I’ve never cared for movies that were adapted from books, it’s like looking into a funhouse mirror, sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s weird and silly and sometimes it’s like looking into a shattered mirror that’s also catching a bit of the bashed in head of the clown standing behind you. That is to say, I have had fun watching some movies that have been adapted from books, some of the Harry Potter films were quite fun to watch even if they left far too much out of the story to properly develop the characters, but I can’t say that I’ve actually liked any of them, and most of the time I actively dislike them. I can say that one film I’ve seen so far this year has made me start to reevaluate this position and it wasn’t Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One.
For those who aren’t familiar with the source material, Ready Player One takes place in a dystopian future where society has decided that real life sucks and most people spend all of their time plugged into a massive virtual reality world known as the OASIS. The creator of he OASIS, James Halliday, set up a massive Easter Egg Hunt for his personal fortune, whoever finds three keys can unlock the Easter Egg and will be heir to Haliday’s personal fortune and also the majority shareholder of The Oasis. Our not-so-humble protagonist is Wade Watts, whose name was apparently chosen by his father only because Hiro Protagonist was already taken. Wade is an Egg Hunter who makes the first break in the Hunt since its inception and serves as the foil to Innovative Online Industries, the big scary corporation who wants to take over the OASIS and monetize it heavily. The book is mostly solid, though definitely not without flaws and has been, perhaps rightly so, criticized as being little more than pandering to fans of 1980s nostalgia.
It’s important to establish the film is Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, books readers will be disappointed to see that the central theme of 80’s pop culture has been pushed aside in favor of the things that Steven Spielberg enjoys; a death race with King Kong and The Shining are now prominent plot points instead of Dungeons & Dragons and WarGames. While this doesn’t immediately seem like a bad thing, so much of Haliday’s character was tied into his love of the 1980s, when he had friends and felt like he belonged, that to change to such a wide range of nostalgia seems to actually take away from the soul of the story. The film version of Halliday, somehow, feel like more of a caricature of a person, since the film doesn’t take the time to fully develop him – instead just turning the dial on the social ineptitude up to 11 without giving any mention to how shy he was as a child and teen and how he was only really able to interact through Dungeons & Dragons.
As the original keys for the Hunt were so tied to the 80s identity of Halliday, the film was forced to change them, so instead of Halliday reaching out to those who are fans of the same things he was, he instead only wants someone who is obsessed with every moment of his life, going as far as digitalizing all of his memories so they can be obsessively watched and rewatched by those seeking the Egg. Its clear this is a hamfisted attempted to bring some sense of sentimentality and character growth into the film, however, watching Halliday, even in his own memories, is just painful. He comes across as a complete social failure, not even able to have a conversation with his best friend about his life’s work, it’s like watching someone play The Office’s Michael Scott completely straight, it’s painful to see. The end result is Halliday, in a prerecorded form, explaining that even though the OASIS is completely awesome it isn’t real and you can only find true happiness in the real world. Never mind that if it wasn’t for the OASIS that Wade would never have met any of the other characters, and that they all learned about each other and grew as people through their online interactions, the point of Cline’s book and Spielberg's movie is that only real life matters. It was a terrible ending for the book and it’s still terrible in film.
My last problem with Spielberg's Ready Player One is that the internal logic of the film isn’t consistent. We are introduced to IOI loyalty centers, basically debtor’s prisons, where those who cannot repay their debts are taken and forced to work for IOI in the OASIS to pay off their debts. We see the people in these loyalty centers carrying heavy objects and moving items around, the weight of which is triggered in their haptic suits – why? It seems completely counterproductive to force your workers to use more energy than necessary. It’s almost as bad as the main villain having his password written on a sticky note on his rig instead of using a keycard, retinal scan or other form of physical security.
So, are is there any good to the film? Yes! It is absolutely gorgeous to behold, the imaginary vistas of the OASIS are fantastically well done, and it’s really an all you can eat buffet for your eyes. Not to mention that you’ll find some obscure reference that you’ll be the only one in your friend group to catch. It’s worth checking out if you’re just looking for something light and nostalgic. However, if you’re looking for something has an emotional impact, go see I Kill Giants!
Comics Chad signing off!
!!!BONUS LEVEL!!! Check out this great 8-bit music video based on the Ready Player One book!