WARNING – SPOILERS!!! Pac Man, Back to the Future, and Blade Runner are only a few titles that make up the 1980s cinematic nostalgia trip in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, now playing in theaters. Based on the novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One follows a young man named Wade Watts who lives in a dystopian United States in 2045. Humanity, as Wade knows it, is plagued by a failing economic system, an ominous corporate-governing body, and a tainted outdoor environment, all the result of an energy crisis caused by global warming, corporate greed, and the depletion of Earth’s fossil fuels. Since the real-world is no longer a pleasant place to spend your time, Wade, like most people, spends his days in the OASIS, an interactive virtual reality comprised of games and puzzles from every video game, movie, book, or television show made primarily between 1980 and 1990, although there are a few exceptions. The OASIS is the mind-child of James Halliday (obviously Cline’s own doppelganger) who, prior to his death, left a hidden Easter Egg inside the OASIS that, if found, provides the winner with his massive fortune and control of the corporation running the OASIS, and that’s where Wade’s (or Parzival as he is named in the OASIS) story begins.
For the typical reader, Ready Player One is a great page turner. For any nerd, geek, or 80’s baby, it’s a better trip than any drug could ever give. Cline, a self-proclaimed super nerd, doesn’t miss one detail describing the levels, characters, or graphics of any given video game from Pac Man to Halo, or the setting or plot of any given book or movie from The Lord of the Rings to Highlander. Within his web of 80s memorabilia, Cline (via the Halliday character) details an intricate puzzle inside the OASIS that Wade, Art3mis, and Aech must race to solve before the corporate entity Innovative Online Industries (IOI) gains control of and begins monetizing the OASIS from an already economically-starved public. Although the plot tends to follow your typical good-vs-evil/race-to-the-finish-line formula of big-screen storytelling, Ready Player One distinguishes itself in its application of futuristic technology with current politico-socio economic issues. Call it the love-child of The Matrix (people live and interact inside a computer program because the real world sucks) meets Avatar (evil corporation wants to take over the world for economic resources and population control).
One thing that will be most interesting to see in the film adaptation is how the filmmakers and Warner Bros. handled all of the pop-culture references included in the novel, especially in some instances where they may not have had the rights to the materials. Several trailers have displayed obvious Spielberg references like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park and the DeLorean from Back to the Future. Cline’s novel, however, features a much larger array of pop-culture references that don’t have anything to do with Steven Spielberg. A few that are more recognizable to the general public include the Arthurian legend, JRR Tolkien, John Hughes, Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Cqrd, Stan Lee, George Lucas, William Shakespeare, Pac Man, Atari, Dungeons and Dragons, Nintendo, the Wizard of Oz, The Beatles, Ghostbusters,
Monty Python, and Saturday Night Live, just to name a few. A full list of references found in Ready Player One is provided on shmoop.com.
Additionally there are reportedly several major differences between the book and Spielberg’s film that tend to take away from the book’s significance to current events. One is the identity of IOI as an Internet service provider and not as a technology company. One of publics’ primary concerns in finding the Easter Egg is the idea of IOI gaining full control of the Internet and controlling what people have access to online. Ironically enough, Net Neutrality was just passed last year. Another contrast between the book and film is the way people use their avatars. In the book, people tend to create avatars that look nothing like themselves so as to avoid people (especially IOI) knowing their true identities in the real-world. Avatars can be taller, shorter, leaner, fatter, attractive, ugly, and even the opposite sex of the real-world user. For Wade and others his age, this was also a significant social factor. In the real-world, it didn’t matter if you were fat, ugly, and overweight because in the OASIS, you could be the healthiest and most fit and attractive version of yourself you can imagine. By playing games and beating challenges, you can also win prizes like money and equipment that gives you more extensive access to other locations in the OASIS and improves the level of your avatar, meaning you can be pretty wealthy inside the OASIS and live in a pigsty in reality.
Regardless of the challenges in adapting the novel to film, reviews for Ready Player One have been mostly positive. The film is already nearing the $400 million mark in worldwide box office sales, and some are calling it one of Spielberg’s best films, quite a statement for a director with a portfolio as extensive as Spielberg. One overly-critical review comes from Alex Nichols at the Outline, who can’t seem to get over the fact that authors write about things that they, themselves, are interested in, although he does raise some interesting points. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it, but if you’re not one for reading, then at least give the movie a chance and let us know what you think!