The Pros and Cons of a Ready Player One Film

Image courtesy of IGN

Image courtesy of IGN

Ernest Cline’s ode to all things gaming, ’80s, and nerdy was fated to be a film from the moment it was published. I learned only a few days ago that last month, Steven Spielberg signed on to direct the Ready Player One film that Cline himself and a handful of other screenwriters have been working on.

Since I’ve practically treated my own copy of the book like a grail diary, I was immediately concerned. How could Cline’s rich universe — a corporate-controlled dystopia counterbalanced by the immersive beauty of the world’s biggest MMORPG — possibly be done justice? How could the filmmakers depict such a detailed universe on the silver screen?

It was almost like I hadn’t gone through the same experience with The Lord of the Rings, or A Song of Ice and Fire, or even The Hunger Games. You’d think a girl would learn.

Trepidation has (mostly) given way, and in growing excitement, I pulled my copy off the shelf and reread Ready Player One a couple weeks ago. For any doubters, or former doubters, here’s what would make a film adaptation great.

It’s a well-timed nostalgia bomb.

Not just for the book itself, but for everything it represents. We’re at the height of films that celebrate what nerds love – from the Marvel Universe dominating at the box office to Star Wars: Episode VII dominating our speculations, we geeks are fortunate to be part of the zeitgeist.

A film that combines the trappings of ’80’s favorites, the technological capabilities of today’s industry, and the increasing prevalence of geek culture promises to be a visual treat. There will be challenges (for example, making the retro games more exciting than simply watching someone play Joust or Tempest), but that’s part of the excitement for me.

You may have heard there’s a “20-year rule” or a “Golden 40-Year Rule” to nostalgia. As each generation grows up, we renew our fascination with things we loved as children. We begin a love affair with things we weren’t even alive to experience, so that everything our parents’ generation detested becomes fodder for us to replay — mercilessly. Just look at renaissance or vintage film collectors as proof.

Ready Player One plays into that nostalgia cycle expertly. It’s why I was so caught up in the book, and it’s why even kids who weren’t born yet when Nintendo had a breakfast cereal are likely to get caught up in the movie. We love the ’80s, whether we remember them or not.

It will finally be a decent video game movie.

Anyone else remember The Wizard? If you do, you’re either my age, or you watched it because no one my age would shut up about how bad the Power Glove is (Hint: it’s so bad).

Image courtesy of The Movie Network

Image courtesy of The Movie Network

Anyway, The Wizard, Super Mario Bros, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and yes, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider all share one trait: they suck. Taking off the nostalgia goggles, they’re purely awful, and they treat the people who play and love video games like idiots. From turning Koopa Troopa into a lump of excessive hair gel to casting Jean Claude Van Damme as Guile, they seem to assume that no one will care what they do as long as they slap our favorite game’s name on it.

Video game movies have been done well when they’re less adaptation and more celebration of the medium. I was pleasantly surprised when Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph took this approach. Rather than rely on existing IPs, it cleverly integrated familiar characters like Sonic and Qbert into an original story. It made games, and by extension gamers, something to cheer on rather than jeer at.

Parzival, Art3mis, and the other gunters in Ready Player One love even the worst parts of games. They’ve learned to seek out and exploit glitches and to play games that, by their standards, are primitive. Because the characters have respect for games, and viewers will empathize with those characters, the movie must respect video games as well.

It’s in competent hands.

This isn’t always a guarantee of success. Going back to Street Fighter as an example, you might think that a talented actor like the late Raúl Juliá, working with a director who co-wrote Die Hard, would have been able to even slightly salvage a wreck. Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, video game movies weren’t to be taken seriously, and the movie tanked with critics.

Spielberg, like everyone in Hollywood, has made bad calls. For every Saving Private Ryan, there’s a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – except that in Spielberg’s case, that’s about the only faux pas he’s made. Even then, it’s not truly fair to heap blame on him; poor writing should ultimately take the blame (Thanks for nothing, David Koepp).

Since Spielberg has demonstrated his talent as a filmmaker and his influence as a producer, I’m sure that a Ready Player One movie will reap the benefits of his experience. Poor writing doesn’t seem possible, either. Following the tradition of writers like Suzanne Collins and William Goldman, Ernest Cline is helping to write the screenplay. I doubt he’s willing to let his creation bomb because of plot holes or awful dialogue.

With every good, there’s a flipside, and I do see one potential problem with Ready Player One being made into a movie…

Its scope will have to be limited.

Ready Player One isn’t an epic trilogy, like The Lord of the Rings, but it is dense. Packed with trivia, spanning countless worlds in the OASIS, and featuring thousands of references, there’s a lot to try to fit into one film. It’s a lot of money to pay out in licensing fees for songs, films, images, and games to recreate the OASIS and everything it celebrates. Fortunately, a Hollywood movie is more likely to get the budget for licensing than, say, an independent film, but something’s sure to give.

Whether you agree with Hollywood’s current practice of splitting book adaptations into multiple films or think it’s a shameless money grab, I think it would be impossible to fit all of Ready Player One into one movie without it being nearly three hours long. Perhaps that’s the plan — or perhaps Cline and the other screenwriters will have to excise elements to make the movie a more manageable length.

No fan likes to see his or her favorite characters or references cut from a film adaptation, but it’s inevitable. Even dividing a book into multiple movies, something’s bound to wind up on the cutting room floor. Worse than an element being removed, though, is a writer adding something new to replace it. Some of the worst offenders in recent memory are The Hobbit movies, which padded out one book into three 2.5-hour films. Sure, with Cline on the payroll, anything additional will have to pass him, but at what cost?

We just have to make our peace with change — and change is one of the hardest things for anyone to accept.

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