Blog

Review of “Ready Player One” (Movie)

I'll cut right to the chase: I haven't been this disappointed in a movie in a long time. The picture to the left above, while of the main character, Wade Watts, is also probably what I looked like while watching the movie and realizing most of what I'd been looking forward to about the movie had been unceremoniously thrown out the window. Being a child of the 80s and a pop-culture junkie, I loved the book by Ernest Cline. I recently listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Wil Wheaton, which I have to say I enjoyed even more than reading the book. So everything was fresh in my mind, and I went into the movie with high expectations. Unfortunately, team Spielberg threw out 80% of the pop-culture nerdiness that was the heart of the book. In its place they plopped a generic Hollywood sci-fi action movie (with admittedly very well done visual and sound effects). 

For those who haven't read the book (no spoilers), 
about 30 years in the future most people in the world spend the bulk of their time in a worldwide virtual environment known as the Oasis. The creator of the game, James Halliday, has died a few years earlier and left three keys hidden in the Oasis. Whoever finds the three keys (and in the book, solves a puzzle in order to pass an associated gate), wins Halliday's fortune of half a trillion dollars and, more importantly, control of the Oasis. A nasty multi-national company is trying to win the game through brute force by assembling an army of gamers and scholars in an effort to win through sheer resource superiority. However, at the time the story starts, no one has managed to find even the first key. 

What I found so disappointing was this was a book that begged for a movie adaptation to adhere to its details as much as possible. While it's always a problem for movies to live up to the expectations of the people who read the book, the entire plot of Ready Player One centered around characters slavishly mining every nugget of 80s trivia, be it video games, movies, TV, or music, in hopes of uncovering clues to the whereabouts of the three keys. (Which is kind of an insane plot when you think about it, as this excellent review by Lili Loofburrow points out). Geeking out on specifics was at the heart of RPO, so it stood to reason that a screenplay should pay careful attention to the details of the book. 

But this movie changed just about everything, and in my opinion, 90% of the changes had nothing to do with the standard challenge of turning a book into a movie. They simply seemed to be changed for change's sake. Spielberg threw out many of the specifics in the book and replaced them with other ones for no particular reason. There were several arcade games in the book that were critical to the plot, including Joust, Tempest, and especially Pac-Man, but none of them showed up in the movie. Also in the book, the protagonist Wade Watts had to re-enact various roles in movies like Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the Oasis in their entirety, but the movie decided to pay an extended homage to The Shining instead. Spielberg may have been trying to pay tribute to Kubrick and arguably his greatest movie, but the pace of it is completely different than the action-blasting scene in RPO they attempted to inject scenes from it into. For me, the result fell completely flat. They also spent next to no time on character development, another thing the book did very well, so I didn't really care about any of the people in the movie. 

If I was Ernest Cline, the author of RPO, I would be frustrated and borderline horrified at this adaptation, particularly when you look at the faithfulness with which Ridley Scott brought another recent breakaway sci-fi bestseller, The Martian, to the big screen. Part of me wants to say the creators of this movie did a marketing bait and switch, in which they knew all of the Gen X people who read the book were lock-ins to come to see it, so they decided to treat our loyalty cheaply and reach for a wider audience by clearing space for later references that Millennials would appreciate. But really, there's not much in terms of more references added to the movie. They just changed stuff for reasons I frankly don't understand, and in the end, produced an inferior result for having mucked around with it. 

Having said all that, if you haven't read the book, the movie version of Ready Player One would probably be fine. I enjoyed I Am Legend because I never read the book but people I talk to who loved the book get apoplectic when you bring the movie version up. But if you read and loved the RPO book, I think you'll wind up feeling they made a mess out of what could have been a fantastic, fun movie you could watch over and over again. Sadly, my recommendation is to skip the movie and go listen to the audiobook version instead, so you can enjoy this story the way it was meant to be experienced.

“Mistborn,” by Brandon Sanderson

One of the podcasts I listen to is called "Writing Excuses." It's a weekly podcast hosted by Brandon Sanderson and a rotating group of other authors who give writing advice on a variety of different topics. The podcasts are only 15-20 minutes long, and they are excellent: short, jammed full of good information, and entertaining.

Sanderson writes epic fantasy, which isn't a genre I'm normally that interested in, but over this past Christmas, I saw he had written a book called "Oathbringer," which Amazon dubbed the most "unputdownable" book of 2017. Well, this piqued my interest, because what author doesn't want readers to be unable to put their book down, right?

So I went to Amazon and discovered "Oathbringer" is priced at $16.99. For the e-book. 

Riiiiight.

So, rather than fork over 0$17 to Macmillan (sorry, Brandon), I went to my local library and was pleased to find they still have books you can borrow and read for free! Not surprisingly, Oathbringer was not available, nor were either of the previous two books in the series. However, I did find one book, called Mistborn, which he wrote in 2010. So I checked it out and read it while I was on vacation. 

Damn, it was good.

If Oathbringer is more unputdownable than this book, I may avoid it, because I don't think I can handle another string of sleepless nights like I went through with Mistborn. This book kept me reading until the wee hours of the morning for about five straight nights. I don't know yet what it was that turned me into the literary equivalent of a heroin addict, but I'm going to find out. I'm going to re-read the first fifty or so pages, break down the plot and character development in each chapter, and study the transitions between chapters because I have got to get some of what makes this book tick into my next book!

I will say I was a little bit disappointed in the ending. I won't give any spoilers, but when I finished it at 12:30 a.m. the last night, my initial reaction was "Yeeessss!!!!!" But after I woke the next morning and reflected on the ending, I realized there were three or four elements added at the end that didn't really stand up to close scrutiny. Partly this is because Sanderson did such a good job establishing the rules for how allomancy and feruchemy (superpowers granted through ingestion or possession of metals) work, as well as the physical characteristics of two types of people (terrismen and steel inquisitors). Because of this, it was pretty clear those rules got violated in a couple of big ways at the end. 

Nonetheless, the ending was still satisfying, if not perfect, and the ride up to that point was fantastic. What really distinguishes this book for me was that Sanderson's writing to me has no weaknesses. He does an outstanding job at world-building, character development, action, dialog, and setting. There were no dead spots where I got bored even though it was 650 pages long. It was all combined in a way that the book stood by itself even though it's the first book in a trilogy. In addition to rarely reading epic fantasy, I also rarely read books over 500 pages. Mistborn blew past both of these compunctions like they didn't exist. It will almost certainly do the same with another hangup of mine, namely, reading beyond the first book in a series. 🙂

Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson