READY PLAYER ONE
Book v. Movie
In this essay, I will explore explore what made the novel Ready Player One work so well, and in my opinion, why the movie failed to capture the same magic. I will also show how it easily could have equaled, if not surpassed the novel if different writing, directing and casting decisions were made.
Before we delve into the analysis, here's a brief background as to why the novel means so much to me. I first came across Ready Player One back in 2012. The review of the book in Entertainment Weekly hooked me with the prospect of a dystopian adventure saga about an online universe based on the author’s (and my own) love of 80s pop culture.
I quickly picked up the book and was not disappointed. While some may take umbrage at the premise, which is the very definition of derivative, the execution was fast-paced and suspenseful, the dialogue was geeky and comical, and the puzzles were intricate and satisfying.
Add to that a cast of main characters that were well-drawn, surprising, and likable and it was easy to see why it became the phenomenal success it became and the future directing project of none other one of the main character’s heroes, Steven Spielberg.
Many have raised critiques that the story relies on nostalgia as opposed to pure originality, but that simply didn’t bother me. Given the premise of a treasure hunt taking place in a virtual realm that’s based on 80s pop culture, I don’t think another writer could have pulled it off any better. I say the same thing to anyone who questions the talent of JK Rowling. Given the premise of a young kid attending a school for wizards and witches, do you really think Shakespeare, Tolstoy or Hemingway could have written it better? The point is, if you’re into that kind of thing, you’ll love it. If you aren’t, well then, it’s just not your cup of tea.
After reading the book, for months I could not stop thinking about how I would have written such a story had it been based on my biggest passions. What would that even be? The answer struck me immediately.
I had been obsessed with Kubrick and his films since I was fourteen years old. In my opinion, he was the greatest genius filmmaker of the twentieth century. When I think genius I think someone who is years if not decades ahead of their time, whose work breaks new boundaries, and whose legacy ripples across generations.
That’s when the seed of my novel Kubrick’s Game was planted, and it was one of my proudest achievements to see it finally published in 2016.
While the idea was germinating, I had the opportunity to meet Ernest Cline at a signing of Ready Player One at Book Soup in Hollywood. This was shortly after the book was released, so the crowds were a fraction of what they would have been just a few months later. He brought his Delorean to the signing and all in attendance got to take a picture with him in the time traveling Back to the Future vehicle. I even wore my favorite Karate Kid t-shirt to the signing and he wrote inside my purchased copy of Ready Player One: There is no such thing as fear in this dojo!
I decided to gift him a copy of my middle-grade book series Scary School as a thank you.
From there began a friendly series of email correspondences about writing and the references in Ready Player One that were near to my heart, like the Dungeons and Dragons sequence, the movies Ladyhawk and War Games, and Johnny Five from Short Circuit. I even speculated about the possibility of a hidden treasure hunt within the book, which would later turn out to be true, with the prize being an actual Delorean!
While the book was an enormous success, the possibility of a movie being adapted seemed to be slight because of the plethora of rights issues that would need to be cleared. Insiders that I talked to said that it would be a legal nightmare that would cost too much money or be too time consuming. In all likelihood, Spielberg was the only director who could have gotten it made and his involvement certainly sped up the rights clearances and made the impossible possible.
The irony is that while Spielberg was probably the only director who could have gotten it made, he was probably not the right person to direct this movie. This was a movie about geeks who are obsessed with Spielberg. After watching the film, Spielberg did not know how to handle this without seeming egotistical, so he minimized his own film’s references. He threw in countless Easter eggs that he thought would tickle the audience, including a lot of distracting additions from modern gaming that he is clearly not familiar with himself. I think to make the film feel more personal to him, he added in The Shining sequence, which was visually amazing, but stuck out like a sore thumb and shifted the tone an off-putting way, but we’ll get to that soon.
The right director for this film, in my opinion, was Scott Pilgrim and Baby Driver’s Edgar Wright. It needed someone with an outsider’s perspective of geek culture and genius-level visual talent without being burdened by the weight of one's own legacy.
I happened to have Ernest Cline’s original script passed on to me several years ago. While Cline changed some of the book’s most famous scenes because they just would not be as captivating on film, most notably the second puzzle challenge of reciting War Games like a film version of Guitar Hero, it maintained the most important elements and I felt it would be a great adaptation for the screen. In the version I read, the second challenge was replaced by a dragon battle from Dungeons and Dragons lore, which felt repetitive after the first challenge was competing against a ghoul from Dungeons and Dragons lore, but most of the script was true to the book and worked well as a whole.
About a year later, I read a draft of the Zak Penn rewrite and I thought it was a major step backward from Cline’s draft.
My biggest issue with Zak Penn's draft, much of which made it to the finished film, was the timeline in which the treasure hunt takes place. In the book, the treasure hunt was a slow burn, lasting about a year. During that time, characters changed, their relationships changed, the game took a physical and mental toll on them, and I really believed that the hunt was both epically difficult and of utmost importance for the characters to put themselves through the rigor and self-sacrifice toward winning.
After watching the movie, I believe the entirety of the treasure hunt lasted about two days. And of course in movie world, that’s enough time for our two heroes to fall in love with one another.
To me, the slow burn is what makes the story. It could have been dramatized with the proper writing and directing choices, but I’m fairly certain the ones making the decisions fell back on the tried-and-true “rules” of pacing and urgency, so the filmmakers were easily convinced that the game transpiring a thousand times faster than in the book was a better decision.
To quote a famous line from an oddly absent Star Wars franchise from the film, it was all too easy. When the puzzles were solved in mere moments and the antagonists have to make stupid mistakes like leaving out their password on a piece of paper so they can be easily hacked, the tension is destroyed and the puzzle falls apart like a Jenga tower.
The opening chase scene was undoubtedly the best part of the film. I don’t remember shouting out loud “oh my god” at a movie screen in a long time.
But what was sacrificed for all this eye and ear candy?
After a quick explanation about Halliday’s creation of the Oasis and the treasure hunt, it’s revealed that that “some gunter” (egg hunter) found a portal years ago that revealed an epic race. Every day (maybe every week? month? year?) there’s a big race that no one has ever been able to finish. If an avatar dies in this race, their avatar dies in the Oasis and they lose all their money/credits and virtual belongings. So… there's hundreds of high-level avatars who have evidently died hundreds of times in the race, but they have never had to start over at zero? Maybe I missed something, but this seems like an enormous logic gap. Our heroes, Parzival and Art3mis, do not die in the race sequence, but I would assume they would have “died” many times before in order to get as acquainted as they are with the obstacles of the track, including a T-Rex and a rampaging King Kong. When they get to the very end, Parzival stops Art3mis from “zero-ing out” by pulling her off her bike. But wait, if he didn’t have a plan for how he was going to finish the race, why race at all? Maybe Art3mis had a plan he was unaware of. He says, “nobody ever gets past King Kong” so was the plan all along to just race until the last second and then give up?
It was spectacular, but it made no sense.
In the book, the first challenge was not nearly as jaw-dropping, but it encapsulated the themes of the novel and set up the hunt in a more effective way. Parzival (Wade Watts) spends most of his time on a massive school planet called Ludos, where no fighting is allowed and avatars cannot be killed. Parzival is too poor to explore most of the Oasis, because transportation around this virtual universe requires money. While everyone is searching the far reaches of the Oasis, no one has thought to look at a place where anyone can travel to for free and is a sanctuary of peace and learning. When he realizes that Halliday’s clue is pointing to an area on Ludos, he finds a secret passageway that guides him through a famous Dungeons and Dragons adventure called Tomb or Horrors, a favorite of Halliday’s. When he makes his way through the dungeon, he has to beat a ghoul in a game of Joust, a really difficult 80s arcade game.
I completely understand why that would not have played well for mass audiences on screen. Given the two choices, the race was a better option. But, what they could have spent more time on, which would have given some desperately needed character development to Parzival, was maybe a scene or two showing his daily school life on Ludos. This was one of the most interesting ideas of the novel, that in the future, schooling can all be done from home via virtual reality, where geography and waitlists don’t have to determine the quality of a child’s education. It also set up the idea that it would require mental astuteness as opposed to strength and high-level attributes as the key to winning the game. This was a game made by a geek for geeks, but in the movie, it makes it seem like it’s best suited for a Nascar racer or a barbarian. Sure, maybe it took a bit of mental astuteness by Parzival to figure out he would need to race backward in order to win the race, but I was kind of shocked nobody had tried that before after years of trial and error. Also, it was really weird that there would not have been live feed of the race so that onlookers would have noticed Parzival’s strategy. Considering this is the most important event going on their world, I would assume every race would be broadcast. They had to concoct some very strange reasoning for why only Art3mis saw what he did and then some clunky narration that explained he told his best friend Aech about it so he could get the key too. But nobody else could figure it out?
Again, it was spectacular, but it made no sense.
After Parzival attains the first key, the book portrays it as a world-stopping event. Enthralled that it was an independent gunter and not an evil corporate “sixer” who was first to solve the puzzle was a beacon of hope for a dying world. It was like the Death Star being blown up in A New Hope. However, the accomplishment puts Parzival in immediate and real danger. In the book, Wade Watts was smart enough to understand and have a plan for what he would do if he were to leap atop the leaderboard. The Wade Watts in the movie is unprepared and his predicament needs to be explained to him. If mental astuteness is required for winning the game, he doesn’t seem to have it and we are now rooting for him a whole lot less. The ones who are prepared, like Art3mis, deserve to win. Wade's intelligence and integrity are what made him so likable in the book, but in the film, both of these attributes were negated, making him far less likable.
The dying nature of the world was also not set up in the film, so it’s difficult to understand why everyone is fleeing into the Oasis. From the viewer’s perspective, 2045 doesn’t seem that different from our current world. Yes, for some reason they have decided to stack up trailers as a sort of rural projects experiment, but why does the rest of the world need to escape? The cities look normal if not more cool. The narrator can tell us about hardship all he wants, but we need to see it to believe it and subsequently understand the allure of the Oasis. It was the same mistake George Lucas made in The Phantom menace when we had to imagine that Queen Amidala’s people were somehow “suffering and dying” out there in beautiful, lush Tuscany.
Parzival winning that first key should have felt momentous, but it was dramatized in such a small, contained way, it seemed like nobody outside a small circle of players cared, and that made the audience also not care.
We are now thrust into Act II. In both the book and the movie, this is where new friendships are formed, the love story takes root, and our hero has his first encounter with his enemy, IOI CEO Nolan Sorrento.
The movie glosses over the friendships and focuses on the love story, the bulk of which takes place at a zero-gravity night club.
The fast pace forces Parzival to come right out and tell Art3mis “I love you” on their first date with some cringe-inducing screenwriting 101 on-the-nose writing. In the book it was set up that Parzival had been obsessed with Art3mis from afar for years, but there was apparently no time to properly share that fact in the film, so his obsession came across as weird and dangerous, and so Art3mis had the appropriate reaction of pushing him away. Well, that’s what happens in the book at least. In the movie, she is momentarily aghast, but then some bad guys burst in and they fight them off together, so she is once again cool with him. Cool enough, in fact, that she kidnaps him so she can meet him in person, even though in the previous scene she swore they would never meet in person, firstly because it’s dangerous and second because she is ashamed that she looks different from her beautiful alien avatar.
So, we meet her, and is she very different from her beautiful avatar? Nope! She looks like she could be the star of any WB show, except of course for a small birthmark around her eye that could have easily been the new make-up trend of the future and I would have believed it. The book portrays Art3mis’s real life persona as having a much more pronounced birthmark and being a bit overweight. For that matter, Wade Watts is portrayed in the book as being not so good looking and also with body issues, but what do get here? Two actors pulled straight from Dawson’s Creek. Was it size-ist to cast these actors? I don’t know, but I do know it felt like a major cop-out and a disappointing choice coming from geeks like Ernest Cline and Spielberg. I’m guessing this was the idea of Spielberg and upper-level execs who wanted marketable faces, but to me it just signifies how far away from the spirit of the book and the soul of the author this movie strayed. My wife and her sister both expressed to me how disappointed they were that there was an opportunity to have book-accurate, non-Hollywood faces as heroes, but the studio apparently sold out.
And then there’s our bad guy, Nolan Sorrento. I’m not sure if it was the screenplay or Ben Mendelsohn’s odd portrayal of him, but this was certainly not the Sorrento I had imagined in the book. In the book, he was brilliant, menacing, and every bit Parzival’s match. In the movie, he’s played more as a wannabe bad guy, but who doesn’t really have the stomach for it… a bit bumbling and stupid (see previous note about his password error) who depended on his lackeys for just about everything. His avatar seemed like a lazy choice, looking like a cartoon bouncer in an Armani suit. I can see why Spielberg liked Mendelsohn from his work in Rogue One, but this was not his role. He was just a bit too cuddly, like a sitcom dad, and maybe that was the choice in order to tone down the menace and scariness, but that certainly doesn’t jive with the horrors awaiting us in Act II.
In the book version, after Parzival figures out the second puzzle, he is thrown into the opening of the classic 80s flick War Games. From there, he sees the whole movie as if he were Matthew Broderick’s character and has to reenact all of the dialogue exactly as it is done in the film. It works on the page as one of those ultra-geek challenges that would definitely eliminate those not up to Halliday’s standards. On the screen, this would definitely not work and would probably be laughably dull or weird, so I knew this would have to change the moment I read it.
In the Ernest Cline script, the characters had to fight through a Dungeons and Dragons themed story and ultimately defeat an enormous dragon. I believe in his script version, there were two DnD challenges back-to-back, so it seemed redundant, but having the race as a forebear to a dragon sequence would have been great.
In the Zak Penn revision I read, the characters became a part of the movie Bladerunner and had to pass a Voigt-Kampff test in order to win the next key. This made some sense because Ernest Cline set up Halliday’s love of the movie Bladerunner and it is the pinnacle of 1980s sci-fi movies to match our overall theme. However, the Bladerunner sequence in Penn’s script is not really captivating or creative, and I could see why it would probably be Bladerunner overload with Bladerunner 2049’s release last year.
However, the choice Spielberg made to have the characters thrown into Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was one of the strangest and most problematic choices of the entire movie. The thing is, I understand exactly why Spielberg chose The Shining. In a world where he was having a difficult time connecting with the geek obsessions of the characters, I have a feeling Spielberg wanted to add a sequence that paid homage to his own obsession — Stanley Kubrick. Why choose The Shining? I guess because it was released in 1980 and 1987’s Full Metal Jacket was too obscure. So, I understand why Spielberg made this choice, but here are some reasons it was wrong:
1. It was not in character for Halliday to be obsessed enough with The Shining to have included it in his game. Halliday was into fantasy, sci-fi, and 80s teen flicks like the John Hughes films, video games, and Billy Idol. All things that are distinctly 80s in tone and nostalgia. The Shining is not thought of as a great 80s film. It’s thought of as a great horror film, but in no way does it signify an era. In fact, none of Kubrick’s films signify an era. They are distinct Kubrickian in nature and are therefore timeless and transcend eras. If anything, they are considered far ahead of their time.
2. Kids twelve and under should NOT see this movie because of that sequence, and that is a terrible shame. An already terrifying and graphic sequence of blood pouring out of an elevator culminated in the most horrifying scene—Room 237. While they cleverly misdirected the full frontal nudity, it was still explicitly implied and not all appropriate for kids. My wife and I were so excited to be able to take our 12-year-old nephew to see this movie, who loved the book by the way, and we are heartbroken that we cannot take him because of this one sequence. He does not like scary movies and would have nightmares for months, so trust me, he himself will choose not too see it after we explain this sequence. My wife also does not like horror films and avoids them at all costs as they are extremely traumatic for her. This was billed as a fun fantasy adventure movie and all of a sudden she was forced to watch a nightmare-inducing horror sequence and she is now suffering from emotional distress and sleeplessness. Yes, these are all very personal reasons, but from a purely objective point of view, that sequence had no business being in this movie and is an awkward and abrupt tone shift.
3. The sequence culminated by becoming shockingly stupid. What was creepy and mysterious about The Shining ended up being bastardized when the ghoulish hag drew a knife and became a crazed cartoon just like that Chucky doll at the end. Spielberg took what was great about The Shining and Kubrick’s vision, and ended up turning it into a gag for cheap screams.
4. To make the sequence work, we had to buy into the fact that Aech had never seen The Shining and didn’t even know about the most famous sequences from it. This goes against her whole identity has a higher level geek than Parzival. To suggest that she should would be one of the world’s top gunters, but never saw a classic, iconic horror film of the 80s, not to mention a Kubrick masterpiece, strains credulity. Overall a great example of the word contrived.
Visually, I thought the recreation of the Overlook hotel and the scenes within were beautiful. I appreciated the aesthetics (although I did notice the carpet design was mysteriously changed… could it be a clue?), but not much else.
Ultimately, Art3mis had to leap across a chasm by bouncing off of floating, dancing zombies. I thought this might be a reference to Disney’s Haunted Mansion because it sure had nothing to do with The Shining, which is a weird way to end a Shining sequence.
She frees Halliday’s unrequited love from decades of dancing with a wretched zombie and that earns her a key. Okay. I’m still not sure what zombies had to do with anything or if they were an homage to some kind of 80s zombie, but I was just glad the set piece was over.
As we enter the second half of the film, this is where I began missing the book most of all. In the book, the characters have the final clue but do not have the slightest hint as to what it means. Art3mis has broken off contact with Wade/Parzival, partly because it compromises the integrity of the game, partly because an emotional mistake could endanger them, and partly because he was too clingy. At this point, Wade has also never met Art3mis in real life, but in the film they have already met, which was a necessary component of the movie version to set up proper stakes for the crazy plot change they are about to implement.
So, in the book and in the movie, Sorrento and Sixers reach the Third Gate first and activate the Orb of Osuvox that creates a force field that makes it so that nobody but them has access to the area. The good news is that the trials to get past the Third Gate are so difficult it takes many months (in the book) and the Sixers can’t make any headway.
The only hope for victory lies in our hero’s ability in infiltrate the force field and disable the orb.
This leads into my favorite chapters of the book. Using money he’s earned through the contest and sponsorships, Wade moves to the city and changes his identity. He locks himself in a small apartment with armored entryways and never sets foot outside for months on end so that he can be completely focused on the game and basically live in the Oasis. He deals with extreme loneliness, he pines for Art3mis, he does a lot of soul searching. He realizes the mistakes he’s made and how he might be able to fix them. But he’s also scheming. Using his new identity, he runs up a debt with IOI so that they will seize him and throw him into their slave labor program, and that’s exactly what happens. Once there, he uses his hacking skills to both set up a trap that disables the orb and allows him to escape.
The movie takes a completely different approach by having it be Art3mis who is accidentally captured by IOI and unwillingly thrown into the slave labor program, where she is aided in her escape by her friends, but then comes up with a similar plan once freed to disable the orb.
Side note: the orb is deactivated by reciting the charm of making from 1983’s Excalibur, which hardly anyone will get, but my mom is obsessed with that movie. I’m pretty sure my mom is the only one who will find that moment amusing.
So, what is the stronger choice? Having it be Parzival who infiltrates IOI intentionally or Art3mis unintentionally? I would argue that Ernest Cline’s version is the far stronger choice. In the book, infiltrating IOI is the most daring, dangerous, and possibly sacrificial act that Parzival ever makes. It’s one of the reasons that we want him to win so badly. He was willing to possibly be thrown into a slave labor camp for the rest of his life in order to free the orb for the rest of the world to take down IOI. While he luckily makes it out, he is fully aware that there was a good chance he would be a sacrificial lamb for the cause.
In the movie, Art3mis is unwillingly placed into the labor machine, so already it’s not as heroic because it’s not self sacrificial. It’s also the most precarious position a character finds themselves in in the entire movie requiring the most quick thinking and bravery and the one doing it is a supporting character, not our main character. Our main character sits in relative safety in Aech’s van, still essentially playing a video game, whereas Art3mis’s life is actually at risk. She decides to take bold action for the group when she has the opportunity for escape, but instead stays at the headquarters and masquerades as a Sixer.
At this point, the most important course events in the world is going on right in the IOI headquarters and security is ridiculously lax. So much so that Art3mis can easily enter the CEO’s office and wreak havoc without so much as having to get past a snooty secretary.
So, a side character has now taken the boldest action and done the most honorable deed. If we were going this far with the rewrite, they might as well have made Art3mis the main character and it could have been a lot more interesting. After all, this late teens/early 20s girl was apparently the leader of an entire rebellion (not sure what they were rebelling against though.... never explained.) and that could have been a cool story to follow.
The one moment when the movie tries to make Wade likable is when he gets punched by his Aunt’s obvious-hollywood-actor-playing-a-redneck-down-to-the-badly-painted-fake-tattoo boyfriend, but the punch doesn’t even leave a mark or scratch on him, despite the redneck being way bigger and stronger. He bounces up like he gets punched by rednecks every day and then when the drones blow up their trailer, it’s kind of hard to feel bad because the evil redneck died and his aunt was not enjoying her life anyway.
Act three of the book showcases the crucial revelation that Aech has been an African–American lesbian the entire time. In the movie she somehow finds him at the halfway point, although it’s never explained how she knew where to find him or how she knew his real identity. Maybe she’s force sensitive and just had a feeling about it? In the book their first meeting was tightly orchestrated, as it would need to be, but I guess they really had to speed things along and they assume we’ll all accept the wild coincidence of her just showing up at the perfect moment when he’s running from the IOI goons.
Back at IOI, Art3mis succeeds and now everyone in the Oasis is free to attack Castle Anorak and get through the third gate. This sequence is also being broadcast across the interwebs, so it was more than reasonable to assume the race at the beginning was also being broadcast and everyone should have seen how Parzival reversed through the back wall.
In the book it’s set up that most people in the Oasis have a cool means of transportation. Most even have a spaceship to zip around to different worlds. However, when all the gunters show up to attack the castle… they’re on foot?? There should have been thousands of crafts (at least) coming out of light speed and conducting an aerial assault, right? Anyway, as Castle Anorak is stormed, here’s where they just toss in every 80s and current reference they haven’t already shown us. We get gremlins, Chucky, Halo, Overwatch, Godzilla, the Iron Giant, and a lot more that I’m sure all of us will have fun counting when we can pause the frames on our TVs.
Sorrento activates an artifact that turns him into Mechagodzilla, Aech becomes the Iron Giant and they have a big metal fight while Parzival just sort of sneaks past the action in his car. In the book, the characters of Shaito and Daito (name changed to Sho for the movie, I think to incorporate different Asian nations and bring in more $$$) are killed by IOI. That was an important moment and helped raise the stakes, but the movie is really averse to raising the stakes and because they made Sho 11-years-old, there was no chance he was going to die. Shaito and Daito had bequeathed the amazing robo-weapon of Ultraman to Parzival, which he uses to defeat Mechagodzilla. Ultraman was the turning point of the fight in the book, but I’m guessing there were rights issues. Still, was it a better choice for Parzival to basically use the battle as a distraction to sneak into the castle, or should he have been more actively fighting Sorrento?
Parzival successfully sneaks inside and ends up at a videogame where a Sixer is about to beat the game and possibly win the Oasis for IOI. Parzival and Art3mis have a chance to stop him but decide not to because in the moment they recognize the enthusiasm of a true gamer and don’t want to cut his game short when he’s about to beat it, the entire cause and everything we’ve been fighting for and that our friends have died for be damned.
Luckily, beating the Atari game Adventure was not the answer. The answer was to find the first ever hidden Easter Egg in the game, which of course our heroes know about but none of the Sixers do… you know… because they’re stupid.
However, right before Parzival is about to end the game, Sorrento shows up with a Cataclyst a-bomb that will zero-out everyone in the sector. I guess that would force them to have to quickly create new accounts and race back to the castle. I also guess anyone who was just hanging back and watching on TV could also just head over get the final key, but whatever. Sorrento sets off the Cataclyst so nobody in the vicinity can win the game for at least the amount of time it would take to create a new profile and hitch a ride over there. But wait! Parzival has an extra life so he didn’t die! How did we know he had an extra life? We didn’t! And neither did he. Even though it was written in big letters on the back of a quarter he was carrying in his pocket.
In the book he earned the extra life by setting an all time record on a game of Pac-Man. In the movie he earns it by winning a bet with an Android (who was actually Halliday’s former best friend Og) about how many times Og’s wife Kira is mentioned in Halliday’s video records. The answer is one, but the Android who runs the place thought it must be more. Hold on though, Og is the Android? It seems like that Android is just a computer program that helps out visitors in the virtual museum. Is Og always the android? Does he just sit at his computer all day every day helping out tourists who visit this museum? I’m confused. Anyway, in the book, Og played a much more active role throughout and was a fantastic character. He owned the zero-G nightclub and tried to make sure the game was played fairly. Tacking him on at the end did not have the same impact as it would have had he actually shown some interest in the game for control of the trillion-dollar thing he helped create.
Finally, we meet Halliday, and as has already been noted by many reviewers, he is Garth from Wayne’s World. In the book he’s actually cool and funny. He dances to Dead Man’s Party in his post-mortem video before explaining the game and you really like the guy. You get to learn about how he shut himself in for fifteen some years to create the Oasis and what it meant to him, only to learn at the end, maybe it was all a mistake and he should have lived his life. But movie Halliday really doesn’t seem like the type to have ever learned that lesson. He seems like the type who would have been very happy to remain a hermit. The guy who danced to Dead Man’s Party to announce he had passed away… that guy is now making the most of his life and wishes he had danced more. Also, if Halliday was a Dungeons and Dragons fanatic, Mark Rylance did little to no research on what Dungeon and Dragons players are like. They tend to be loud and, well, gregarious (thus Gregarious Games), so in my opinion, the portrayal of Halliday was a bit lazy and would have worked better with different casting. Think of the odd energy Christopher Walken or maybe even Jim Carrey would have brought.
Anyhoo, Anorak the wizard tells Parzival that he won the game and all he has to do is sign a contract to take control of the Oasis. But Parzival is too smart for that old trick. He refuses to sign a contract because Halliday made the biggest mistake of his life when a signed one specific contract. Anorak congratulates him on passing the final test and says he gets to have the Oasis without signing a contract. Awesome, says Parzival. Down with contracts!
Now Parzival has earned the reward of having a conversation with a virtual version of Halliday. Lucky guy! Halliday warns Parzival not to get trapped in the Oasis and live more in the real world. Parzival is like, buddy, you don’t have to tell me twice because I’m the one who’s been pushing everyone to meet up the real world the entire movie and I would prefer to have zero character arc. Fine, whatever, says Halliday and he leaves with an eight-year-old version of himself into a dark room to do god-knows-what with him.
Wait, I almost forgot about the part where Sorrento tracks down Parzival all the way to the van he is VR-ing and is about to shoot him, but decides not to when he sees golden light shining from his hands… everything he’s been fighting for be damned. Also, there are hundreds of people surrounding him, but nobody, not even Wade's friends, have the balls to stop this one old dude with a handgun even when his back is turned to them. After Sorrento comes to the realization that he shouldn’t murder a teenager in front of hundreds of witnesses so that he can become the #1 instead of the #2 richest person in the world, he surrenders himself peacefully to the police because he knows his lawyers are going to get him off of attempted murder with a few hours of community service. This part does not happen in the book, although it does end with him being taken away by the police and a character remarking how his lawyers are going to get him off the hook.
Parzival reenters the real world where Og is there waiting with lawyers and a contract. It would have been really helpful if he were there a few minutes ago to prevent Sorrento from potentially shooting him in the face, but whatever. Og has contracts ready for him to sign, which he is now happy to do even though less than thirty seconds ago Halliday told him not to. But rather than accept the Oasis all for himself, he decides to split the Oasis amongst his four friends and an 11-year-old kid he met two days ago.
Together they decide to shut off the Oasis on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that people will go out and have outdoor fun in dystopian 2045. I’m sure if the internet was down every Tuesday and Thursday everyone would be cool with it and there would be no disastrous repercussions. Also, I’m sure co-owning a trillion dollar company will create no tensions between these friends of different backgrounds and will cause no conflict between him and his new girlfriend he met two days ago. In fact, we end the movie with Art3mis sitting on Wade’s lap like a good girl and then they kiss because 18-year-old love is built to last. But it makes sense and they will be together forever because they are both attractive and watching ugly people kiss is gross, right? In the book the ending works because the friends have been working together for over a year on the puzzle and it was demonstrated that they are odd social misfits who have found one another.
Another funny part I forgot to mention was when the Sorrento's female goon was driving down the street during the big final battle and the sidewalks were filled with people kicking and punching the air in their VR goggles. I have absolutely no idea how they weren’t crashing into one another or jumping into the middle of the street and getting nailed by Teslas. I guess the self-driving cars of 2045 are smart enough to avoid people suddenly jumping into the street who are blinded in VR land. Then again, there’s not a single self-driving car in the whole movie and I think we’ve been told there will be nothing but self-driving cars by 2045. For people putting a lot of care into creating a plausible version of the future, that seems like a massive oversight.
The book ends with Wade and Art3mis kissing just like in the movie. It’s very touching because we’ve gotten to know them and been with them through the ups and downs of a relationship that has lasted for years offline and about a year in the real world. At that moment, he has no desire to be in the Oasis, and it really means something, especially when we’ve seen him in the throws of Oasis addiction during his dark and lonely period. If the movie had focused on these core emotions and struggles and not rushed through everything, it could have had the same emotional impact, but I’m pretty sure no one will be emotionally moved by what they have experienced on the screen.
In conclusion, was the movie fun? Yes. Is it worth the price of admission? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Most of it. But it was also a great book and sadly a missed opportunity to be a great movie. It could have been Back to the Future, but we got Back to the Future II.
Or if you loved Back to Future II... Back to the Future III.
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