Ready Player One: Book vs. Adaptation

Ever since 2018, the release of the Ready Player One film directed by Steven Spielberg, I have been dying to watch this futuristic and adventurous extravaganza. However, I soon realised that it was first a book written by Ernest Cline published in 2011, and being the bookworm I am, I made it my mission to read the book before watching the film. I ordered the book online and was eager to finally read it when it arrived… However, the book then sat on my shelves for 2 years unread. That was until November 2020, when I decided that once and for all I was going to tackle the sci-fi novel that was so outside my comfort zone. And I absolutely love it! It was just the right amount of action, humour, adventure, and pop culture squeezed into a book and so my anticipation for the movie grew even more. This past week I finally sat down to watch Ready Player One, the film. To cut right to the chase, I was thoroughly confused and very disappointed. Although my initial reaction was quite negative, on reflection I have warmed to some of the directorial choices that are hugely different from the book. Before I go any further and discuss the disparities between the book and the film, some of which I liked and didn’t like, be warned that there will be spoilers so if you have not read or watched Ready Player One yet and want to, don’t go any further! Just come back when you are all caught up.

Ready Player One is set in 2045. The planet is on the brink of chaos and collapse, but people find salvation in the OASIS: an expansive virtual reality universe created by James Halliday. When Halliday dies, he promises his immense fortune to the first person to discover a digital Easter egg that’s hidden somewhere in the OASIS. When young Wade Watts joins the contest, he finds himself becoming an unlikely hero in a reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical world of mystery, discovery, and danger. First, let’s talk about how although they kept the overarching storyline the same, the production team for the film completely changed the most crucial moments in the plot: the missions and quests that the players needed to succeed at to achieve the copper, jade, and crystal keys that allow them to reach and pass through the subsequent gates to reach the final easter egg. In the book, the realisation that the location of the first key is on planet Ludus, the planet which all the OASIS schools are on, is a huge moment for the main character, Wade, since due to his very limited finances (this will be touched upon later) hasn’t been able to travel off this planet, meaning it has literally been on his doorstep for the five years the contest has been running. Wade figures out that the copper key is hidden in the middle of a forest, in the Tomb of Horrors, where he will need to play a large scale version of one of Halliday’s favourite childhood games, Dungeons and Dragons. Then he must challenge the master of the tomb to a game of Joust, which is very much in Wade’s favour due to the extensive amount of time he and his online best friend Aech have played this very game. However, this is all disregarded in the film and replaced by a glorified car race throughout Manhattan, avoiding death by monsters, that anyone can enter, and winning this race has been known to get you the very anticipated copper key. I don’t think these two quests could be more different from each other! I was disappointed to see that the mystery of this quest and Wade’s triumph which puts him at the top of the leaderboard was missed in the film, as this is what distinguishes Wade from the pack of grunters (egg hunters) and makes you root for him.

Similarly, the mission to discover the second jade key in the film was completely different from the book. Ernest Cline writes that to achieve the second key, players need to succeed at a text adventure game called ‘Zonk’ and unlock a Voight Kampff machine from ‘Blade Runner’ and play the game ‘Black Tiger’. This quest was used to build suspense and tension in the book, as Wade’s rivals in the hunt for the egg were close behind him and were even overtaking him. Additionally, the mission contained a lot more action, adventure, and violence, as unlike the planet of Ludus, this place was a player v player combat zone which meant that if any of the opposition players caught up to him there was a chance that his avatar, Parzival, could be killed within the OASIS and a risk he could lose all his progress so far. This added to the natural progression of the novel making it more thrilling and anticipating. However, in the film, we see Wade and his new friends placed into a recreation of ‘The Shining’ movie to save Halliday’s unrequited love, Kira, from a pack of zombies. This specific idea for a quest stems from the task within the book that needs to be completed to clear the first gate and reach the clue for the second key. However, the creative team behind the film decided to get rid of the gates in Halliday’s game, presumably to prevent the film from being 5 hours long which is understandable. I am glad however that they decided to carry forth the movie reenactment, even if it was a different movie, as that is something I particularly loved in the book and was eager to see how it would be executed in the movie. What is interesting about this quest is that Wade and his friends seem to be working together, although only one person at a time can complete the task to reach the key. An important element in the book is the characters’ insistence to work alone on the game and not to form a clan and work together as a team. However, this element is almost overlooked in the film and not given any discussion which is disappointing.

Due to the removed element of the gates in the film, that means the main conflict between the grunters and IOI, a company with a mission to win this game to take control of the OASIS for corporate gain, needs to be replaced. With no key two or three gates, the film skips on the original dilemma of the use of The Orb, a highly powerful shield used by IOI which cannot be penetrated, broken, or deactivated, and the ultimate climax of the book where there is a global revolution against the sixers, IOI’s avatars, outside Castle Anorak. Although this doesn’t hinder the film hugely as there are many other opportunities to make clear that IOI are the enemies and bring about a plan of action to take them down. For example, in the book Wade slips into a depressive state after Sorrento, the leader of IOI, attempts to end his life in the real world. This gives him time to come up with a plan to not only succeed and win the whole game but also take down the enemy. Therefore, under an alias, Wade makes sure he is taken to the IOI Indentured Employment Induction Centre where people are taken to pay off their debts in a sort of slavery. However, due to the previous decisions made in the film and again to not make it obsessively long, it is actually Artemis, Wade’s new friend and crush, who is taken to IOI’s Loyalty Centre. I actually think this adds to the story in the film, as although their main aim is the same; bring down the enemy from the inside, it adds a dramatic element as Artemis is forced to play as a sixer in the film’s big climax.

In the book, there is a huge emphasis place on all the hard work Wade and the other grunters have put in to advance themselves in Halliday’s egg hunt. We are told that Wade spends hundreds of hours watching 80’s films, has played all the relevant video games a hundred times over, and keeps an extensive personal journal of all the research he has done into Halliday’s life, the video he left behind, and all the clues along the way. We are led to believe that this is a normal way of life for grunters, and if you are part of a clan, a team of people working together to find the egg, the resources are shared among you with the understanding that the prize would be shared too. Although we can see both Wade’s and Artemis’ personal journals in the film, the hard work of the grunters are undermined by something called ‘Halliday’s Journals’ in the film. This is basically a glorified shopping centre where you can browse and have constant access to all of Haliday’s memories, collections, memorabilia and so much more. This essentially would put everyone on the same playing field giving everyone access to everything they would need to win the game. The problem I have with this is that I struggle to see how no one in five years has made an advance in the game when all the information they need is handed to them on a silver platter.

Similarly, in the book we are told from the start that Wade is very poor and couldn’t even travel to other planets with his friend Aech to level up. This ultimately works in his favour given the first key was on the same planet he couldn’t leave the whole time. Once he has this first key, it allows him to boost his credit and money by taking sponsorships and questing on other, more dangerous planets. However, I think the whole zero-to-hero trope was missed in the film as he starts with his own car, albeit not a very good one, and a pretty sick looking avatar, nothing like the basic factory settings described in the book. This, paired with the pre-made ‘Halliday’s Journals’, totally undermines Wade’s hard work and determination, missing the idea that Wade should be an unlikely winner.

There were also huge disparities between the book and film, in regards to the characters and their backgrounds and journeys. First, let’s look at Artemis. In the book, she is known as one of the most famous egg hunters and Wade has been following her blog for a long time, which is why he so easily falls in love with her. However, Artemis’ high status within the OASIS is overlooked in the film. Additionally, the character of Samantha who is the human behind the avatar is introduced much sooner in the film than in the book – which is much the same for most of the other characters too. This means that Wade and Sam, get to spend more time together and develop their real-world relationship, which, if I’m being honest, this idea has grown on me since I first watched the film. And I totally understand why most characters were introduced prematurely – if an actor is being paid for appearing in a movie, they kind of want to be featured for more than the last 10 minutes. Moving on to Daito and Shoto. The dynamic duo who most people think are IRL brothers but actually, just best friends who met in the OASIS, are much the same in the film as they are in the book. However, the very dark and sinister background in the book surrounding the murder of Daito by IOI was removed from the film for obvious reasons. Sorrento’s character arc takes a slightly different direction in the film that just adds an extra layer to his character which we didn’t get in the book. Through ‘Halliday’s Journals’ we discover that Sorrento, who is now an enemy to all grunters, used to be Halliday’s and his business partner’s, Ogden Morrow, intern. However, he was treated more like a coffee collector than a worker who added value to the company or who the creators trusted or confided in. Therefore, Sorrento’s disdain for this technology and the people who created it comes into a much sharper light, thanks to a little twist in his backstory. Two places that the movie skipped over where I would have loved to see some elaboration is the relationship between Halliday and Morrow and then Morrow’s involvement in the egg hunt. Simply put, there was no mention of Halliday’s and Morrow’s childhood friendship, the cultural force that bonded them which was Dungeons and Dragons, or of their endeavors together to create Gregarious Games. Additionally, in the book, Morrow has been lurking in Aech’s chat room for quite some time, invites them to a birthday party, and arranges for the High 5 (apart from Daito who was already killed off by this point) to come to his house in Oregon to undertake the final battle against the sixers and win the game. This is where Wade meets his new friends for the first time and therefore has no desire to log back into the OASIS. Without this element, it seems like the friendships in the film are very rushed and we don’t see the slow build of their relationships.

Overall, Ready Player One is not a bad film. The cast and acting, soundtrack and score, cinematograph, CGI, and special effects are all amazing and what you would expect from the most popular film director, Steven Spielberg, who is regarded as one of the founding pioneers of the New Hollywood era. However, as an accurate and reliable adaptation of the book written by Ernest Cline, it failed. I know many people who love Ready Player One the movie, but after falling in love with the book, it just paled in comparison.

Ro x

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