I read Ready Player One last year and was not impressed. I like references to stuff I love as much as the next person, but I draw the line at hundreds of pages of, “Do you remember? Oh, remember the time? Ooh, what about the time?” Ironically, I disliked the book so much, I could not wait to see what Steven Spielberg would do with the movie.
Ready Player One is set in the dystopian future of 2045. Most of humanity escapes life’s harsh realities by entering a virtual world known as the OASIS where many participate in a game called Anorak’s Quest left by the late creator James Halliday. The winner gains ownership of the OASIS. Wade Watts is a teenager who lives in poverty and spends most of his time trying to finish Anorak’s Quest and encountering recognizable figures and moments in nerd culture history.
Spielberg is one of the greatest directors of all time and has proved he can turn a best selling book into a blockbuster movie. Even the greatest directors can be held back by the source material, however. One of the biggest-if not the biggest-issues with the Ready Player One book is how obnoxious the references become. Instead of shoving the constant references in your face, Spielberg allows for them to just happen and makes them fun instead of annoying.
The other major problem in Ernest Cline’s book were the characters or, more accurately, the lack of character depth. Wade was simply the best at everything and none of the other characters were given any room to develop. The extent of their characterizations were how they compared to Wade. (Aech is a master of 80’s pop culture because he can keep up with Wade in a literal trivia contest, for example.)
Fortunately, the movie is able to correct these issues. Wade is completely unlikeable in the book, whereas in the movie he improves enough to where the audience does not care about him. i-R0k is little more than cannon fodder who vanishes with no mention, but in the film adaptation he is given a more important part.
By far, the character of Art3mis sees the largest overhaul. Coming off her great performance in Thoroughbreds, Olivia Cooke does as well as can be expected. Art3mis is much stronger and well rounded. While it would be a stretch to call her “memorable”, she is no longer only defined as a great video game player because she is almost as good as Wade.
The movie is visually stunning. The club scene featured in trailers is perfect and one of the challenges takes on the grainy look of the original film it pays homage to in a nice touch. The climactic battle is suitably epic. The downside is the real world ends up looking drab and lifeless.
The book’s poor writing does not improve much in the movie. There is still silly dialogue, continuity issues, and an odd lack of cohesion. The quest for Halliday’s Easter egg is still the central point, however it seems to be downplayed. Things happen involving the search, but Ready Player One lacks any sense of urgency or tension.
The movie also makes the same baffling decision the book does: for some reason, it finds it necessary to shoehorn in the message that real life is more important than any virtual reality, despite the fact that Ready Player One gives no reason to believe that and every reason to trust the opposite.
Ready Player One accomplished something the book failed at: it managed to be dumb fun. The references that quickly became overbearing in the book are treated much more casually, allowing the audience to appreciate them. The movie runs long (two and a half hours!) and the writing is still poor, but overall Ready Player One is watchable.