Ready Player One – A Look Back


Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” was without a doubt the most purely fun reading experience I’ve ever had. Not just because it was an incredibly creative escapist book, but also because I read it with a bunch of friends. One of the reasons we chose to read it was because a new movie directed by Stephen Spielberg was coming out that spring, and we all wanted to go see it together. Sadly, we were all disappointed. Our love of the book had been so deep that we couldn’t get past just how much they had left out. Not long ago, I saw the film appear on the “Recently Added” page of HBO Max, and decided to give it another go. How did it hold up? Let’s find out.

Ready Player One, set in the year 2045, follows Wade Watts, a young adult from the Columbus “Stacks” (RV’s stacked on top of each other to create cheap housing). Wade, like the majority of the world’s population, spends most of his time inside of a virtual reality headset playing the interactive video game, the OASIS. Most people see it as an escape from the real world that is collapsing around them and find happiness in the limitless possibilities of a video game, or, as Wade puts it, “People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.” James Halliday, the creator, has just died and left behind a fascinating last will and testament. He secretly created a treasure hunt to find a hidden “easter egg” inside of the OASIS that will give total control of the OASIS and his entire multi-billion dollar fortune to whoever finds it first. In order to find the prize, the Egg Hunters, or “Gunters,” dedicate their lives to learning all they can about the pop culture Halliday loved. Wade is one of these Gunters, and he is determined to find the egg and escape his current life of poverty.

In basic terms, my opinion of the film is this: They executed their vision perfectly, I just don’t like their original vision. Let’s start with the good. First up is the CGI, one of the more controversial aspects of the film. Since the OASIS is a video game, this film is able to avoid a lot of the “uncanny valley” problems that movies like Cats and Hulk fall into. The characters are life-like, but not close enough to actually seem human. Also, there aren’t any problems with blending CGI characters into the real world, as they inhabit totally CGI environments as well. 

Wade’s avatar Parzival dances with Ar3mis in the OASIS.

Spielberg’s directing is well done, as usual, giving us some especially exceptional action sequences at the beginning and end of the film. While we are in the OASIS, all of the action is smooth and extravagant, fully immersing you into the game/movie. 

The acting from stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, and Ben Mendelsohn are all pretty good too. Mark Rylance was a surprising favorite, giving us a take on James Halliday that is different from the book but works just as well, if not better. There are some faults with the voiceovers from some of the actors during the CGI sequences, T.J. Miller being the worst, but overall it’s still convincing. 

The story is also simplified to give it a cohesive beginning, middle, and end rather than the loose, more video game-quest style that the book follows. While the beginning and end are great, let’s dive into the middle with the bad.

First off, where are the 80s?! One of the main points made in the book is that Halliday was obsessed with 80s culture and that Gunters study that culture almost like a religion. Some scenes, like when Wade is deciding what outfit to wear for a date, go all out, referencing Prince, Michael Jackson, and Buckaroo Banzai, while other scenes drop the 80s gag entirely. While I understand that they might have wanted to update it for a modern audience, it gets rid of a key draw in the book. Besides, the film only came out 7 years after the book, which was extremely successful. Even if you were born after the 80s, the passion the characters have for minuscule pop culture trivia creates some inherent nostalgic charm. 

A character from the 2016 video game Overwatch apparently out of place in this 80s nostalgia-fest.

Another complaint I have is with the main characters. In the beginning, we are introduced to Wade, and quickly his best friend Aech (pronounced like the letter “H”). The film then skips over a lot of key character development that would explain why the five main characters are drawn towards each other. We know about their looks and combat style, but we don’t really understand their personality and motivation. There’s a scene where one character picks up all the others in a truck, some awkward introductions are made, and that’s pretty much all we get. In the middle, there’s only one scene where everything slows down and the characters just talk to each other, and even that conversation seems rushed and without a motive. 

The book and the film are very different from each other, especially in the middle act. While the book can take its time and send the characters on several quests, the movie condenses it into one all-new quest that trades 80s charm for scares. 

I recently picked up a copy of Ready Player Two, the book’s sequel from last year, and I really don’t want it to end. Once again, the book is pure nostalgic escapism with some amazing characters guiding you through it. Some have critiqued it for being all over the place in terms of plot, but I am still thoroughly enjoying it. I even stopped reading towards the end so I could reread Ready Player One before finishing it. A sequel to the film based on the new book is supposed to be in development, but I think the first film strayed too far from the rules of the world in order to truly base it on the book again. It will probably have to pull a Game of Thrones and make up its own story (and we all know how well that ended). However, when all is said and done, the movie is enjoyable. I will probably rewatch it again eventually, just to marvel at the outstanding CGI and the immersive action sequences. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, it’s just good. 7/10, game over.