[SPOILERS] Let’s Talk About Ready Player One: Spielberg Goes Guns-to-Radios Again

Posted by March 30, 2018 Comment

I have been absolutely dreading writing review-esque pieces about WB’s Ready Player One film. I don’t want to be angry, I don’t want to nitpick with every little “WELL, IN THE BOOK” statement that passes my lips when I talk about the movie (but a lot of this chat here will include those things), and I don’t want to take away from the resulting picture.

There will be SPOILERS. Lots of them. If you don’t want to know, please find something else to read.

Seriously, hop in your ECTO 88 and do something else if you don’t want spoilers from The OASIS.

If you as a viewer have no emotional attachment to the source material, you’ll probably enjoy the results. If you were one of the very vocal haters of the book, you’ll probably also enjoy the film. There is nerd eye candy galore, shallow fanservice (minus the charm of making because that’s an amazingly wonderful deep cut that I keep ripping the bandaid off of), and a believable enough young love story to keep your butts in the seats.

BUT, Steven Spielberg‘s Ready Player One is not Ernie Cline‘s Ready Player One. We knew this going in, and anyone who didn’t is lying to themselves. I made my peace with this fact about a year and a half ago when I rage quit the ‘final script’ twice before  reading it all the way through. I like screenwriter Zak Penn for the most part, I really do (X-Men: The Last Stand notwithstanding), but there was so much of the soul lost in translation, and it broke my heart.

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 11: Ernest Cline and Zak Penn speak onstage during Ready Player One LIVE at SXSW, Powered by Twitch and IMDb on March 11, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for IMDb)

This isn’t because I’m such a purist that I can’t enjoy an adaption that’s good. There are some adaptive changes I really like — characters, plot devices, timeline things – but I keep scratching my head to find RP1, other than The Shining sequence (which I asked Penn about in our interview, and will be up later today).

Steven Spielberg and Ernie Cline talk “Ready Player One” on stage at SDCC 2017
photo by Bill Watters

In my title here, you’ll notice I bring up guns-to-radios.  If you’re unfamiliar with this example, hop in your wayback machine and watch E.T.The Extra Terrestrial. After the film’s original release, Spielberg went in and digitally replaced the guns with walkie-talkies, due to critical responses which the director admits he took way too personally. Guns to stop kids didn’t read very well then, even less so now, but it took away a large portion of the ‘danger’ element in the scene, much like all of RP1.

I say this because IN THE BOOK (oh shit, I said it, take a drink), there are consequences and actual “life and death stuff”. Much like how Sir Ridley Scott‘s film adaptation of Andy Weir‘s The Martian took out large portions of the main character facing additional peril (flippin’ the rover, etc.) and also being alone (which Scott didn’t want Mark Watney to be for so long), Spielberg and Penn did with their version of this story. (I should also point out here that Cline was very much involved with the rewrites of the script, so I don’t mean it to sound like everything wrong was solely on Steven and Zak.)

Namely: one of the High Five doesn’t make it to the end of the book. They are killed by IOI, and it’s framed as suicide, which is not an uncommon end for young people in the reality of the story.  The scene in the film of dude getting zeroed out and trying to jump out the window only to be stopped by another dude to audience laughter?  Yeah, that’s a real thing that happens every single day due to losing everything in the OASIS, and takes it’s basis from the murder of the High Five member. None of this ‘everyone lives happily ever after’ bullshit that you get in the film.

Wade Watts/ Parzival isn’t the cool tricked out avatar we see immediately in the film. He’s a 17-year-old slightly overweight high school senior with no money (no DeLorean til later, too) and no real way to make any. He’s a level 3 Gunter, who won’t even ask his best friend to lend him credits for travel or gear, who has to find clever ways to make ends meet and make it to the first key. There is no sense in the film of why he cares about the contest as much as he does, about the Egg Hunt, about his real connection to James Halliday. This is probably my biggest gripe about the entire thing: Wade is too likeable in the film.

I liked the literary character immediately my first time reading it, because I understood him. I grew up poor, obsessed with the ’80s, bullied beyond reason my entire school career — and within this story, I saw parts of my personal narrative. Connecting with people via digital realms because you loved the same silly book, and building relationships through escapism which has been a part of the human experience since, you know, the beginning of the human race. You lose so much of that character; his motivations to succeed with both the Quest and his friendships – in the slightly vain presentation of him. Parzival had no extra scratch to change his freaking hairstyle, and he wouldn’t have CARED.

Or how about the actual state of the world and living conditions in Wade’s aunt’s trailer? 15 people live in it, and he remarks that it’s fewer than the average occupation. The world is a lot more fucked up in the book, and maybe that change was to appeal to the film going public who’s tired of the Hunger Games style of the future, where everything is broken and the resources are all used up. But that’s the setting of the story, and it’s why the Contest matters as much as it does, to everyone.

I can probably write for hours about how the casting of Olivia Cooke as Art3mis was a missed opportunity to cast someone other than the Hollywood normal body type, but I did really feel she nailed the character personality-wise. Arty is supposed to be “rubenesque; all curves” – and the svelte elfin figure we get in the film is anything but. Girls do come in all shapes and sizes though, and at least they left in her birthmark.

Also, I have nothing bad to say about Lena Waithe as Aech, minus the choice to reveal her casting early on, taking away the moment of true surprise from the audience when her IRL character is revealed.  She was perfect, and I want her as my best friend too.

Mark Rylance was everything I wanted in Halliday personified – and I was not sold on his casting at first. He plays the Gregarious Games co-creator with a warmth and sorrow you immediately recognize as the building blocks of Anorak. When he first appears as his wizard avatar, I got emotional, not gonna lie. The obvious Willy Wonka parallels are sort of thrown in your face, but that’s not Mark’s fault.

T.J. Miller as iRok is it’s own kettle of… something. There is no Sorrento henchman of his ilk in the book, and iRok is another teenager who hangs out with Aech in the Garage chatroom, and eventually gives up that Parzival is a high school student. There’s none of this super-powerful almost-capable elite stuff, and he gets one upped easily by Parzival in our first moment meeting him in the book.

The character of Sorrento’s gal Friday Finale doesn’t appear in the book – and I dislike her addition to the film, I think. I say “I think” because yes, there are few female characters in the source, but it’s never bothered me. The ones that ARE there are good, and shoehorned-in inclusion female characters are almost worse than no female characters. Instead of the scenes with her being sent out to fail at missions, we could have gotten more sweet Gunter action.

Which brings me to the Keys and Gates, and the relative ease of each challenge. Sure, you may think that’s disingenuous of me to say, but if you know what the true steps were, maybe you’ll change your mind. Not only is there a challenge built into finding each key, a challenge to GETTING each key, but there is also a sizeable quest to unlock and complete each gate (which you can read about here).

Bill mentioned that he feels this perfectly explains entitled millennials “who expect everything to be handed to them for the minimal effort put forth”, and I can’t say I disagree with this angry sentiment in the context, because those are kind of the same people the film aims to draw in. I say that because most of the Easter eggs are for ’90s kids and beyond – not the ’80s fans who the book speaks to. (Not a bad thing, just different.) But the transient ease with which each clue is deciphered and completed is disappointing, I’ll admit it.

The music, too, was a miss. I love Alan Silvestri, like I said in my spoiler-free review, but there is nothing particularly stirring about this original score. I can argue both points – it lets the film breathe without blood pumping additions, it doesn’t need to be big and bombastic – but it kind of frakking does. When the first piece of the score was released, I knew I was going to have issues with the finished film.

That’s not EVEN going into the almost 500 songs mentioned in the book, all of which would have been perfect additions to the film. (There has been a Spotify playlist by Cline since the book was published that is a step-by-step list of how the soundtrack could have gone.) I cannot and will not forgive the addition of fucking “Staying Alive” at the club (which was supposed to be Og’s birthday party anyway).

I. Just. Won’t. It could have been “The Safety Dance”, it could have been freaking “Take On Me”, IT COULD HAVE BEEN “BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY”. But it wasn’t. Instead, it was the Bee Gees, and I feel personally attacked. At least it wasn’t ABBA.

Much could have been forgiven with any/all changes in this film had they kept the original Anorak’s Invitation, but mostly because I so badly wanted to see this sequence realized, and it should have been the first thing released for the film. Wouldn’t it have made the most perfect first trailer?

You’ll note I didn’t say I hated the film. Yes, I do sound like a complete elitist asshole in this review, and I will stand by that. If I wasn’t already terribly in love with the book, my enjoyment would have probably been through the roof. This is also not to say that I won’t be seeing it again and again this weekend, because I will.

See you in the OASIS.

Ready Player One is now playing in theaters across the globe.

(Last Updated March 30, 2018 12:02 pm )