Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One: One of the Greatest Disappointments of the Century


I am a major MAJOR Ernest Cline fan, especially when it comes to his hit novel, Ready Player One. It was recommended to me by Aaron – a man who has never voluntarily picked up a book in his life – yet could finish this one in a single afternoon. “Man,” I thought to myself. “This had better be good.”

As a result of my insane vertigo, I opted for Audible’s narration of the hardback instead, featuring Will Wheaton, aka. everyone’s favourite nemesis on The Big Bang Theory. Thanks to Wheaton’s incredible articulation and zealous narration skills, I have listened to Ready Player One at least 25 times from cover to cover, and I have yet to be disappointed.

That is, until Steven Spielberg’s film version of Ready Player One hit theatres this March. 

Ready Player One: Procrastination

To be frank, I had put off watching Spielberg’s iteration of Ready Player One for about a week and a half, even after its much-anticipated release, avidly getting in my ‘last listens’ of the book and gearing myself up for disappointment. I’m not sure if I’m the only person here who feels this, but the way I experience and enjoy a book gets changed – ranging from ‘ah well’ to ‘never-again’ – after viewing its on-screen counterpart. It isn’t fair, not to the author and definitely not for the book itself, but there you go.

Ready Player One – the film – did not at all live up to my expectations of Cline’s novel version of  Ready Player one. Understandably, it is quite impossible to squeeze an entire novel into a two and a half hour movie (at most) without compromising its factual integrity and original storyline. Things get chopped, spliced, and disappointingly diluted in novel-to-big screen adaptations.

Without holding too much of a grudge, there were elements within Spielberg’ Ready Player One that I was willing to forgive. Modern innovations and technology had greatly revolutionised the movie industry, creating a product filled with stellar graphics, life-like renderings and sound effects crisp enough to put Mother Nature to shame.

Ready Player One: Bearing Grudges

Needless to say for any major novel fan e.g. Rowling’s Potter, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Meyer’s Twilight etc., I was not happy about Ready Player One’s film adaptation. Even if I sidestepped some of the storyboarding decisions – Like Spielberg giving H a mere five minutes of total screen time despite him/her being one of the main characters with an backstory that deserved to be told, or the fact that Daito was supposed to have an impactful death in the book (thus spurring his little brother Shoto to unite with Parzival to defeat Nolan Sorrento) yet Spielberg gave him his happily ever after – there were just too many major film changes that really pissed me off, and ultimately worked against the film.

1. Parzival was supposed to be FAT

Pardon my being blunt, but Parzival – the hero of our story – was a fat kid. He spent most of his time logged into the O.A.S.I.S, he’s described by Cline as an overweight, acne-laden, greasy nerd. He then voluntarily activates an exercise programme on his O.A.S.I.S, denying him his daily access till he’s completed a mandatory morning exercise regime. This was done in an effort to whip himself into shape, as he was afraid he’d “die of gluttony” before finding Halliday’s Easter egg.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish all online Parzivals looked like Tye Sheridan in real life – that would really quell the fear of cat-fishing. But it wasn’t realistic for Spielberg to hunk-wash the realism of Cline’s novel. Parzival – Or Wade Watts – was a social reject who opted for school life in the O.A.S.I.S as he was bullied too much in public schools. He also had most of his food delivered and spent 20-24 hour stretches logged into the O.A.S.I.S.

I was really looking forward to Parzival’s 200 Pounds of Beauty-esque transformation – Where the film would show a sped-up clip of Parzival on a 4-dimensional galaxy-themed treadmill going from flab to fit. Oh, a shirtless Tye Simpkins would’ve been good for everyone. Regardless, a Pretty Woman scene right about now should’ve been included for the benefit of having Parzival prepare for his meet-cute with Art3mis. Which reminds me:

2. Parzival and Art3mis had a DIFFERENT MEET-CUTE

They don’t meet in the race. He doesn’t bring her back to H’s workshop-slash-hideout. They don’t flirt so eloquently in the beginning. He’s a dork. He doesn’t know how to flirt. She was supposed to be aggressive and cautious, even on the rude side, given that Art3mis felt threatened, having met Parzival at the secret passageway (NO, NOT A DAMN PUBLIC GOKART RACE) where the Copper Key lay hidden.

The race was a damn shame, because their original meet-cute was up-close and personal, without the presence of a hundred or so other racers. In the book, they were supposed to meet after Parzival had obtained the copper key and was making his way out of the secret passageway. They had an engaging conversation, exchanged virtual name cards, almost-engaging in battle, where Art3mis even had Parzival geeking out (as he’s been cyberstalking her for years).

On top of that, Parzival and Art3mis were NEVER SUPPOSED TO MEET IN REAL LIFE until the final scene. But I guess that would probably anger Olivia Cooke, who’d have reduced on-screen time.

3. There were a total of SIX challenges, not THREE

Copper, Jade, Crystal – These were the three keys that opened three respective doors. Finding each key was a challenge, and so was what lay behind each door. I understand that it really was a matter of splicing the storyboard to fit nicely into the 2.5 hour timeframe that Spielberg had in mind (or was forced to abide to), but come on – three measly tasks to unlock Halliday’s multi-billion dollar fortune? That’s just stupid.

Plus, to make matters worse, Spielberg topped it all off by compromising the integrity of these tasks. Shifting from 80’s gamer-centric challenges – we’re talking authentic video arcades battles, War Games, Pac Man adventures etc. -, to those seemingly inspired from a popularity fan-poll. The Fast and Furious opening challenge, Kubrick’s The Shining come to life, leaving just enough time to wheedle in an actual scene with an Atari 2600 to round up the movie and placate fuming fan-girls like myself.

4.  Parzival was an independent, ANTI-CLAN GUNTER

Gunter: The portmanteau of “Egg Hunter”, is an OASIS user who searches for Halliday’s Easter Egg.

Ready Player One led with the notion that Parzival was some benevolent Gunter who openly shared his ideas and leads in the search for Halliday’s Easter egg. Heck, the film practically teamed him up with the High Five (H, Art3mis, Shoto and Daito) right from the start. The High Five did everything together – From obtaining the first copper key, right up to defeating Nolan Sorrento.

Nope, nope, nopety nope. Parzival mostly worked alone, and kept his ideas to himself, refusing to let even his best friend H on it. The only time the film actually somewhat followed the novel’s plot was right at the end, where Parzival banded with the High Five to take down the shield from the Orb of Osuvox. Oh, which was PARZIVAL’S idea, by the way, not Art3mis. Let’s talk about this.

5. Parzival’s daring plan, DASHED

One of the most interesting chapters in Cline’s Ready Player One was when Parzival decided to rebel against the Sixers by disguising himself as one of their indentured servants. In the film, Art3mis was indentured against her will on account of being captured during a sixer raid. However, Cline’s novel version is way more compelling, as it was basically a mini-Cruise action sequence with Parzival hacking away at the company intranet with a bunch of stolen passwords, making away with over 10 Zetabyes of company data (which he used to bring down the Sorrento and the Sixers).

It was disappointing not being able to see it translated onto the big screen, but rather have Olivia Cooke delight us with her less-than-fantastic acting and horrendous overbite (I couldn’t make out most words, could you?).

Plus there were other things too – like the fact that Spielberg attempted to squeeze three chapters’ worth of the novel’s prologue into a single scene, or the fact that he assigned the main characters  lines that were meant to be narrated, not libbed.  Audiences like myself, who were already previously intimately acquainted with the novel, had no trouble keeping pace. However, I there were tons of “huh?” and “what did he just say?” which emanated from the crowd. Even people like Aaron – who had read the book once – had no idea what the characters were talking about half the time, and had to resort to my constant reiterations in his ear during the movie.

I mean kudos for giving it a shot, but taking into account that the movie was broadcasted without English subtitles in theatres, and most of the American actors either talked too fast, had a severe overbite and couldn’t enunciate most of the techie words used, or had their voices warped to match their on-screen alien counterparts, I have a feeling that most of the movie’s important dialogue was a total miss with the audience.  

This dialogue was meant to form the basis of what makes Ready Player One so awesome. It should’ve demonstrated Cline’s genius of creating a world which seamlessly blended the imagination of a tech-infused dystopia with the nostalgia of 80s pop culture. With 80s garb reinterpreted, toys repurposed and two completely different timelines and cultures whisked beautifully into a technicolour dream.

I was proud and 90% of the time in awe of all the beautiful scenery and the engaging cinematic thrill – which accompanied scenes like the compelling race track challenge, the part where Parzival finally had the coin to go virtual shopping in the O.A.S.I.S (that rubric’s cube was adorable!) and the final battle where creature and creator alike banded together to defeat G.I Nolan.

However, despite Ready Player One’s great on-screen visual effects, having a complete lack of relatability due to the poor novel-to-film adaptation, ruined the overall viewing experience of the film. Unlike adaptations like Potter or Lord of the Rings, I experienced no sense of great adventure, or sentimentality of seeing your favourite characters come to life on the big screen, simply because the film’s storyline was too eviscerated to have even made a substantial enough impact. On anyone.

I wish Spielberg’s Ready Player One stayed true to Cline’s wonderful novel. I wish H’s back story had made it through the cutting room floor. I wish Kubrick’s The Shining left it’s integrity back in 1980 and not rehashed itself into a joke in Spielberg’s Ready Player One. But most of all I wish Spielberg had enough sense to refrain squashing a whole 385 page content-heavy novel into a single film and pray it’d turn out ‘all good’, but instead split the film into two separate parts (not a popular opinion, but to each her own). I mean, Warner Bros did it with Potter and it turned out pretty well.

Oh, I wish for many things. But it is what it is – a total disappointment, at least for my standards. Some things – like Cline’s stellar Ready Player One novel, or Beyoncé’s Irreplaceable – are better left alone without rehashes, revamps, or retakes.