Editors Review Ready Player One: Izzy
When you search for the meaning of the word “adaptation,” you find several different meanings on Google. There’s the obvious, which defines the word as “the action or process of adapting or being adapted.” For the purposes of Steven Spielberg’s latest blockbuster Ready Player One, an “adaptation” is defined as “a movie, television drama, or stage play that has been adapted from a written work, typically a novel.”
As a blockbuster movie, I was a bit surprised by how much fun I had. As an adaptation, Ready Player One is incredibly poor and disappointing.
Ernest Cline’s 2011 hit novel Ready Player One*was a book I knew I’d always love, even when I first read it last March. I loved its expansive world and Cline’s natural construction of character progression, rewarding readers with a big emotional payoff during its final act. I loved its many, many eighties references, and it only made me want to explore more into the decade. I loved how the novel instantly pulled you in to the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation (OASIS) and the world of protagonist Wade Watts. I found it surprisingly easy to get through 200 pages in a sitting. And, I loved how even though the book pulled you in to the OASIS, the novel was still very much tied to reality, balancing time between the virtual reality world and Wade’s dystopian Columbus, OH. There were a few problems, and a few of *Ready Player One’s main storylines don’t stand strongly against the test of time, but it’s still a solid novel.
And, in a broader sense, I did enjoy the movie and I had a lot of fun. You can easily get sucked into Spielberg’s mindless (but a little bit lazy) adaptation. It has an almost video-game like feel in how the characters, storyline, and visuals drag you in. The big landmark scenes of the movie, like the final fight and the (albeit unnecessary) various car chases, are entertaining and fill you with a surprising amount of heart and energy. If you had read the book, it’s still interesting to see how Spielberg handled the admittedly hard task of adapting Cline’s beloved novel to the big screen.
But there are some moments where I feel like the screenwriters assumed the audience of this film would have read the book before going to see the movie, as if they knew Cline’s novel was a massive hit and assumed it was like Harry Potter, where everyone and their mother would have read it. In fact, I feel like I would have struggled with this movie had I not read the book first, which feels a bit disheartening and making the movie — as an adaptation — even more disappointing. There are some references in the movie from the novel that weren’t explained very well, such as the “High Five,” which refers to the five main protagonists’ avatars — Parzival, Art3mis, Aech, Daito, and Sho, the top five ranked players in a contest for control of the entirety of the OASIS, established by OASIS creator himself James Halliday after his death.
Additionally, there doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of payoff or stakes in this movie. Instead of showing protagonist Wade Watts’ rags-to-riches rise from the very start of the contest, like in the novel, the movie glosses over this detail and starts the story from close to the end of the discovery of the first gate. Watts is supposed to be this expert on all things Halliday and 80s pop culture, but you don’t really get a strong sense of that throughout the entire movie. While the novel still integrated much of reality and real-world stakes despite focusing a lot on the OASIS, most of the movie takes place inside the VR game and its translation of real-world stakes is infantilized to small issues like losing all your OASIS avatar’s stuff and money. It’s almost a little bit demeaning. In fact, this movie feels like it trades that payoff for a larger heavy-handed focus on overall social issues, which were underlined discreetly throughout the novel and executed a bit haphazardly in Ready Player One. In the movie, it feels like the entire contest is shaped around it, taking away a bit of the fun from the adaptation.
However, the movie’s worst crime is that the adaptation took out a lot of the things that made the novel great. Details from the novel are switched around to benefit the story, and just simply don’t make sense when comparing it to the base product. The movie couldn’t find a unique balance between being fun and trying to tell a larger story, with more weight on being an entertaining movie than having a cohesive plot. This movie, as a matter of fact, wasn’t very unique at all. I don’t blame this entirely on Spielberg, but rather the movie’s writers Zak Penn and, yes, Ernest Cline, for taking something unique — Cline’s own unique creation — and making it a typical flashy sci-fi hit trying to kick off the summer movie season early in the middle of March before Avengers: Infinity War does the same thing a month later.
There’s one definition of “adaptation” that stuck with me when I was writing this review. In biological terms, Google defines “adaptation” as “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.” I knew that Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One would be an inferior adaptation of the novel and that adapting the movie would be a difficult task, but I didn’t expect to be so torn and, ultimately, disappointed.
According to the Los Angeles Times, most of the movie’s changes were to eliminate scenes that would be uninteresting on the screen, such as when Wade accomplishes a perfect score in Pac-Man, or when Wade recites all the lines from the film WarGames. This detail sums up the movie pretty well. Rather than telling a unique story about one nerd’s rise and fall and second rise to glory, the adaptation of Ready Player One focused more on making the story fit in general to the screen rather than telling the story in general. It focuses more on making the film exciting rather than engaging. Rather than conveying how we should spend more time with human company rather than on a screen, Ready Player One is a perfect example of how Hollywood treats mainstream adaptations: as a tertiary priority over overt visual decadence and audience simplicity, resulting in just another action movie.