Recently I watched Ready Player One (2018), a movie adaptation of a book I reviewed back in December 2017. Based on the trailers I knew that the character designs had been revised, and suspected that much of the character journeys would also be truncated. I knew that, much like Lord of the Rings, and other book to movie conversions, they would have to cut or condense many things to tell a story in the time they had.
(Warning, the rest of this post may contain specific references to both the book and the movie, so if you are not familiar with either, and you care about spoilers, you may want to refrain.)
The opening monologue felt like it was taken right out of the book, adding a visual parade that highlighted the absurd possibilities of a virtual world in a way that fit right in with the tone of the story. But then I found my first surprise, the race.
Choosing to make the first challenge public knowledge left me with mixed feelings, but once the race started, I found myself loving the over the top spectacle of it, almost like a high budget version of Smash Brothers or Mario Kart. It felt fun and very “in the spirit” of the story of the Oasis.
Throughout the movie I had numerous moments where I found myself divided. Part of me legitimately felt that the book tells a richer, stronger story, but another part couldn’t deny that the movie was visually beautiful, full of fun little nods and winks that some would catch, while others simply enjoyed the ride.
The book placed a premium on knowledge, memorizing lines in a movie, remembering the glitches programmed into early games, and on the page that works, but would audiences really want to watch a character reenact another movie in the middle of Ready Player One (setting aside the legal logistics of obtaining permission)? And, would veterans of the book really enjoy seeing a loyal film version?
Every time a book is converted into a movie, or a show (Game of Thrones for example), there’s an inevitable divide, as fans of the books denounce the film/tv adaptation as inferior, as changing too much, but if the audience already knows what’s going to happen, that robs the story of its primary appeal.
When we read a story, we each imagine our own version of it, based on the text. No two interpretations are the same, and the more a movie or show tries to emulate the books, the more difficult it is for audiences to stop comparing the two.
Watching Ready Player One, I was struck by how it felt like the right kind of story for a movie, full of fast paced action, visual spectacles, and an easily understood narrative. Like Pirates of the Caribbean or The Incredibles, it’s a fun ride that doesn’t want to get bogged down. It’s a very different experience than the book, and I think that was the right choice. I personally prefer the book to the movie, but I don’t think that means the movie should have followed the book more closely.
Going back to Lord of the Rings, particularly Fellowship of the Ring, I think back to how the book made light of the stairs in the Mines of Moria, and focused on Gimli’s request of Galadriel, asking for one hair from her golden head. In contrast, the movie, rightly, recognized how they could do more with the stairs, and how difficult it would be to portray Galadriel’s gift on the screen.
Books and movies/shows have radically different strengths and weaknesses, and many of us, as readers and writers, have a passionate love of the written word. But when we sit down to watch something, I think it’s important to set aside our love of the text, and allow “this story” to be what it is, rather than insist on focusing on what it’s not. We already have the book, we can reread it any time we want. Now we have the chance to try something else, and whether we like the movie or not has no bearing on how we feel about the book.
What do you think?