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**************** SPOILER WARNING ****************
**************** SPOILER WARNING ****************

When I walked out of the cinema having just watched Ready Player One I had mixed feelings. I’ve read the book twice and the film is very different from the book. It’s a thrilling, fun ride and an incredible feast for the eyes, but I have to say I did feel slightly disappointed. It’s very good, but it just didn’t quite give me the feels that I was hoping for. But I’m very open to watching it again soon as I think I may slightly differently when watching it again now that I know what to expect.

Firstly, I won’t deny it’s an amazing visual ride and the action is non-stop. I saw it in 3D and I would certainly urge you to see it in 3D if you have the option.

I’m trying really hard not to be one of those ‘the book is better than the film’ sort of guys though. Books are normally better than films. It’s always hard to translate the often long, slow, full imagination and universe of a book into a two hour film. Particularly the sort of world in the Ready Player One book. I’m very impressed they made it into a film at all! I always knew that it would be impossible to directly translate the book to a screenplay. I went in totally prepared for that, and trying to not feel precious about the book. I don’t mind the film being its own entity and its own version of the story. It had to be. I tried to judge the film on its own merit. And yet, taking all that into account, I do feel that they changed some of the wrong things and as a result the film lacked something.

First of all, to get the book stuff out of the way, here are some of the things they changed from the book that I was generally fine with.

  • They changed it from being just 80s references to being everything up to modern day gaming references. It was just ‘pop culture’ in general. This is fine I guess and it probably had to happen, in order to engage a wider demographic
  • They made four of the ‘high-five’ group, friends right from the start. And they met Art3mis very early on. Again, that’s fine, I guess. It’s hard to keep introducing new characters in a film
  • The character of I-R0k was changed from being an acquaintance of Aetch to being almost a lackey of Sorrento. I actually thought this was done very well. It was good for Sorrento to have a kind of right hand man who knew more things about the Oasis. And I thought the character looked awesome
  • The Shining – I knew, sadly, they couldn’t have the WarGames flicksync from the book. Not enough people know WarGames well enough. I did think they might have another film either as a flicksync or just recreated within the movie. The Shining was an interesting choice to be honest, perhaps because it’s quite mainstream and not just from the geek world, but I guess they had to go with something that was iconic and very recognisable. The whole sequence in the movie about The Shining was absolutely fantastic. Probably the best sequence in the film, or tied with the opening race. I can’t wait to hear how much was actual footage from the film and how much was recreated. It was extremely well done. To be honest I was a bit surprised they went with a horror film because it is actually pretty scary in moments and it felt the movie was slightly veering away from the family friendly Spielberg style for those 5 mins or so. It probably got its 12 rating from that section alone, which means if I watch it with my kids I reckon I’ll be putting my hands over their eyes for that bit! And I’m also very impressed they got the rights to the film. I’ve heard the Kubrick estate are very hard to collaborate with. But I’m sure the name Spielberg opens a lot of doors!
  • And lastly, the race at the start of the movie. It was actually one of my favourite parts of the movie. Visually astounding. But… for me it slightly changed the feeling about the overall hunt for the egg. It became more of a video game than a puzzle. I know there were game challenges within the gates in the book but the keys were all puzzles that had to be solved. And I totally understand that they weren’t able to do the whole backstory of the first key being on Ludus and in a D&D module etc. I understand that it’s hard to fit all that in. I think my main problem with the race was that it didn’t allow us to see Parzival as a Level-1 nobody at the beginning of the story, who then became the first one to reach the key just through his passion and research alone, which is a shame as it affects his overall arc a bit. I might up pick up on more details here on second viewing though, and the bottom line is that the race was pretty awesome, so in general I’m ok with it.

Now here are some of the bits in general that I felt could have been better.

  • I felt that the start was a bit too confusing. I don’t think they highlighted enough about Halliday’s obsession with 80s pop culture and how that was the reason that the clues were all pop culture orientated. I think it’s mentioned briefly but I felt that people who hadn’t read the book might not totally get it. But I’ve not heard many people complain about this so perhaps it was just me. I’ll keep my mind open on this one for a second viewing
  • I felt the whole introduction to the concept of the Oasis and the VR in the film was perhaps too ‘gamey’. It’s not just game entertainment that it’s used for in the book. People go there for education and their work too. I felt that the dystopian world wasn’t quite explained well enough, or it was too frivolous
  • I wasn’t a huge fan of the library and the Curator. I would have preferred for Parzival to go hunting through old camcorder tapes on a Marty McFly camera or something like that. A bit more mystery. The whole hunt for the egg kind of felt a bit too easy perhaps. I guess it was a nice way to speed up the clue hunting though and also to incorporate Ogden Morrow and also the extra life quarter. Again I’m assuming this was the best way they thought of to squeeze all the ‘hunting’ into one visual cue
  • I didn’t really like Mary Rylance as Halliday. He’s an amazing actor but I didn’t like his portrayal here. I know he’s meant to be autistic or Aspergic but I still felt he could have had a bit more charm or something so that we understand and sympathise with the character a bit more
  • I wasn’t hugely impressed with Tye Sheridan. And I really didn’t like his acting when in the Oasis. Several times I found his ‘nervous laughter’ voice acting quite fake and it pulled me out. It’s an obvious comparison but imagine if they’d had someone with the energy and charm of Michael J Fox in that role. Conversely, I did think Olivia Cooke did a great job of Art3mis, particularly in terms of her voice acting
  • The film didn’t feel very ‘Spielbergy’. The real life bits all felt a bit low budget to my eyes. Such as the very end when Sorrento is walking through the crowd with the gun, approaching the van, and then Simon Pegg shows up. It all felt a bit ‘small’ and a bit low budget. I know it was shot in Birmingham but that’s no excuse! I was also hoping for the Spielberg magic to make the whole chemistry and adventure of the kids a magical experience but I just really didn’t feel that. I didn’t get his imprint at all on this movie. There was also no ‘Spielberg-face’ moment, when the character runs up to a close-up and we see them look in awe at something, in this movie that I can remember. Would have been fun to maybe have done that with a VR avatar. Perhaps he did and I missed it, so I’ll watch out for that upon second viewing
  • I knew the movie would ditch all the retro video game details and a lot of the 80s references, and I was totally fine with that, but I was hoping it would instead focus more on the other strong points of the book which are the sad dichotomy of people’s lives, having to live in the Oasis to escape the horrors of the real world. Art3mis and Parzival do have their moment on the roof but it ends too soon and I felt it wasn’t given enough weight
  • The book has the whole dramatic suspense leading up to the reveal of what Art3mis and Aetch look like. I like that, as it shows their whole friendship is based on their chemistry in the Oasis, and it makes the reveal at the end more suspenseful. In the movie it happens about halfway through and doesn’t have the same impact. The book almost makes the character reveals at the end equally as important, if not more important, than the egg hunt. I was disappointed that the film didn’t make more of that
  • Moreover, they kind of glossed over the very relevant and interesting aspects of gender identity and who you present yourself to be in the Oasis. The big reveal about Aetch again didn’t quite have the gravitas that I had hoped. I had hoped that these things would have been given more of a stronger message, about how you shouldn’t judge people and that it’s what’s on the inside that’s important etc
  • As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t feel that it was explained enough about why everything was 80s or pop culture related. In the book there are so many references and often they are gratuitous and a bit too much in places, and I knew they had to dial this down in the film but I feel that they dialled it down too much in places. They threw in lots of references but hardly commented on any of them, which almost made them quite superfluous and random/meaningless. A bit more discussion or commentary about some of the references would have been fun and made them more relevant to the story
  • Some of the ways that VR was represented confused me slightly. The bit where we see people run down the street with their VR headsets on and then it cuts to them running up to Castle Doom firing weapons etc… I can’t see how that would work. They were in an open battleground in the Oasis but if they ran three feet to the right in the real world then they would hit the side of a shop. A few things like that pulled me out. Also when Art3mis is working in the loyalty centre and her VR experience is seemingly a fully immersive viewpoint of working on a railroad or something, but at one point she seems to be able to look to her right to see Sorrento coming in the real world, or something like that. Just a bit confusing and it pulled me out a bit. It made the VR concept less realistic to me
  • The bit where they made Sorrento believe he was back in the real world but actually he was still in the Oasis was clever, but I struggled to believe that Sorrento wouldn’t realise that he was still wearing a VR headset. Are the headsets really *that* comfy in 2044? I had really hoped they could work in the actual heist part from the book, but I guess there just wasn’t time
  • I was slightly confused about the IOI Oology Division cheering at the end when Wade got the egg. The Oologists were all kind of made out to be quite likeable, apart from Sorrento himself, which was interesting. But to actually have them all cheer when Wade won the egg confused me slightly. Aren’t they the enemy? I guess Spielberg just wanted to have someone cheer, and he hadn’t introduced any general public/crowd people to provide the cheering. And I’m kind of glad they didn’t go the route of Braveheart and have two random people in the Oasis commentating on the battles and events
  • I felt the ending was slightly weird too. Firstly, Wade’s hands wouldn’t glow yellow (ok it’s a movie I know), but also when Wade wins the egg and is the all-mighty, billionaire ruler of the Oasis we should feel the ultimate victory with him, but instead we see Sorrento pointing a gun at him, and he could have easily shot him. For me it really made the winning of the prize less awe-inspiring
  • In general I felt that Parzival’s arc lacked something. In the book he came from this Level-1 nobody to an Oasis celebrity and then to a leader of all gunters. The arc just didn’t have quite the same effect in the film. But I may change this opinion on second viewing.
  • A lot of the above comments could be seen as nit-picking, I get that. But I like to digest my thoughts after films like this. I really did want to like this film, and wasn’t trying to compare it to the book the whole time whilst watching it, even though it might sound like. My memories of the book just gave me ideas for other things they could have done in the movie. I just feel that they could have done more with it, and touched upon some stronger themes around VR, rather than just making it an action-fest.

    I wanted to absolutely love this movie but I couldn’t quite do it. But it wasn’t because it was different from the book. It was because it didn’t have that Spielberg magic or the character arcs that I was hoping for. Having said all the above, I’ll definitely watch it again, as I know my opinion may well improve on a second viewing. I’ll also definitely get it on Blu-Ray because I spotted lots of pop culture references but I’m sure I missed loads too.

    But well done Ernest Cline. You got your book made into a Spielberg movie and you got to be involved in writing the screenplay. I tip my hat to you.