When I attended SXSW, I popped over to the Ready Player One experience. The room was a charactarised 1980s setting: Atari games in a messy room; pop songs blasting from speakers with lasers; an Iron Giant right at the center. Like with all the trailers and marketing, Warner Brothers knew how to push the movie for maximum exposure – dangle everything nostalgic possible on a fishing line, and lead people into the cinema seats.

I don’t blame them. Youtubers would make 10 minute videos analysing trailers to find as many references as possible. People will discuss whether Ready Player One is only held up by previous IPs without having its own identity. VR appears, with a partnership from VIVE (smart move, I admit). Discussions on whether the film be as good (or bad) as the book. Nothing spurs more conversation than using known characters and then rolling on the organic coverage from there. Debate helps promotion.

Now granted, the film has references – so many that, when I attempted to list them while watching, I lost track in the first five minutes. Yes, there is no doubt at all that the movie is propped up by the past.

READY PLAYER ONE

Yet I was surprised by the heart of the film, and the warm feeling I had while watching. The setting was painted with an old brush with familiar strokes, yet when it comes all together the film was a great watch which left me with a warm smile. The movie was very different from the book, but all in ways which made sense. It was a bold adaptation which, in many ways, fit the film format better.

In short, this was a Spielberg movie, not a hard adaptation of the book.

This review contains major book spoilers and minor film spoilers 

Let’s start with the keys. In the book, Wade Watts needed to complete certain games to proceed. Now if you were in a cinema, watching someone play Black Tiger, or recite lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, may get dull. The reason is that the keys are meant to be blocks for progression, and a memory game would be dull to watch as, in theory, it requires no reactionary actions. You’re watching a character remember lines, not struggling in any way.

READY PLAYER ONE

Now the first key in the movie is a car chase. The most bonkers car race I have ever seen. Like, King Kong and a T-Rex appears on the tracks while a DeLorean DMC-12 swerves to avoid them. And Wade Watts is struggling to win, swerving and diving and, in many cases, making severe mistakes. Watching the scene is a marvel, fits the universe well, and is a great improvement. While a memorisation game may work well with text on paper, the film version of it would look slightly off.

Many parts of the movie are very different from the book, and the above is one example. I believe these changes were made for two reasons. For one, scenes of the book would not translate well. Rummaging through Halliday’s files and folders to look for clues, while not necessarily dull, does not fit the eccentric universe of the Oasis. Well, how about digitizing the archives, turning them into mini movies to watch, and putting them all in a massive museum with a curator that guides you? That, to me, is an improvement that fits the movie, and more exciting to watch.

The other reason is that this is not a direct Ernst Cline adaptation. It was like Spielberg read through the book, nodded his head, and drew a skeleton plan of the novel. Only for each section, he changed the types of challenges Wade faced, tweaking some and warping others. And it works! It comes together to make a movie seen as a shade of a book with it’s own flair.

READY PLAYER ONE

Without spoiling too much, the movie feels like a Spielberg film, with all the heart and fun which one may expect. Complemented with a great score (between the 1980s beats), and characters who are simple to understand, the movie is directed more smoothly than spreading butter. I even noticed a few scenes where he dropped in the long shot he is well-known for. There was a fluidity to the movie which reminded me of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where my time in the cinema slips through quietly without me noticing. Complemented with decent acting, and it all works to its favor.

Not everything about the movie is excellent. The integral romance between Wade and Art3mis was a bit cliché, without much more beyond it. There was a little discussion about what love is if it’s based on a virtual simulation, but otherwise the romance felt hollow.

There were also many conveniences which felt a bit off. One, from the book, involves a quarter right at the end – it feels as cheap here as it does in the book. Another involves a post-it note on an antagonist’s chair which made me lift my arms in the chair and think, “really? That’s how he gets in?” Alongside some pacing issues, the parts felt off.

But beyond those points, the movie was a good time. This won’t be a hard-hitting story like Bridge of Spies, and it is not going to be the most praised movie of 2018. Yet as I thought of it less like an adaptation and more like a movie with its own ideas and thoughts, I thought it was a great watch which I would recommend.

Tom Ffiske
Twitter: @TomFfiske
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P.S: Thanks for letting me borrow the book JP!