Ready Player One: A Book vs. Movie Review

Adapting novels into motion pictures is one of the oldest tricks that Hollywood has. From “Gone with the Wind” to “A Wrinkle in Time,” movie studios cannot help themselves in taking already successful stories and bringing them to the silver screen for a profit.

One of the difficulties that accompanies adaptations, however, is that these stories have already generated legions of fans that eagerly anticipate the big screen debut, only to be dissatisfied by even the slightest change from novel page to screenplay.

“Ready Player One” is no exception to this fault, and in fact may have overhauled some of the biggest changes that I have ever seen in the transition from book to movie. Here are just a few of the major changes that occurred as director Steven Spielberg (“Jurassic Park,” “The Post”) took helm of the cinematic version of Clive Owens novel.

The biggest downfall that the movie has, which granted happens to all long books that must be made into movies less than two hours long, is a lot of the character development hits the floor. Our hero and main character, Wade Owen Watts, a.k.a Parzival in the online world known as the Oasis, has very little time to establish him in the movie.

The book spends the better part of one hundred pages diving deep into whom Wade is in the outside world, compared to his online counterpart Parzival. As a reader, that first huge chunk of the book made Wade somewhat of a hero to already before he tries to save the Oasis.

Once the action of the book is in full swing Wade/Parzival also has many other obstacles to overcome than the movie shows. All these actions and risks help build up the character so when we get to the finale, there is some sort of accomplishment for the reader as well. Something along the lines of “we all went on this journey together and it paid off,” where as the movie events made you feel like you, went on a day trip to the arcade. There was lots of flash, not so much substance.

Tye Sheridan (“Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,” “X-Men: Apocalypse) did fit the role perfectly though. None of the above is a knock on him or his performance. In fact the acting was one of the better parts of the film. Though none of the characters were given the full depth of characterization that book gave them, the “High Five” (The five players to advance throughout the game the furthest) were cast perfectly.

Art3mis/Samantha Evelyn Cook (Olivia Cooke), Aech /Helen Harris (Lena Waithe), Daito /Akihide Karatsu (Win Morisaki) and Shoto /Toshiro Yoshiaki (Philip Zhao) make up the other four players who team up with Parzival/Wade Watts to save the Oasis from a greedy corporate slime ball, Sorrento, who is played by the brilliant character actor, Ben Mendelsohn.

Just in case anyone reading this has not read the book or seen the movie, let me explain the premise a little further so the next section makes sense.

James Halliday and Ogden Morrow played by Mark Rylane (“Bridge of Spies,” “The BFG”) and Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Star Trek”) created the most inclusive, expansive, perfect virtual world, naming it “The Oasis.” Years later after Morrow left the company and on the day of Halliday’s death, a quest was set forth to determine who should be in charge of this cybernetic world. Think “Willy Wonka” meets “Tron.”

To find the golden ticket, or in this case an “Easter egg,” one player must solve puzzles to find three keys, and then use those keys to get through three corresponding gates. The gates act as a second challenge, leaving players what are now six challenges to complete in order to win. Not so much in the movie though. The players only had to acquire the keys and the gates just opened, essentially cutting out half of the fun the book had.

What hurts more is that the challenges that were featured in the movie were in no way similar to any six of the original challenges set forth in the book. I didn’t expect the movie to go as in depth as the book, but I figured they would keep at least one of the challenges that were mentioned in the book for us super nerds who had thought about what some of these images would look like on the big screen.

With all that said, the first challenge in the movie, is still really awesome. The challengers have to race through a city riddled with giant movie monsters like T-Rex and King-Kong, and every racer has a custom vehicle with some pop culture reference. For instance, Parzival’s ride is the DeLorean from “Back to the Future” with K.I.T.T’s laser eye from “Knight Rider” and giant “Ghostbusters” stickers on either door. It’s an schmorgus board of 80’s references all rolled up into one car.

The last grievance I have with the movie comes in the form of the secondary villain, I-R0K. In the book, Parzical and Aech both attend high school in the Oasis, and though they are not in the same school, all the schools in the virtual universe are found on the same planet. To combat the mundane school days, the two meet in a chatroom set up by Aech, that anyone he invites can enter. I-R0K is one of those characters that shows up in the chatroom and basically acts as a device to show the reader that Parzival has truer intentions than the other seekers, who are embodied by I-R0K.

In the movie however they chose to make I-R0K an actual threat. He is not portrayed as a loud mouth kid who just wants everyone to think he is cool. He is a bounty hunter, though still a bit dorky, who racks up more screen time than some of the other characters who were actually featured longer in the book. At the end of the day the character I-R0K could have been filled in by any random character and it would not have hurt the story. To have the film over develop this character while generally ignoring others is what I think bothers me the most. 

If you have not read the book, I would absolutely recommend you go out and see the movie. It is absolutely gorgeous, I mean it is Spielberg, and the story is OK if you don’t know just how much better it could be. If you have read the book, still go see the movie, just be prepared that you will not see the exact events you read come to life.

Whether or not you have or have not seen the movie, the book is definitely worth the read. Owens did a wonderful job of creating this whole world from bits and pieces of pop culture throughout the 80’s and early 90’s. It is fun, smart, and a real quick read. If reading isn’t your deal though, and you want to listen to the novel, it is available on Audible, and is even read by Wil Wheaton.