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Film Review: Ready Player One: Why Is It So Different From The Book?

Updated on April 10, 2018
RachaelLefler profile image

I have an intense passion for movies, and I believe that film critics help people think better about the media they consume.

Intro and Summary

If you've read the book, you know nothing about what happens in this film.

They start out similarly. It's the future, and everything sucks. Wade Watts lives in the stacks (a housing project made from trailers stacked on top of each other), but goes off to a secret base in a junkyard to play in the OASIS, a virtual reality world everyone is hooked on. When the creator of the OASIS died, he left behind clues to an "Easter egg" hidden in the OASIS, and the person who found his Easter egg would become his heir and inherit total control over the OASIS. Wade and a few friends search for the egg, racing against an army of faceless corporate drones from a company called IOI. That's basically what's the same as in the book.

Key differences from the book:

  • The challenges are all different. No movie-reciting challenges. The keys work differently. Instead of each key leading to a gate (that has to be found based on a riddle given when you win the key), and each gate containing its own unique new challenge, each key simply comes with a clue for finding the next key. So the challenge as a whole was way simplified.
  • Many of the fictional references changed or were omitted. Sadly, this includes leaving out a lot of anime, Ultraman, and a lot of arcade games are either omitted or only mentioned in passing.
  • More action is added, with no showing of the things that required a lot of time and patience, like Wade putting up with school demands.
  • The "High Five" gang meet in the real world under different circumstances and much faster than in the book.
  • Art3mis is described as having an avatar that deliberately bucks the "generic beauty" of the standard avatar in the OASIS. I pictured this as an avatar modified to more closely resemble herself, warts and all, minus the birthmark. They interpreted this in the film as "has the same edgy teen girl hair as every other edgy teen girl". And is otherwise totally beautiful.
  • Perzival looks like a Square Enix style white-haired pretty boy. I don't know if that goes against his original description per se, but it wasn't exactly what I pictured.
  • Aech looks... unflattering. Less cool than expected. But the character's real-world player was almost exactly how I pictured her.
  • There is more emphasis on romance, and more of a "you need the real world too, guys" preaching. But it comes off as weird preaching for a movie that just spent two hours or so telling us how awesome the virtual worlds are.
  • Art3mis is now a damsel in distress at IOI in the third act, whereas before, it was Wade who had gotten himself indebted to IOI as a way to hack into their computer system. Art3mis also now has a personal reason for hating IOI.
  • IOI's evilness is played up. It was a shock that they would go as far as to try to murder Perzival in the book. In the movie, they kind of oozed "movie/comic villain" stereotypes, especially Sorrento. In the book, IOI didn't appear at first to be that different from any major tech company. It pissed off the main character that they were trying to game Halliday's contest, but at first at least, it didn't seem like they were so obviously evil.

Whether you like these changes or not is going to have a lot to do with your individual subjective opinions and beliefs. But I think generally the book was better.


I had a stronger emotional connection with the book, but a friend of mine had a stronger emotional response from the movie. Maybe it's just that different media have greater or less emotional impact for different people. I don't think the movie is bad, but some elements of it feel too "Hollywood", ie, conventional and stereotyped. For example, they added a car chase at the end. I knew they would have to cut out some pop culture references for the sake of copyright, but some feel conspicuously and sadly absent, especially D & D references and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which were thematically tied to the idea of the quest for the Easter egg in a way that The Shining just was not.

And bringing up The Shining brings up a problem, the same problem I had with Big Bang Theory in another article, and a problem I see recurring in any mainstream media about "nerdy" guys. The problem is, these bits of media tend to see nerdy guys as hopeless, unable to fuck girls like a "real man" does. The fictional plot is then designed to solve this problem. It's much like how "nerdy" girls are "fixed" with blind dates or unnecessary makeovers or attempts at popularity coaching (spoofed amazingly well by the song 'Popular' in the musical Wicked), "nerdy" guys have to go out and get some vag. If they don't or can't, something is desperately wrong with and broken about them.

Halliday's maverick genius status, in this movie, is overshadowed by this whole "tragically sexless poor sexless nerd needs sex sex sex will solve everything and not having sex is the biggest mistake of your life" stereotype. That's how they manage to fit The Shining, a movie that doesn't fit in with any of Halliday's more family-friendly 80's gaming and fantasy adventure obsessions from the book, into this movie. See, it means he was afraid and/or suffered from terrible regret for a girl he dated once, did not bang, who then ended up married to his best friend. It doesn't fit, at all. Leave it up to Hollywood to make everything about getting laid.

The real genius of the book was talking about why certain pop culture references in a pop culture reference storm matter to nerds. Specific references (arcade games, D & D campaigns, specific movies) were chosen because they reflected nostalgia for the era of dawn of video games. New references were just willy-nilly. They didn't have the same connection to Halliday's life story, as described in the book. You can't just take anything from "the 80's" and insert it in place of those references. I know why they had to do things that way, but it's still a little disappointing.

Was the movie all bad though? No. It was genuine, heartwarming, emotionally moving. And also fast-paced and exciting. So my verdict? Go see it if you loved the book, but don't expect it to be the same or even similar. So much was changed.

Rating for 'Ready Player One' (Film) - 7/10


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