NOTE: This is a spoiler-free review.
Ready Player One, based off a science fiction novel by Ernest Cline, was one of the movies at the top of my must-watch list for 2018. A couple years ago, I read Ready Player One and I was blown away, and today it’s probably one of my five favorite books I’ve ever read. While the movie, directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg, wasn’t as enthralling as its source material, it certainly did the book justice.
Ready Player One follows Wade Watts, who lives with his aunt in Columbus, Ohio in the year 2045. In this future, the world is hooked on the OASIS, a virtual reality simulation developed by James Halliday that is filled with references to 80s and 90s video games and pop culture. After Halliday’s death, a treasure hunt to find three keys scattered across the OASIS is launched and the winner will receive trillions of dollars and full control of the OASIS. When Wade becomes the first player to find the first key, he becomes a celebrity and his life changes forever. But this discovery also catches the eye of the IOI, who are trying to win the hunt so that they can commercialize the OASIS.
Going into the movie, I had my hopes set high, believing that the movie would simply be an exact visualization of the book. Instead, I was taken off-guard by the liberties taken in Spielberg’s adaptation of the book (though the author Cline was credited as a screenwriter for the movie), including some seismic changes and a whole different tone. Whereas the book takes on a dark and edgy, life-or-death tone and richly develops characters, Spielberg’s adaptation Hollywood-izes the major concepts to make the story adopt a happy-go-lucky tone and move at a faster pace. Many of the major plot points are rearranged, altered, or altogether deleted to adapt to this blockbuster mold. To borrow from some other box office hits, Ready Player One’s adaptation was more Percy Jackson than Harry Potter.
At first, these differences bothered me, but as the film progressed the differences took the story in a direction that was better suited for the big screen than the original material. Much of the development that bogged down the pace of the book was cut (a necessary change considering that the movie is already 2 hr, 19 min), while a lot of the mature and R-rated content that I wished the book didn’t have was virtually non-existent in the film adaptation. The film focused on the action, and while that may have hurt the plot, it made for a thrilling and smooth movie experience.
The best part about Ready Player One was its visualization of the OASIS, which is obviously impossible with a book. The animation used for this virtual reality simulation was both stunning and appealing to the eye and the action sequences set in the OASIS worlds were spectacular. The movie also excelled at humor, from its use of pop culture references (many of which I didn’t understand but nevertheless appreciated) to occasional one-liners. Considering the direction the film chose to go, the acting was superb. The whole theater cheered when Philip Zhao, who plays Sho and is also a ninth grader at my school, was introduced and his part was one of many minor roles that smoothened the transition of the material into a more comical and 80’s-themed style.
On the flip side, Ready Player One was a bit too Hollywood for the story to truly blossom. The lighter tone and constant humor lessened the stakes and drama and made the previously menacing and hostile villains less compelling. Even though I read the book a few years ago, I had trouble keeping up with the various characters and feeling their emotions due to the reduction in character and plot development amidst the action. Outside of the OASIS, the future society was too monotonous and underdeveloped and weighed the film down.
Ready Player One is an interesting case study in adaptation and optimizing different mediums. The book and the movie are worlds apart, but that might not have been the worst thing. The book utilizes literature’s strengths of developing a nuanced plot and progressing characters, while the movie taps into the major concepts of the story and welds it into a Hollywood format by focusing on action and humor. Where the book breaks convention, the movie adapts to it. The movie Ready Player One doesn’t assume the phenom status of the book, but stands by itself as an enjoyable and cool film.
Riker Scale Rating: 88 out of 100