Media Mania: Ready Player One
July 15, 2018
I’ll be honest, a few months ago, I’d never even heard of Ready Player One. The first few trailers dropped for the movie, and initially I wasn’t too impressed with it, but I gave it a second chance, starting with the book. I’m glad I did.
To me, Ready Player One is this story that just wins off of concept alone. Ernest Cline didn’t bust his chops with anything more convoluted than gratuitous 80’s pop culture paired with the only conceivable explanation of it ever being revived in the 2040’s. First off, I had my fair share of head sores at the front end of the book. It had a strong hook, with our protagonist, Wade Watts being introduce within the first chapter as a nobody, poverty-stricken orphan who follows the call of the late James Halliday’s quest to capture the three keys inside the OASIS—a super-immersive version of the internet that…was originally designed to be a single game—somehow? Anyway, a virtual treasure hunt to win control of the OASIS, as well as Halliday’s multi-billion dollar fortune. It felt grand, like a Harry Potter/Hunger Games type mashup—so it certainly gripped my interest.
And then Cline really tested my patience.
We first learn that Wade gets the first of the three keys (the Copper Key) before anyone else in the world, in a great hook at the end of chapter 1 (page 9). Say farewell, because we don’t get back there until page 86. This is the lamest fabrication of suspense that I’ve had to deal with. It’s not cutesy, and it did not provide a great deal of insight that would’ve already been established if you just moved on with the damn plot. Jesus. This thing is 136,000 words, and the writing economy throughout pays dearly for those sins.
Even though I was extraordinarily pissed about the book’s assortment of events, I have to say it was still far better than the film. Movie Wade just starts narrating, trundling around the stacks as he talks to us about everything we’ll need to know to understand this movie with our eyes shut. Clunky is far too charitable to describe this opening. This is just plain lazy. Spielberg directed this and Cline had a solid hand on this script and this is the best they can come up with? If not for your legions of digital artist saving your ass during the first act, this would’ve been a complete bust from the gun. I mean, how do you fail to make every second brimming with fantasy and adventure when you’re playing with an infinitely-expansive, virtual universe where, as is stated literally in the movie, “the limits of reality are your own imagination”?
Some of the deviations also came off as a bit jarring and abstract, like the lip service to the fact that people’s lives are built into their avatars, and that Wade has no money, but instead of all the problems that presented for him in the book (having a default avatar face and clothes, not being able to afford to teleport off world, being a laughably low level), he has weapons, skills, and a custom-rigged race car. Like, why suddenly depreciate the handicap to near-total obsolescence? In the book, that was a source of empathy, but here, why should I root for Wade? What does he need money for? From what the movie shows us, he seems pretty well off on his own in the OASIS.
In this area, the book wins, no contest. (1-0)
The Keys and the Gates:
Since I’m doing a joint analysis of Ready Player One here, let me talk about the first major deviation between the book and movie. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Copper Key is easily my favorite trial for both the book and the film. I really got spoiled there in the beginning. Why? Because the first keys had established clues. Tell me, what good is a treasure hunt that has no clues? Even false ones would suffice.
These elements weren’t necessarily set up for the reader to find out before Wade did, but by having them placed in, I could feel the realization of the Copper Key being on Ludus in the book, or the reverse course of the movie, just a split second before it became obvious. To me, that is some of the most exciting things about this kind of story, and it does wonders for immersing the audience into the plot. In my humble opinion, the car race scene (the first time) should’ve been the opener of the entire movie. God, it was so spectacular, and then to watch it again from an underground, transparent, grid view was amazing. Again, at every turn I was really skeptical about the art direction for this movie, but they proved to be on top of their shit.
One thing to note: In the book, five years have gone by before the Copper Key is found, and you really feel this, not just because Ernest Cline likes to drag out superfluous pages on trivial details about the OASIS and pop culture, but because the world has all but given up on the contest. Only the Sixers and the gunters, the two extremes, have the perseverance to keep at it. I know that’s also true for the movie, but again, lip service isn’t enough. There are mounds of cars in a race that, they believe, leads directly to the Copper Key. They have a strong impression of where to go , and are risking killing themselves, jeopardizing all their non-earthly possessions, in the OASIS daily to reach it. There’s not a single detail in this picture that suggests the competition has left its heyday.
The other keys for the book were more devices as plot points in the story than anything else, since Wade isn’t the first to come across any of the rest. To me, they became really forgettable in any positive light. The only thing that aggravated me was the completely convenient fact that the Crystal Gate could only be accessed by turning three different Crystal Keys in the keyholes at once. Did that make any sense to the free-for-all, battle royale treasure hunt that Halliday had set up? Of course not. Oh, and what a surprise! We have three main characters! How fucking convenient. Mind you, this is literally the only reason that Parzival, Art3mis, Aech, and all the others ever even get a shot at winning the game. This is the single thread that keeps Sorrento from winning by default while he has Anorak’s castle shielded. I’m so glad that was scrapped for the movie.
The Crystal Key for the film was an absolutely fantastic improvement on what was otherwise some spotty storytelling. It was topical, but abstract enough, and although I thought that the real-world climax happening on the bus concurrently was a bit sluggish, cliché, and unnecessary, it was at least passable.
Speaking of things scrapped in the movie: I was really bummed they scrapped the key gates in the movie. Don’t get me wrong, it was the right move—they would’ve only been an anchor to this movie’s already hefty runtime, but they were some fun things from the book.
This one’s a tally for the film. (1-1)
I came in four days ago, waiting for the movie to prove my suspicions as fact. Characters always go to the home team (aka books). To my shock, as many risks as the movie took in deviating off the safe road paved by the book, most of those risks paid off. The first half of the movie, in particular, was completely rock solid. Having Art3mis show up straight away to meet Parzival was a bold move, but it strangely worked. The dialogue they shared, the jokes they cracked, and Aech’s place in all of it, I can’t believe I’m saying it, but it all came together very neatly and organically in the OASIS.
Outside of the OASIS, however, is a whole different story.
I still cannot grasp who knew who in real life from the beginning. If the answer is nobody, then why the fuck are all of the five best gunters in the world sequestered in Columbus, Ohio? The book made sense. Every single person of prominence lived in at least a different state. Daito and Shoto were both from Japan, and even though they were inseparable, they weren’t even brothers! Hell, they didn’t even know each other in real life! I mean, this is the key plot surrounding the world with the OASIS—taking a leap to meet up with the rest of the High Five in order to save the world. Now, they might as well have been chummy neighbors, living in the same apartment complex.
And in the movie, it’s all so rushed! This is the best part of the story, especially since we are really only following Wade through to this point. Take a moment for them just to interact. How the hell does Art3mis (Samantha) even know about Wade’s residence or his immediate danger? Are you telling me because he let slip his first name at a party, she could track him down and give him refuge in the nick of time?
The High Five form a team too quickly and too easily. The whole allure of the first half, where Aech was suspicious of Art3mis, who in turn was struggling to keep focus on her own way to Halliday’s Easter egg, while Parzival is ignoring both of these protests and flying straight into the clouds, mad in love with Art3mis—that’s what it was all about. That dynamic was awesome and had some more traction left in the plot. However, as difficult as teaming up was for the High Five in the book, the movie just sticks them together like Gorilla Glue. Instead of trying to shed the every man for himself mindset that Halliday’s game promotes, we get this:
“Wade, you understand Halliday. You know him better than anyone. It’s exactly why I think you’ll win.”
Seriously? Seriously? This is, by far, the worst line in the entire movie. Art3mis is nothing if not stubborn and driven to win. To the end of the book, she was the last character to really come together and sacrifice her chances, to risk meeting even her own OASIS friends in real life. When did Art3mis become the cheerleader to Parzival—a second-string gunter? Half the banter of the book (and a decent chunk of the movie) is about how she’s the best, and she’ll take it all home.
Better yet, she specifically finds fault in the pathetic vision Wade has in using the money if he wins. This creates a huge divide, and really tears at the reader’s emotions when she blazes past him in the Jade Key while he’s slumped up against a Pac-Man machine to play a perfect game and only gets the extra life coin for his troubles. However, for the movie, Art3mis chucks all that away the moment she meets him in the flesh. Love wins! Hurray!
By the way, replacing the Pac-Man perfect game plot device with something as mundane as the Curator losing an informal, offhanded bet about what isn’t in Anorak’s Almanac? That’s a major downgrade.
On the plus side, Og Morrow (OASIS’s co-founder) had a more tailored role in the movie. In the book, he just kinda pops up when everything seems lost, and all the four characters are out of options to save their asses. No, having a falling book in a chat room, and a supposed “glitch” to indicate that he was prying into their affairs for a long time does not offset any of the superfluous conveniences his help provides. In the movie, disguised as the curator, he’s a lot more involved in the story, while also simultaneously appearing far more bipartisan. If this wasn’t such a minor detail, maybe it would’ve saved this section, but alas, the last point goes back over to the book. (2-1)
A spirited fight between the two competitors! While the outcome might not show it, the movie really became a dark horse candidate in this. I drew this idea out thinking how I would basically be ripping Hollywood for destroying yet another precious story from page to picture, but seeing the two side-by-side really puts things in a new light for me, especially since I read the book only weeks before watching the movie.
While turning away in defiance of many good elements that the book possessed, the movie forged its own path with its own charm. That is one thing I think many people criticize too harshly in movie adaptations. Sometimes, the medium itself isn’t the determining factor of originality, quality, or success, but the mind behind the machine—the vision lurking within the cracks of an old tale retold. An adventure beyond our wildest dreams.
Ready player one?