It’s a challenge to walk into an adaptation and keep your focus on assessing that single rendition of the story. We’re human and if you’re talking about a beloved video game, a favorite book, or maybe a comic book you’ve been following for years, it’s natural to have hopes and expectations. That being said, then maybe it’s only natural to miss certain details that were changed or axed entirely from the big screen version.
Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get two very fleshed out interpretations of a story but with subtle differences that wind up enhancing each other – like Lenny Abrahamson’s film Room and the Emily Donoghue novel. Or perhaps you wind up with something like Alex Garland’s Annihilation, a film with a drastically different voice and plot path than the Jeff Vandermeer novel, but one that wound up sparking a greater appreciation for that book upon a second read. Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One is neither of those adaptations. Rather, it’s an extremely condensed iteration of the Ernest Cline epic. Think bite-sized candy. You may not get to indulge extensively, but it’s got the same flavor, offering up a new way to digest the same themes, concepts and revelations.
Before digging into that idea any further, here’s your spoiler warning. This piece contains plot spoilers for both the Ernest Cline novel and Steven Spielberg’s film, Ready Player One.
I enjoyed myself during Ready Player One, but honestly? I walked out a little butt hurt. This is well worth repeating, and something I have to be conscious of often: film is a different medium and certain details from the book need to evolve or maybe get cut entirely in order for the story to play well in this new format. But in the case of Ready Player One, we’re comparing a book that covered years of Wade’s life to a film that essentially condenses his experience tracking down Halliday’s Easter egg into one adventure. I missed certain background details like Wade happily making the decision to ditch real world school to take classes on Ludus in the Oasis. I missed the stretch of time that passes between locating keys and getting through gates. I missed his move from his old hideout near the stacks to his apartment in Columbus where he essentially barricaded himself in an apartment before risking his life to save the Oasis.
The point is, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One isn’t just a wild ride about a kid who’s super into 80s nostalgia and wants to win a video game. It’s about how Wade grew up with the Oasis, how it changed his life, and also about shedding light on the current state of the world and the value of human interaction. There is just no way a two hour and 20 minute film can accomplish that much world building, character development and also make you feel the extent of this hunt for the egg and how many years of Wade’s life were devoted to every single stage of it. For example, the years it took him to figure out that the Copper Key was right there on the school planet, Ludus. Yes, some of these details are explained through exposition in the film, but it’s a completely different sensation to feel like you’ve lived through this all-consuming hunt with Wade, his longing for Artemis, the devastation of his separation from Artemis, Shoto’s grief over losing Daito, the detail that Aech’s mother created a white avatar because it changed how she was treated. Whether you’re talking about a single detail that’s conveyed in mere sentences or an incident that takes chapters to cover, there’s world building in Cline’s Ready Player One that puts you in Wade’s shoes, and essentially in the Oasis, to the fullest extent.