The Adaptation Watch – Ready Player One

Ready Player One is one of the most anticipated adaptations of 2018.  It’s Spielberg’s popcorn twin to The Post.  His fun, directorial flick of the year based on the New York Times bestseller by Ernest Cline.  Of course everyone’s talking about it.  My issues aren’t with the film.  It’s Spielberg.  It’ll be a fun ride.  My issues are with the source material – the book.

Ready Player One is the debut, sci-fi novel of Ernest Cline, an author clearly fascinated more with the past than anything in the future.  Set on a dystopian Earth in 2044, the story follows Wade Watts, better known by his avatar name Parzival, through his quest to win the Easter Egg of all Easter Eggs – a ton of money and control of the OASIS – in a virtual reality game.  The OASIS is where all the cool kids and adults hang because life on Earth sucks so hard no one wants to live in reality anymore.

The novel is a trip down Cline’s memory lane of the 1980s.  There was a bidding war on this book for publishing rights, which is awesome and major kudos to Cline for it, but my guess is because the publishers grew up in the 80s and were desperately missing their childhood that day.  Without all the nostalgia hype, there isn’t much there that’s unique.  I read to page 70 and then put it down for MONTHS.  Nothing happened in the first 70 pages.  Lots of world building.  Yawn.  Lots of not finding anything.  Yawn.  And chatting with friends who aren’t even in the same room as you.  The only reason I picked up he book and pushed on was because I was borrowing it from a friend and needed to return it.  Seven months is a long time to keep a book you aren’t reading.

My biggest issue with the book wasn’t the plot.  It’s a decent story in the end, and it will probably make a great Spielberg film, especially since Spielberg had to change a lot of the novel for the screen.  My issue is Cline’s lazy writing.  If you don’t know what the damn sphere in The Dark Crystal looks like, you’re screwed because Cline doesn’t bother to describe it.  He just says it looks like the sphere in the film.  Great.

RP1 pic
Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke in Ready Player One

The lazy writing doesn’t end with falling back on film and video game references to do his dirty work for him.  There are times in the novel that Cline completely leaves major elements out of the story, summing them up in a parenthetical.  For example on page 296 of my borrowed soft cover, Parzival is trying to escape a futuristic indentured servant jail by slipping out in a maintenance uniform.  He writes:

It was a vacuum-sealed IOI maintenance-tech uniform, complete with a cap and an ID badge.  (Like the flash drive, I’d obtained these items by submitting an intranet requisition form, then had them delivered to empty cubicle on my floor.)

Oh wow.  That’s cool.  Glad it was so easy to obtain flash drives and uniforms via a request form in jail.  It’s as if Danny Ocean turned to the camera and said, “Off camera we secured a sonic bomb that will wipe out all of the electricity in Vegas.  No need to show this heist within a heist.  Just pretend to follow along.”  Ugh.

Despite the 80s nostalgia and a reference to my beloved Zork, I struggled to read this novel and fall in love with whatever the rest of the world was loving.

I have heard that the entire opening sequence in the OASIS was changed for the film.  Shockingly, it just isn’t that exciting to watch a person play a video game on the silver screen as it is to have a massive car chase on highways.  Spielberg knows what he’s doing.  He’s been doing this impeccably since, well, the 80s and earlier.  In the end, we may end up with a film far superior to the book.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros.

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