Then it dawned on me - I was ahead of the game. For once, I’m “the book guy”. Sorry to shatter any illusions you had about me, but unless it’s Harry Potter, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, or literally any wrestling autobiography ever written, I have not read it. But having heard this movie was coming, and that the Lord himself was coming down from Mount Olympus to direct it, I felt the need to check the book out. And I’ll get into my feelings towards it soon, but safe to say, from the second I put it down, I was at maximum hypage.
Let me get you where I am.
The Oasis is basically a catch all for every type of video game you could imagine - FPSs, RPGs, MMOs, another three letters - whilst simultaneously being a virtual space to do business, go to school, or to live out any fantasy life you feel like leading. Why would you ever want to leave?
The book makes no bones about this world being one of infinite possibilities - it drops cultural references, particulars ones from the 80s, like it can’t go for one page without mentioning Van Halen or the Sega Saturn. And with it being a book, “licensing” doesn’t really seem to have been a problem, so author Ernest Cline gets away with including basically anything he wants.
This boundless freedom makes the world one you are dying to spend as much time as possible in. The Oasis is essentially a 10 year old playing with all his action figures at the same time. But instead of having Spider-Man and Pikachu fighting crime on the carpet of your living room, all three of you can pile into Optimus Prime and fight crime together in a virtual paradise.
The book was clearly written with the teens of the 1980s in mind. Not a bad demographic necessarily, but if you weren’t one of the lucky bastards fortunate enough to have your formative years take place during the greatest decade in history, you feel like you’re on the outside looking in.
Just incase these scenes are in the movie, I won’t give full details, but here are some examples of task the main character Wade Watts, AKA Parzival, has to undertake during his quest to find Halliday’s fortune:
- Play a very strange sounding 80s video game to perfection
- Reenact a cult 80s movie word for word
- Nail a guitar solo from a prog rock song
I should warn you the items in question aren’t Space Invaders, Top Gun and the solo from Stairway to Heaven - I have never heard of the video game or the movie, and only have some experience with the song. And yet the book is littered with this stuff, to the point of ridiculousness.
That honestly made the book a little bit of a slog to get through. The sections outside the Oasis are solid, and the action is very good once it has finished explaining itself to death, but it’s not a book I ever intend to go back to.
Why am I bringing this up in an article designed to get you hyped? Because Spielberg has a track record for turning mediocre books into game changing blockbusters.
The book in question was published in 1990, and let me tell you, it isn’t great. It is very dry and sciencey, and I haven’t managed to finish it despite 4 separate attempts. Had it not been for what happened next, it would have been forgotten.
What happened next, however, was Jurassic Park, which is my favourite movie of all time and one of the biggest blockbusters in movie history. So as I said, Spielberg is well versed in turning chicken crap books into chicken salad films.
And although it isn’t based on any one franchise, Ready Player One is very much a video game movie. Most movies in this genre favour spectacle over depth, and that is why almost all of them fail. But Spielberg has never let the CGI aspects of his films overpower the characters, and I don’t expect him to start here.
The players in the book are ultimately why I put up with the clunky storytelling. They were layered, flawed and still fun. They are all ready, willing and able to become even more fleshed out, likeable people on the silver screen. Spielberg will recognise the fact that no amount of cool visuals will compensate for the lack of personal connections. Plus the characters come with the added bonus of not being recognisable video game protagonists laboured with years worth of backstory and fan expectations, which is another potential pitfall avoided.
And that’s not to say he won’t nail the action too. He said himself he took on the project because “You can do anything in the Oasis”. The trailer showed this in abundance - the car racing scene (which isn’t in the books) saw the Delorean from Back to the Future swerving through the streets, chased by among other things the bike from Akira and the A-Team van. Another shot shows one of Parzival’s friends, Aech, blowing away Freddy Krueger and Duke Nukem with a plasma rifle from Halo. While these aren’t references everyone will get, these are certainly more relevant to modern audiences than a Goddamn 80s 8-bit video game no one's ever heard of.
But in Spielberg, the man who produced another mega-crossover movie in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Ready Player One can reach the potential even its author failed to realise. It may have only been a short trailer, but it was all the evidence I needed to put this right near the top of my most hyped movies of next year, even over and above a Jurassic Park sequel.
I can’t wait. Ready Player Two.