“The book is better…” is an oft hurled accusation thrown at the world of cinema. I have no doubt those that love movies over literature tire of being told their medium of choice is always a second class substitute. Normally I stay clear of this conversation and try to appreciate both endeavors on their own merit; however, in the case of Ready Player One the book has been so unfairly maligned by many who have often read mere pages I decided it was worth an entry in my blog. I enjoyed Ready Player One as a fun adventure mystery movie but it is a step down from the book, and the more I thought about it the more changes bothered me. So, here goes…
There are two huge differences between the book and movie Ready Player One. The first is the time spent in the real world. The first third of the book is spent mostly in the real world of the Columbus Ohio stacks. This allows you to get to know Wade as a character in a way that the movie doesn’t. Wade is your classic nerd and in the movie he is much more of a cool, confident character. This helps make his bond and admiration for Halliday feel more understandable in the book. He knows there is something Halliday has to teach him through this quest and that’s what makes him continue when others have long since given up.
The search for the first key is all done in the real world in the book. He puts together all the pieces from the different parts of Halliday’s life and tries to find what is special or memorable about them. This is a lot more interesting to me than a race. In the book there is a book called “Anorak’s Almanac’ which lists all of the things that Halliday enjoyed (something that has been very criticized but never bothered me… It’s all part of the story of Wade researching to figure out the clues). In the movie they have “Halliday’s Journals” and the process of the research there feels easy and so you see less growth from Wade as a person. This makes his end takeaway when he meets Halliday not as impactful as the book’s ending. Wade comes to understand Halliday in the novel as a full person, and even a reflection of himself in many ways
In the book, Wade struggles with the fame he achieves when he gets the key which is interesting for a person who is literally surrounded by pop culture and knows so much trivia (which isn’t really trivia in the Oasis but survival knowledge). Wade is a character I loved in the book and was rooting for where in the movie he is a standard cocky teen male lead.
The other big difference is the changes to all the side characters. In the movie Art3mis is a standard avatar that doesn’t stand out much from the other avatars aside from her telling Perzival that he would be disappointed by her. One of my favorite things about the book is the reason Art3mis stands out to Perzival in the game is she is so confident and real. She is one of the few characters in the Oasis who has a realistic avatar. She doesn’t go with the sexed up version of herself and Wade finds that very attractive. I wish they had worked this into the movie more. She’s a positive yet still kick-butt character and in the YA literature world where every woman has to be a warrior I really appreciated her.
Much has been made about the pop culture ‘nostalgia porn’ of the movie and book. I personally think this criticism is a very surface-level analysis and misses the point. It’s like criticizing a Western for having too many horses. The pop culture is just the setting which the mystery takes place in. It’s not the story but where the story lives. That’s why in the book setting up the Oasis and all of the parameters of Halliday’s quest makes so much sense. We are in the real world and see all the research that Wade has to do so when we see the cornucopia of images in the Oasis it’s not just fun visual candy but clues Wade is ingesting and processing.
For example, in the book the jade key requires Wade to figure out he needs to recite the movie War Games, play a text game Zork (to get the key), unlock a Voight-Kampff machine from Blade Runner and play a game of Black Tiger (to unlock the gate) and more. This was exciting to read because we knew what Wade had been studying and it was unpredictable what would be asked of him next. Thus making the pop culture part of the puzzle/mystery more so than in the movie.
The other thing that wasn’t nearly as effective in the movie as the book is the villain. In the movie they make Sorrento a former intern who is generally resentful of Halliday and the Oasis. In the book it is more the world as a whole that is against Wade with them being envious and trying to stop him from winning. Sorrento is in the book but not as cartoonishly bad as he is in the movie.
Halliday and Morrow’s friendship is a lot more developed in the book and so their separation is more profoundly felt. It’s one thing to fall out of favor with a business associate as shown in the movie. It’s another to lose your best friend from childhood who you played Dungeon and Dragons with (making the first challenge being playing DandD all the more meaningful). Halliday’s clues are about his life not just nostalgia porn IMO.
The book also treats Aech very differently than the movie. He/she is more of a nerd who builds things and has a chat room as opposed to a warehouse. In the book none of the High 5 meet until very late in the story but it’s just all more layered, with harder clues, and characters than the movie. Aside from Art3mis giving herself to the loyalty center in the movie nobody else does much to find the clues or beat Sorrento like in the book. You even get a whole sublot with Daito and Shoto being hunted down by Japanese authorities in the book that adds to their story.
The last line of the novel is “It occurred to me then that for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into the Oasis.” This makes sense because Wade was only in the Oasis because of his connection with Halliday. Now that he has finished his quest he’s done. The mystery is solved. All the research, study, thought is done. That is the fun part of the novel and what makes Wade a great character. The movie ends with him as a moderate user of the Oasis and says that real life is important as well. That’s fine but not as satisfying as the ending of the book.
It might seem like I hate the movie Ready Player One but I don’t. I liked it quite a bit; although, it was not as satisfying on the second watch as the first but still good. Unfortunately, they changed a lot from the book and it makes the movie less special as a result. I enjoyed it and will defend it but probably won’t remember it like I remembered the book.
The reason I loved the book is it was finally a YA novel that felt positive and hopeful. Most of these novels are cynical and depressing but here we had Wade trying to make his life better and trying to understand another human being in Halliday. We had him seeing the beauty in Art3mis and she being confident in her own unique identity. All of these things were hopeful and positive. You had fun characters and a mystery that was fresh and new. Yes, there was the nostalgia but that was just the unique setting like the maze in Labyrinth or Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings. It was an imaginative, inventive narrative where good won over evil, and that is hard to find these days. Most YA novels have characters limping towards the finish line having sacrificed all that was important to them at the beginning (cough Hunger Games cough). Not Ready Player One and I loved the novel for it!
So in the end, my opinion on Ready Player One– the movie was good, fun ride that especially kids will love (although The Shining sequence may be over their heads)
But the book was great. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it