By Max Colmenares
I am always curious to see what a book I read looks like as a movie. It is entertaining to see what is changed, speculate about why said changes were made and contemplate how those changes impact the story. I never thought “Ready Player One” was a masterpiece as a novel, but it was enjoyable for me because it was full of references to video games and pop-culture, both of which I love. In “Ready Player One” everyone lives their life inside of an online game called the OASIS because of how terrible the “real” world is. The OASIS is comprised of environments modeled and populated with characters from television, film, video games and a staggering amount of other intellectual property. It was the first thing author Ernest Cline ever published, and it is apparent that he is a writer second and a nerd first. His prose is not beautiful, and the plot is simple and cliche. Despite this, the book genuinely portrays what it is like to be invested in popular culture and spend way too much time playing video games. Unfortunately, the merits of the movie do not go far beyond witnessing obvious pop-culture references.
The film provides a fun, albeit shallow, experience. There are a lot of moments that are fun if you recognize a certain character and there are several imaginative sequences, including a demolition derby with King Kong and a scene in which characters enter the frames of a classic movie (I won’t spoil which one). However cheap relying on existing intellectual property is, it did make it more bearable for me to watch what was an otherwise very simple and predictable plot. Characters are either good and do only good things, or bad and do only bad things. There is no room for considering the merits of villains’ actions, and there is very little room for critiquing the actions of the heroes. Additionally, if you have seen almost any movie before it is not hard to predict every plot point. Even the parts that were not in the book were easy for me to see coming. None of this prevents it from being a good popcorn movie, but it does prevent it from being much more than that.
The tragic thing is that the plot has to take center-stage in the movie because of a typical two-hour runtime, when so much of the best parts of the book came from patient world-building. The movie takes place over a matter of days, while the book takes place over several months. In the novel, this allows for development to see what it is like to live in a world where people spend most of their lives in a video game. Wade, the film’s protagonist, spends a lot of the novel held back by the economic barriers in the OASIS. He is poor, and in the book this translates to him being unable to go outside a small part of the game. It gives the OASIS real stakes and makes distance and currency in the game feel important. Additionally, most of the characters in the book interact digitally for a long time before ever meeting in person. It creates an eerie atmosphere of isolation. The movie spends far too much time in the external world for this feeling to really sink in. The romance that develops between Wade and Artemis, a generic nerd-fantasy-fulfilling love interest, is also somehow less tasteful. It is creepy in the book when Wade says “I love you” after a matter of weeks, and it’s worse when it happens after two days.
Pop culture literacy also plays a less central role in the film. In the book, characters watch endless seasons of TV shows and spend hundreds of hours mastering video games to be able to solve puzzles put in place by the creator of the OASIS. Some of the puzzles in the movie that supposedly stump millions of people and entire corporate divisions are far easier to solve. They involve video game trivia that is fairly common knowledge among people who play video games today. It’s not as if “Ready Player One” takes place in some distant future where all information about the present-day has been lost. It takes place in 2045 where there are several people who are visibly old enough to remember the 2010s. Simplifying the references makes the movie a bit more accessible, but it also make it less fun and a lot less believable for huge nerds like myself that fell in love with how nerdy the book was.
“Ready Player One” is good, simple fun. It has the tone and depth of a lot of the movies it is inspired by. The ending definitely reaches a level of cheese that puts the cheesiest of ’80s movies to shame, somehow completely forgetting that it takes place in a dystopian environment. I am disappointed that some of the things that I loved about the book did not wind up in the movie, but the film needed to run under three hours and appeal to people who have a life outside of tv, movies and video games. If you saw trailers for it and thought it looked dumb, it is. You can feel fine avoiding it. If the trailers made you excited to watch it, you will probably enjoy it. If you were a fan of the book and are hoping for a movie that captures all of its best qualities, don’t get your hopes up.