. While the acting certainly isn’t bad, the actors are dealing with characters that aren’t properly developed, so there’s only so much they can do with that. Visually, the OASIS is stunning and full of so much detail, viewers may find themselves watching the movie again trying to find references they missed the first time. They might try to find their own Easter Eggs in Ready Player One. (The animation studio RoosterTeeth allowed Ruby Rose from RWBY and her signature weapon to be used in the Ready Player One, so I was on the lookout for both but couldn’t find either one.)
If you like anything geek-related from the 80’s and beyond, and you’re in the mood for a feel-good movie, Ready Player One is a decent choice.