So I just finished watching the 2018 adaptation of Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg and I have a storm raging inside me. I will be recounting a bit of my past with the original book and then go on to explain how I feel about the movie adaptation. Also, this post is unpolished since I feel a revision will take away from the raw emotions I felt upon completing the movie.
I was twelve or thirteen when I came across a book in the public library, it was called Ready Player One and I had no idea what was in store for me. Late nights illuminated by a single desk lamp, hours spent pouring over the words written on the pages that opened a world that I had not acknowledged before- video games. Chalked full of references to movies and games my dad deemed as classics, it was an incredible experience to discover this world I had not known of before. Not only introducing me to fascinating 80’s pop culture, this book led me down a path to discover video games and become the person I am today. Needless to say, and quite cliché to say, this book changed my life. I kept a notebook of all the references made in the book and went back to study them when I wasn’t reading, it found video games, and I fell in love with the perfect book for me. Despite the faults that I have found rereading it a half dozen times, I unconditionally love this book for what it is and how it has molded my life. Hell, my username “Parz” and “Parzival” are a direct reference to Ready Player One. The only thing I felt that was missing was one of two things; a game just like the Oasis so I could lose myself, or movie adaptation of the book. Be careful what you wish for.
I initially was somewhat hopeful for this movie adaptation because I wanted to be, I wanted my dream of seeing my favorite book on the big screen but at the same time I didn’t want to be severely disappointed. So going into the trailer I was not expecting much but at the same time I was optimistic that I could be surprised. I hated the trailer. It was just a teaser showing off a car chase but I knew that it was not canonical. With that I decided to skip wasting money to go to the theaters and wait for the home digital release. It was a good thing too, because what I saw should not exist.
The movie opens pretty much how I expected it to, with a paraphrased and shortened version of Wade’s introduction speech, but then we hit the unrelenting problems. James Haliday purposely made the Egg Hunt mysterious, yet not overly serious and the video captured that, however I felt it was too straightforward in the movie. It was like reading the quest information in an MMO, that told you exactly what to do. And it did not contain any of the numerous pop culture references from the book. These references aren’t just an excuse to hit at the audiences nostalgia, this is supposed to be out first time meeting Haliday and seeing these eccentricities and him surrounded by his favorite media is supposed to characterize him.
Now my problem with Wade’s character in the movie. In the book he was introduced as a slightly overweight guy with bad acne, dressed pretty bad and was a high school student. He was a student on Ludus, the planet where all high schools were located and was the only planet he had access to for the longest time. He was a kid with dreams, the underdog that we all wanted to imagine ourselves as. Yet he was poor and had no cash to buy any gear let alone vehicles. However we see him in the movie trying to reach the first key in a Delorean, which he technically doesn’t get until much later on in the story. To add to this, Wade should not have an omni-directional treadmill in his van hideout and he should have spoken his pass phrase to unlock his Oasis account, but that was not included in the movie but are rather small complains. Back in reality he seems like a regular dude who just happens to live in a shitty environment, not the loser he is made out to be. And The Stacks were not at all what I pictured in mind from reading the book. The Stacks in my head were more barren, lifeless and nobody around. In Wade’s game he coded for the Atari 2600 (A Gunter rite of passage as he describes), he described how you were supposed to collect meal credits and avoid meth addicts- implying it was a shitty place to live and was dangerous. Not a place where people hung out like it seemed to be in the movie. This is why he wants to get the hell out of dodge, and he is vocal about it in the book and is also a major motivator for him escaping to the Oasis every day. In the movie Wade says his dream is to get a mansion and fill it with cool shit, but in the book he says he wants to get a spaceship with cool stuff and food and leave earth behind because he doesn’t want to stick around since there is high crime, exhausted natural resources, and frankly nothing left for him there. This is why in the book he spent his prize money purchasing a small apartment in the city, because as I explained earlier was one of his goals since he hated The Stacks. Yet he remains in the same place in the movie. This sets up Wade not as the underdog with motivation, rather a hero from the start who we all expect to win.
What about the rest of the High Five, which the movie seems to never explain the origin of the group’s nickname. Aech is pretty similar to the book, but I didn’t like the limited importance of his hideout in the game called “The Basement” which was an important meeting place and safe haven for the other members when shit hit the fan. This was also where Aech and Parzival hung out and deepen their relationship over video games like any good friendship should. The Basement was also where Ir0k was present since he was a scumbag Aech hated, but kept around to be the butt of most jokes when it was convenient. However Ir0k was presented as just a scumbag who didn’t personally know Parzival or Aech from The Basement, rather just an incredibly useful dog that was used by Sorrento to move the plot forward. Daito and Shoto, yes, Shoto, not Sho. Daito and Shoto are the names of traditional Japanese short and longsword where both characters got their usernames but was overlooked as minor importance in the movie. Not only this, but also they downplayed that Daito and Shoto should have been living in Japan, were recovering hikikomori and were not publicly known as friends. They called themselves brothers but were actually friends from a hikikomori recovery program they both attended. Furthermore, Daito actually dies in the book, thrown out of his apartment window by Sixers, and Shoto goes on to avenge his death in the final battle. Of course the movie didn’t even mention this. Art3mis is a similar story or brushing over important details and changing her character. What bothered me most was how her relationship with Parzival was never fully explained, which was a whole arc in the book in which both become infatuated with one another but ultimately leads Art3mis to cut connections to Parzival since she realized their relationship was making them lose sight of the goal to find the Egg. They also should not even have met in person until after the contest at the Morrow mansion, but of course this needed to be added so early on, which angered me immensely. They ruined an emotionally impactful scene and the set-up to the delivery of the main theme of the story for no good reason. Also, she just happened to have a huge base of operations running a resistance movement in the same area as Wade- ok. Furthermore, all High Five members coincidentally happened to live in the same city? Of course that wasn’t the case in the book since Aech was traveling the country, Daito and Shoto lived in Japan, and Art3mis was somewhere in Canada. No excuse for that.
Now about the first key. It came out of nowhere that there was a road race and somehow everyone knew about it. Canonically the book had the first key on planet Ludus and you had to defeat a Lich King in a game of Joust before obtaining the Copper Key. Here it’s completely different for simplicity’s sake, which is expected but did not have to change so drastically from the original. Looking past that major flaw, we find out that the challenge isn’t straightforward so Wade’s avatar, Parzival, goes to the Haliday archives. This is one of my biggest problems with the movie and it’s poor handling of characterization. Originally in the book, Haliday creates a digital version of his personal diary dubbed “Anorak’s Almanac” after his avatar’s username, which contains a comprehensive guide to his life. This meant all Egg Hunters (Gunters) would have to acquire this on their own and research the pop culture references themselves in order to piece together an image of the man who ran the Oasis. Wade in particular called his version of the Almanac his “Grail Diary” in which he meticulously took note of everything he believed to be important for the hunt. He describes having spent days playing all of Haliday’s favorite games, watching every movie and TV show, listening to all the albums and reading every book to gain a greater understanding of who this individual was. Haliday was an idol to Wade, not just a guy who created a contest for him to win and I feel the movie does an awful job at presenting that.
So after figuring out how to beat the Copper Key’s challenge, Parzival received the key and… that’s it. He gets the next riddle and is ready to look for the Jade Key. No Dungeon of Daggorath? Not even the Wargames simulation? The movie did away with the second crucial part of the Egg Hunt- Gates. After beating the challenge to find the key, players are supposed to use the riddle located on or around the key to find a “Gate” which would lead them to a new challenge that is required to find the riddle for the next key. Logically speaking, this was a calculated decision to save time to fit the content of the movie into a reasonable runtime, but did so by cutting some great content like the Blade Runner scene, beating Black Tiger, simulating the amazing Monty Python and the Holy Grail and beating Haliday’s high score in Tempest. But I digress. At least they added a simulation of a movie (Flicksync) in the movie, right? Well yes but it was The Shining which, according to my own notes and the official wiki, did not even appear in the book. I guess it’s a good time to discuss this part, but Kira, Haliday and Ogden Morrow go way back. They met during a D&D session in their high school, Kira being an exchange student, and allowed the three of them to get to know each other. Kira was also the one who gave Haliday the nickname “Anorak” which was a slang term for a geek, which he displayed proudly and carried it with him for the rest of his life. He also had a huge crush on her but never acted on it, unlike in the movie which he got close to. Og himself was also a weird character in the movie since he only really appeared for convenience sake and never given character. In the book he hosts a party on the Distracted Globe where his is given characterization through his nerdy appearance, music choices and sense of style when it comes to a good party. This is actually the real reason Parzival and Art3mis even go to the Globe in the first place, not because it was a place to Egg Hunt.
Very similar stories with the Jade Key and Crystal Key, all of which felt incredibly rushed and lost the sense of mystery and puzzle solving captured in the book. With the Jade Key for example, Daito and Shoto happen to find the key off screen? Of course none of the iconic book scenes appear like the Rush’s 2112 puzzle, which I found ironic since Aech wore a t-shirt with the album cover to 2112 and there was a poster of the album cover in young Haliday’s room in the movie. However, I do like that they at least added the iconic Adventure easter egg, but that’s common knowledge at this point to it was mostly expected to see it’s inclusion in the movie.
To take a step back here, there’s a whole section of the story in which Wade infiltrates IOI to bring down the impenetrable shield around Castle Anorak that was completely changed. He was supposed to change his identity, go undercover as an indentured servant and hack IOI from the inside. However the movie decided to make Samantha the girl with a plan, for reasons I cannot justify. Wade is the hero at this point, so why not let him carry out this plan? This happened to be one of my favorite arcs in the book since there was a shift to an espionage feel, Wade was more daring after “breaking up” with Art3mis in the Oasis and felt like he had to take a risk. He felt no danger and was willing to take drastic measures for the sake of the Oasis, which has since become his escape from reality and his feelings once again. But the movie make this almost into a rescue mission and Samantha the person to break into IOI almost unintentionally. What really bothered me though is that Samantha kept her Art3mis avatar despite being logged into an IOI account, and had access to all her equipment despite that.
Now for the last battle, the battle at Castle Anorak on Planet Doom… wait, wrong planet. I meant Planet Chthonia. (That was changed as well). I desperately missed the spectacle it would have been to see Ultraman versus Mechagodzilla, but that wasn’t there for whatever reason. There was an RX-78-2 suit and the Iron Giant which was welcome but I was starved for the army of mecha’s that battled in the book. As for the Catalyst explosion, it must be mentioned that in the book Parzival gets the extra life quarter from getting a perfect score of Pacman on planet Archaide, which felt left out since Pacman is such an iconic game from the era. Instead he gets it from the curator at the archive building for free really, which didn’t feel as deserved like in the book. This extra life was something never heard of in the Oasis, so getting it had to be nearly impossible and Parzival did it, meaning his troubles were worth it in the end.
Now, the presentation of the ultimate theme of Ready Player One; “Reality can be tough, but it’s the only place you can get a decent meal” which happened to be a quote from the Almanac, presented in the book. Haliday meant that even though he hated reality for the longest time, it offered some things that could not be supplemented by escaping into the Oasis. This was the final lesson Wade had to learn, but was left without much impact in the movie since he had already learned that before arriving to The End. He already met his love interest and his best friends IRL so he already knew what reality was important. I found it amusing that despite changing the entire flow of the story up until this point, the writers had the nerve to try and deliver an important critique of modern technology in our lives, in which the book succeeded in. Yes, this is a story of a guy becoming the best there ever was, defeating the bad guy, getting the girl and becoming a literal god of the (virtual) world, but it was also a social critique. Ernest Cline didn’t want a story about glorifying escapism without consequences, he wanted to show how games can be great, but not to lose touch with the real world. Because after all, Hot Pockets taste best there
I knew the writer(s) were going to change stuff based on the trailer, but this was a defacement of the original work. Something that should not exist under the same name as the original book, a disgrace to the name of the staff working on it. I despised every minute of this movie because I knew how much the original meant to me, this was not just ruining a nerdy book, it was ruining the most important piece of fiction I have come in contact with. This was person, and I will never get past this adaptation. Much like how Berserk fans hate the 2016 adaptation, I am disappointed this sad excuse for an adaptation exists. It felt so soulless, without passion for the 80’s pop culture from the book, and like the writer(s) of this script only skimmed over the book’s summary, and that’s giving them too much credit. It’s one thing if you “adapt” a book to the screen why modifying the presentation of story and possibly interpreting in a different way, but this was too much change for less quality. Full of cheap and awkward lines, major plot holes for movie-only viewers, and too many modern references that screamed “Advertising!” (Minecraft, Halo, Deadpool, Overwatch etc.) this was not just a personal grudge against a movie, this is just a poorly created movie.
Nerd rage aside, this really movie hurt me. It’s not just disappointing, I dare say this left a mark on my life that cannot be erased. For such an important piece of fiction I declare as “life changing” to be ruined so badly in a movie adaptation years in the making… I will never get those years of wait back, not the two hours and change I spent watching it. At least the original source material exists, but this movie will always exist as something that will never forgive so long as it exists in the same reality as me.