Steven Spielberg is not the man I expected to direct the fan-favorite novel from 2011, Ready Player One. With its crux center on an advanced form of the Internet crossed with virtual reality, you would expect a more modern, genre-focused director to take up the mantle. But when you think about the concept, it’s perfect for one of the greatest directors from the 80s to reign in the biggest love-letter to the decade.
To those who don’t know, Ready Player One is futuristic, dystopian novel about a world that centers on a revolutionary piece of technology known as the OASIS. This merging of virtual reality with a scope of freedom and vast knowledge of the Internet has changed the world; especially to one poor boy named Wade. As he and several people complete a scavenger hunt left by the original creator of the OASIS, he gets wrapped into a conspiracy involving a corporation that wants to monetize the program.
My exposure with the book came from listening to the unabridged audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton, who worked as a great choice to detail all of the novel’s prose and grand scale ideas. The way the book was written sounds almost like a screenplay-in-production. Many of the big scenes and narrative transitions would be more fitting towards a TV show or movie. Ready Player One fits as an introduction to cyberpunk for a young adult or fanboy-centric audience. Sadly, that is the best I can actually say about it.
Ready Player One is not a very good book. Oversimplified characters and an intentionally hammy tone hamper Ernest Cline’s captivating storytelling and intriguing plot from being truly enjoyable. The central characters of Wade, Art3mis and Aech started promising, but majorly faltered from forced bits of drama to divide everyone apart. They were not going for subtlety here, as the bad guys are known as “The Sixers/Suxxorz” whose motivations are far too mustache-twirling for the amount of depth given to everything else in the story.
This book wasn’t just as love-letter to the 80s; it was a full-service, thorough hand-job celebrating every creation made from the decade. Almost to the point where it completely neglected all the changes in pop culture in the 90s and 00s. (With only a mention to Firefly and The Phantom Menace at the most) On the outside, the book is a total geek fantasy of being the chosen one who is able to overcome all the problems thanks to his years of self-supposed study into nerdom. Yet, it doesn’t make for a compelling tale when its attempts to make statements about the nature of society and interacting outside of technology feel hallow.
So if the book isn’t all that good, why is Steven Spielberg the best choice? Compared to people like Edgar Wright or Phil Lord/Chris Miller who can encapsulate this an insatiable love for pop culture with a brand new script? For myself, I would have imagined a more off-the-wall choice like Snowpiercer’s Bong Joon-Ho than expect this announcement.
Influence. Spielberg’s influence to cinema and overwhelming reach in Hollywood is going to make what fans of the book want. There are full on chapters in this book dedicated as tributes to 80s moments from Wade playing Pac-Man or re-enacting a scene from WarGames to accomplish a goal. Cline went out of his way to talk about every single little thing he loved from his childhood and only someone like Spielberg could include all the nods to franchises and video games.
As we’ve discovered lately, Hollywood is fine with cross-pollination to a particular point. Marvel and Sony working out their issues to use Spiderman is a great indicator for this change. What’s really affirming about this, is a quote made by Warner Bros. President Greg Silverman:
“I think what we have to do is drill down to the best version of the movie and then see who wants to be a part of what will surely be a great film, What we found with The Lego Movie is that when we went and talked to those having the rights, people got excited about being involved.”
The Lego Movie was able to combine both Batman and Star Wars together for some amazing gags, partially thanks to Lego’s long-standing contract with George Lucas. Beyond what Spielberg has done as a director, he created billions of dollars being an executive producer funding so many big hits that we still love today. He is the man who brought Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny together for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. ‘Nuff said.
Creatively, Spielberg can take cues from much of his previous work, but specifically Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Adventures of Tintin, and Catch Me If You Can to make this adaptation wonderful. The OASIS-world created in Ready Player One doesn’t have to have a massive change in scenery like with the Tron franchise. There’s a lot of filler to be cut from the novel to make it movie-sized and I’m sure with Zak Penn, screenwriter for The Avengers/X-Men: The Last Stand taking over, he’ll be able to smooth out the plot.
If you’ve ever watched a show based on an MMORPG, we need to take the concepts of combing a cat-and-mouse style hunt with real world consequences in a modern world. The main change they should make from the novel, is taking more light-hearted, comedic tone that celebrates what we can achieve in virtual reality with engaging, enjoyable characters. In animation terms, more Reboot and less Sword Art Online or …hack//SIGN.
Because it has such a YA-Novel feel, I think some of the best acting choices have already been used up. If we’re mixing in the realistic elements of the book, we need someone who isn’t Hollywood attractive, but I don’t know how comfortable audiences would be if we re-used rising stars like Miles Teller or Ansel Elgort. Dream casting would involve someone like Antoine-Oliver Pilon (Mommy) or Jacob Lofland (Mud) as Wade to capture his evolution from slums-kid to Internet celebrity. All you need is a curvy girl to play Art3mis as she’s mentioned in the book and you’re golden.
I would love this movie to succeed. We need more one-and-done properties to come to life and succeed so we can add more diversity to our summers. As referential as Ready Player One is, it can bring attention to lesser-known hits from the era or give us more creative, genre-bending stories. My main fear is that even with Spielberg’s involvement, this could be another Scott Pilgrim vs. The World situation. Phenomenal movie, perfect director, perfect writing, but a vocal fan base who doesn’t financially support the film. Hopefully with all these things in mind, we can get homage-heavy we all wanted.
Something like this,
And not like Ernie Cline’s other foray into films…
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the subject? Love Ready Player One? Do you think Spielberg was the best choice? Picks for actors/music/references in the movie? Leave a comment below!