This is not a full review of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. Before seeing the trailer released at this year’s Comic Con, I had actually never heard of Ready Player One. Aside from reminding me a little of Fallout, the trailer left no impression on me. Then the book club I am in chose Ready Player One, narrated by Wil Wheaton from Stand by Me, Star Trek: TNG, and The Last Starfighter.
Before reading Ready Player One, I was unable to tell anyone what the worst story I ever read was. Now, I have that answer. Much like Shaq Fu, Superman 64, and Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, there is nothing redeeming about Ready Player One. Going into the book club’s last meeting, I figured that Ready Player One was out of my life. But, just like in The Sixth Sense, Saw, and The Usual Suspects there was a twist. The book ended up being so bad that I now must see the movie.
Books being made into movies is far from a new thing. Sometimes it works, like Misery, American Psycho, and Private Parts. Other times, it fails miserably like Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and most recently, The Dark Tower. On rare occasions, the movie will be better than the book, as was the case with A Clockwork Orange and Fight Club. The Ready Player One movie has something going in its favor, however. Ready Player One is being directed by Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg’s name belongs with the other greats like Scorsese, Park, Kubrick, Nolan, and Tarantino. He also has experience turning books into great movies as seen with Jaws and Jurassic Park. The difference is both of those were already considered good books. Can Spielberg turn a bad book into a good movie? Or will we get another Fifty Shades of Grey?
This question is what makes me want to see Ready Player One. Steven Spielberg can direct a great science fiction movie. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and A.I. are all proof of that. Ready Player One lacks any of the charm that we have come to expect from a Spielberg movie. For example, Spielberg movies always have a character that the audience can easily get behind, like Indiana Jones. Ready Player One‘s protagonist is Wade Watts, or Parzival as he is known to most. Parzival is narcissistic, petty, immature, hypocritical, and untrustworthy. It will be interesting to see how Spielberg rehabs Parzival since keeping him as he is in the book will give cinema its worst protagonist ever.
Spielberg movies do not just rely on their main characters, however. Hook, Saving Private Ryan, and The Color Purple all had strong supporting characters that you cared about. In Ready Player One, Cline decides to not develop any supporting characters. Instead, the reader is given blanket descriptions. There is the overweight girl, the insecure girl, the evil guy, the really smart guy who became the really rich guy, and so on. Unless showing off the amount of pop culture references you can make counts, no one seems to have a strong motivating factor to do anything. The obvious effect is that the reader has no real investment in any of the characters.
Tension is also an important part of all Spielberg movies. Whether it is a shark, Nazis, or dinosaurs, Spielberg is a master at keeping his audience on the edge of their seats. To this day, the iconic score written by John Williams for Jaws is still used to create an atmosphere of high pressure and fear. Ready Player One lacks any real tension. There is no clear antagonist until almost halfway through the book. Once the reader is made aware of who the bad guys are, the book still does not have a strong Big Bad like Gannon or King Koopa. Cline instead decides to create a generic cookie cutter villain as the main antagonist. Conversely, Parzival is practically invincible. Any problems he encounters, he is able to easily handle. If Parzival is unable to handle something on his own, Cline writes a deus ex machina. This eliminates any tension from an already drab story.
Most important is how both men’s works made me feel. My childhood is filled with many cherished memories that involve Spielberg. Back to the Future, Gremlins, The Blues Brothers, Poltergeist, The Goonies, An American Tail. Movies that have stood the test of time. The only emotion Ready Player One filled me with was anger. After a somewhat promising start, the book devolves into an odd mix of constant video game and movie references, poor writing, and logical inconsistencies. Decades after they were first released, critics still speak highly of Steven Spielberg’s earlier movies. In a little over five years, the same critics that raved about Ready Player One, now say the opposite.
Ready Player One has earned its place alongside Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties, Manos: The Hands of Fate, and Homeboys in Outer Space as examples of how bad their genres can get. This also makes it the most interesting project that Steven Spielberg has ever taken on. The Ready Player One movie is already more intriguing to me than It, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Justice League, Blade Runner 2049…