Posted on April 16, 2018
I listened to the audio book of Ready Player One so much that even while watching the movie I kept hearing Wil Wheaton’s voice whenever Wade Watts spoke. The 80s was my favorite decade while it was happening and now that I’m older its image has been buffed and shined by that glorious polish known as nostalgia. Which is just my way of saying I am the exact target audience for the book and, maybe, the movie.
But here’s the odd thing about going in to see the movie: I could tell from the trailers that they had changed a lot of stuff… and I was fine with that.
I read The Shining just as many times as I read RPO, but I went into the theater expecting to see the book transliterated to the screen without changes. The result wasn’t pretty even though I grew to love the movie for itself over time. That wasn’t me going into see RPO. I had read the book often enough that I was ready to see other stuff happen as long as they told the same general story.
So the question of whether Spielberg’s Ready Player One is a success in my eyes falls heavily on whether I feel they managed to tell the story while at the same time making all kinds of crazy changes to energize a movie audience.
Spoilers for the book and movie Ready Player One follow.
I was a little shocked by the beginning of the movie. One of the most important parts of the novel for me was starting with Wade/Parzifal as a broke ass n00b who had to work his way out of poverty to even compete in the egg hunt. But it occurred to me, right there in the theater while it was all unfolding, that telling the story that way would really eat up script pages and for what? Exposition. That’s really what the first part of the book is about and I think that the movie does a good job of grabbing a movie audience right from the start and cluing them in to the world they’re getting involved in. Something that is perfect for people who only have two hours to enjoy the story.
So joining the story at a point where H and Z are already full time Gunters makes sense and the opening race is a visual spectacle that is practically worth the price of admission all on its own. The opening sequence on Planet Doom is also effective at introducing us to Daito and Shoto along with H. Oh, and I loved the avatar they chose for H. And that they cast Lena Waithe (whom I love from Master of None) as H.
But I feel like Daito and Shoto got short sheeted in this adaption. Both their character definition and their story arcs. The IRL murder of Daito and Shoto’s in game sacrifice in his brother’s name are powerful emotional moments in the book. The two of them seem like afterthoughts in the movie.
A lot of people have a problem with Art3mis’s treatment in the novel. The general feeling is that she’s shown to be a badass early on but then becomes a secondary character on her way to ending up as a damsel in distress. I won’t argue with that. It bothered me when I read it, but I’m a white male who identifies strongly with the protagonist so it didn’t bother me enough that I actually noticed it on a conscious level.
I was happy to see they fixed that for the most part in the movie. Art3mis is a far more active character in Spielberg’s version. She starts out the same as she does in the book, as a cattle prod to get Wade into action, but she doesn’t fade into the background in the movie. Instead, she ends up going into the Sixers’ headquarters to undo them from the inside while Wade attacks from the outside.
And that brings me to my first major complaint about the movie. Wade’s plan to infiltrate the Sixers and undo the magic shield guarding the third gate is so fun and clever in the book that I felt robbed by the fairly predictable and haphazard way it happened in the movie. Art3mis getting captured only to destroy SPECTRE, sorry, IOI from within is a fairly standard James Bond trope whereas the proactive infiltration and sabotage from the book is intelligent and offers a laugh out load surprise at the end.
I mean, I get the problem. The third act belongs entirely to Wade in the book. There’s no way that would have played in the movie, but there should have been a way to get him to use the same plan of having himself arrested and sent to the Loyalty Center so he could use the information he bought on the Dark Web to infiltrate their network from the inside.
Didn’t ruin the movie, but would have been nice to see it.
In fact, all of my disappointments have to do with the final battle. The puzzles are far more intricate and fascinating in the book. In the movie, they’re so simple you kind of wonder why no one figured them out earlier. There’s no thrill of having overcome a huge obstacle in the movie when someone gets a key. Drive backwards is the solution to one puzzle. Don’t sign the papers is the solution to a decidedly Willy Wonka version of the final puzzle.
And where the fuck is Rush? They even teased us in the trailers with Tom Sawyer playing over the opening race. Where is 2012? Boo. You could have left that in.
The next to last complaint has to do with the giant robots in the final fight. The selection and use of the giant robots is so critical to the book that boiling it down to just Mecha-Godzilla and the Iron Giant and (I hate to say this but I didn’t catch who the 3rd robot was but I think it was) a Gundam gave short shrift to something that should have been a full-throated moment for us — and by “us” I mean the slobbering man-children who are overly devoted to the book and the 80s.
I guess it’s probably obvious that, while I loved the first 66% of the movie, the third act seemed a little lifeless to me.
My final quibble is the same quibble I have with the book: It’s a fucking Port Wine Stain. She doesn’t have a third arm growing out of her head. She doesn’t have a vestigial tail poking through the back of her jeans. She’s a perfectly beautiful female person with some color around one eye. This “I’m hideous” shrinking violet act has as little credulity in the movie as it does in the book.
If you want to make Wade’s love for her a true leap out of the norms, give Art3mis a slight weight problem. Or, hell, go for it and reverse the Kevin Can Wait trope and have a beautiful, fit young man fall in love with an overweight slob of an older woman.
Final verdict for me is that, while the third act is weak tea, the first 66% of the movie is worth the ticket. Go see it.