Why I’m dreading the ‘Ready Player One’ movie
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On March 30 of this year, “Ready Player One” will hit movie screens across the country. Directed by cinema legend Steven Spielberg, “RP1” chronicles the epic journey of average Joe teenager Wade Watts through the OASIS, an online virtual world. It’s an epic struggle as Wade and his allies struggle against agents of an immense corporate entity for control of the future of the OASIS.
It’s been pointed out “RP1” isn’t all that great, that’s it’s simply a hero’s journey couched in a copious amount of pop culture references and ’80s nostalgia. And while it IS a hero’s journey tale festooned with pop culture references and ’80s nostalgia, that’s leaving out the story’s humor, its heart, and its sly critiquing of way corporations have to buy up everything cool and ruin it.
If it sounds like I’m drunk on the “RP1” Kool-Aid, it’s because I am. This is one of my favorite novels, and it genuinely moved me when I first read it. Of course, people like me — nerdy pop culture addicts who still collect toys, comics and play video games — were dead center in the bullseye of the target audience for this novel. But it still hit me pretty hard and I have come to be a huge fan of “RP1” and anything its author, Ernest Cline, does.
I’m worried it will be just another big-budget Hollywood snorefest.
So I’m concerned about the upcoming movie. After all, Hollywood has taken many good books and turned them into lazy, formulaic snoozefests completely devoid of any charm the original story had. Just ask fans of “Eragon” or “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” how they felt about the big-screen treatment those novels got. For every great cinematic novel adaptation Hollywood gives us, they shovel a dozen bad ones our way.
A prose story, even a short one, is a very different animal than a movie. For one thing, works of prose don’t cost anything to write. Heck, in the era of computerized word processing you don’t need paper and you can use word processors like Google Docs for free.
Movies, on the other hand, always cost something. Even with current digital film making gear, you still need software to edit your footage, cameras to shoot it and whatever props, costumes and the like you will need. Even if you use your phone to shoot your movie, you have to pay your phone bill.
And recreating an enormous sci-fi world, like the world of “RP1”, is massively expensive. On top of that, “RP1” features numerous references to iconic pop culture properties. Getting the legal clearances to use those properties would also cost a pretty penny. I am concerned that many of the references I loved in “RP1” will be lost due to budget concerns and be replaced by other properties that won’t feel as true to the story.
And then there’s the time constraints of movies. Studio heads want big-budget movies to adhere to a run time that’s short enough that they can maximize the number of times the movie can screen in theaters, thus also maximizing their profits.
A novel doesn’t have to worry about that, and can pack in all kinds of details, character development and side plots. Much of the “non-essential” story stuff is lost when a novel is adapted into a screenplay and that can include many of the things that make you love said novel. Seeing a story told without parts you love is extremely disheartening.
Worst of all is when a movie uses the characters and title of a beloved novel, then discards everything that made said novel special in favor of a bland, formulaic narrative. There are too many examples to mention, but “Hitchhiker’s Guide” immediately comes to mind. I enjoyed it OK, but they really thrashed up the narrative to make it into a commercial movie.
I’m worried that the same fate awaits “Ready Player One.” I’m worried about the writing because Zak Penn was involved, and he’s a mediocre writer, at best. I’m worried many things I love about the novel will be lost. I’m worried it will be just another big-budget Hollywood snorefest. The best I can do is cross my fingers and hope Spielberg can overcome all the things working against a good cinematic adaptation.
I used to not understand the concerns and fears that seize book fans when a movie based on one of their beloved novels is coming.
Now I do.