Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendehlson, Lena Waithe, Philip Zhao, Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg
Written by: Zak Penn and Ernest Cline (screenplay), Ernest Cline (story)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Studio: Warner Bros.
Run Time: 2 hr, 20 min
When any literary work is translated from page to screen there is always that one person or group of people who claim that the book was better. Today, I am that person. Now it should go without saying that, obviously, getting Ernest Cline’s whole novel into one film would be an impossibility. Yet, one would think with a master storyteller at the helm like Steven Spielberg, getting the point(s) across would be easy. Sadly, this fan of the book thinks the film missed a lot of those points and key elements that were in the novel.
This is the only part of the novel that I can concede for the film. The numerous challenges that Wade Watts (aka Parzival) and the other members of the High Five and IOI have to concede with are not only riddles with extensive pop culture minutia which take hours, if not months to decipher. So when the opening challenge is shortened to a race, a race that no one has been able to figure out for 5 years, I can see why they made the change. However, the heart of the book was getting into the mind of Oasis creator, Halliday. That's here, just, again, abridged.
Certainly, a book has the time to develop characters and relationships. I expected that Spielberg would find a way to not gloss over the Aech and Parzival friendship, or change Art3mis’ reason for finding the Egg and the effect that would have on Parzival. For whatever reason, screenwriter Zak Penn and Ernest Cline did make changes.
As for Aech and Parzival, their friendship, in the novel, goes beyond who they are in the Oasis. So when they do meet in the real world, the awkwardness of seeing each other face to face quickly washes away in a few lines of dialogue as Parzival realizes this person is the friend he has always known. It doesn’t matter that he is a she, their friendship is all that matters.
As for Parzival and Art3mis, their love story plays out over a year in the novel. Obviously, for the time constraints, this has to be shortened, but outside of both being Gunthers, loving pop culture, and knowing a lot about Halliday, I didn’t get a real sense of longing from Tye Sheridan that this woman, played by Olivia Cooke, is the only one for him. Something got lost in all the action and CGI splashes so that when the two characters are locked in a passionate smooch at the end of the film it felt empty.
The Real World
A big issue in "Ready Player One", the novel, is that the real world has been pretty much abandoned by the human race. It is in shambles because the Oasis has everything we need (minus food, air, and toilets). We see the overpopulation and people living on the streets. However, ArtEmis’ reason for finding the Egg is to save the real world. There are people starving and no one is doing anything about it because they would rather go on into the Oasis and live out their “real” life. By finding the Egg, she can literally save the world with all the money she'll have. The film puts her on a vendetta to avenge her father and essentially change the world. By making it about a character we never see, it falls flat. Also, we ever get a sense that the world is falling apart, just overpopulated.
The novel also gives us Parzival (Wade) falling into indentured servitude and having to work for IOI to pay off his debts. It is here we see just how corporate the world has become and how absent-minded everyone is to things outside of the Oasis. In the film, Art3mis gets captured and we get just a hint of it, but not enough to add to the weight of why the good guys have to win.
Finally, Halliday’s partner, Ogden Marrow, leaves the company and his partnership because he also notices that this tool they created to help educate people was being used for more of a game and an escape. He wanted no part of it. All of that is forgotten as the director and screenwriters focused on a love triangle that helped push the plot forward.
First and foremost, I-R0k is barely a character in the novel. He is more of an annoyance than anything, a wannabe who gets Parzival and Aech into a few problems after Parzival unlocks the first gate. Sorrento certainly did not need a stooge or a toadie when he had a full army of IOI employees at his beck and call.
In the novel, Sorrento is also more of a cutthroat character, a hardcore gamer and former programmer who would never have his password on the side of HAB-unit. I would have conceded making him a corporate slimebag (completely) if not for the final moment when Sorrento sees Parzival with the Egg and cannot pull the trigger. The look Ben Mendelsohn gives Tye Sheridan is one of awe as someone finally completed the game. He was almost happy, which wasn’t really the character in the film. Oh, he totally orders the execution of Sho in the book, however not killing an eleven-year-old, in the film, makes him a better villain? Which brings us to…
Avatars in the Oasis allow people in the real world to be whatever they want to be without the confines of who they actually are, their race, their sex, or even their sexual orientation. Aech’s character is really just a black woman from Chicago who was pretending to be an ace mechanic (programmer) and a guy in the Oasis. This matters a great deal in the novel because Helen (aka Aech) reveals how liberating the Oasis can be. Could a black gay woman have earned the respect of so many and be a legend in her own right if everyone, including Parzival would know the truth? Would they have ever even been friends? The point that Cline made in the novel is that the prejudices of the real world don’t exist in the Oasis. We are forced to see who people for who they are at their center. That point is in the movie, but not nearly at the same depth.
The Magic Number
If you have read the book you know what reference I making. If not, I suggest that you get the novel. Now in the end of the film, Parzival realizes what Halliday was trying to teach people about interacting with others and being a part of the real world. That point comes across on film, but the book really takes Parzival on that journey. He does so much alone and when he cannot succeed he has to rely on his relationships with Daito, Sho, Art3mis, and Aech to solve the challenges in the Oasis. At the end of the book, he realizes that the final challenge requires the mutual collaboration of several players to succeed. It takes the whole novel for the character to grow and succeed, not only in the game but in life. From the first challenge in the film we see him reaching out and helping others, so when he does call out to the other Gunthers for help it doesn’t seem to be that much of a stretch and it loses all impact on the big moment.
“The Book is Better”
You have heard this before. I found myself with a lot of time in the car, lately, so I got the audiobook read by Will Wheaton. More than once I found myself ready to argue or agree with numerous characters in the book about how great a film was or how hard a game is. Whenever there was something I did not know about (like RUSH’s 2112 album or Dungeons and Dragons’ Tomb of Horrors), I found myself looking it up or listening to it. The film is packed with so much eye candy and pop culture references that at times I was looking off to the side and not really paying attention to the story, which is sad because that is what really matters, the story. Read the book, you won’t regret it as you’ll find the true message of what Cline was saying about video games, comic books, and movies. They are great, but so much better to share with an actual person.
Check out AFJ’s Spoiler Free Review of Ready Player One HERE.
Check out Robert's Ready Player One Primer, which is based on the book's story HERE.