Every so often, a “killer app” comes along that makes people want to buy a certain technology. In the early days of home computers, one of the first ones was VisiCalc. With it, you could make an adjustment and see immediately how that would affect other calculations. VisiCalc was overtaken by Lotus 1-2-3, but both gave people reasons to view home computers as a serious tool. Later on, the Infocom text adventures gave people reasons to buy computers just to play games, and Myst and The Seventh Guest gave people reasons to add CD-ROM drives onto them.
Ready Player One may be my killer app when it comes to an 4K UHD TV. I haven’t fallen into the trap of “new format, gotta get it now” like others do, but for this movie, I might.
I gave an overview of the novel a few months ago, but for this review, I’m not going to do many comparisons between the book and the movie because RPO is a very good example of how the former gets adapted into the latter. I think this story works better as a movie anyway.
The opening narration by Wade Watts sets the stage: the world’s a mess and “people stopped trying to fix problems and just tried to outlive them”. Cities have sections called “Stacks” where mobile homes are stacked on top of each other to maximize space. People escape into a virtual reality world called the OASIS. You can do anything you want there, and if you’ve got a full-body haptic immersion suit, a trip to a virtual hotel is just as realistic as if you went to one in the real world. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?
People invest heavily in their OASIS avatars with their time and collecting coins from winning various games or defeating other players. There is some interchangeability between in-game money and real-world money like in the book where you can buy something online for a real-world pickup or delivery. A lot of people buy gaming gear so their avatars perform better, so if you lose everything and have to respawn back at level 1, it can be devistating enough to cause someone to attempt jumping out of a window.
James Halliday and Ogden Morrow built the OASIS. Halliday is the socially awkward tech genius who doesn’t like rules. When he dies fifteen years later, a pre-recorded video will is broadcast OASIS-wide, announcing his contest. Find three keys and the Easter egg he hid and you get all of his stock in his company (Gregarious Games) plus total control of the OASIS.
Five years later, Parzival, Wade’s avatar, is getting ready for another crack at the race, the first quest that no one’s been able to beat. This time, the famous Art3mis shows up, but despite her skill, his skill or his best friend Aech’s skill, the race is still too brutal to be beaten. She challenges his motivations for being a gunter (egg hunter), and that gives him the inspiration that lets him finally solve the first quest.
This is one of the places where RPO works better as a movie than a book. Instead of being written books, the “Halliday Journals” containing the details about all the things he was interested in that can help people solve his contest are represented as fully-interactive virtual exhibits. Fully searchable and if something was referenced like a video game or a meeting he took part in, those are included as well. Wade still uses a notebook for his offline research, though.
One of the movie trailers used the song “Pure Imagination” from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. RPO shares two elements from it: the quest that will be won by the person who appreciates it the most, and the people who want to win at all costs, brute-forcing their way through it. Nolan Sorento at Innovative Online Industries (IOI) is both the Henry Salt and the Veruca Salt of Willie Wonka. He’s amassed armies of “Ologists” who research everything Halliday did and “Sixers” who go through the OASIS to find it and are only identified by an employee number that begins with a six, as well as hiring a bounty hunter called i-ROk, but only he will claim the prize.
The rest of the movie is Wade’s journey of appreciating what Halliday built and to learn what is most important to Halliday and to himself. For Art3mis, it’s accepting who she is and taking down IOI so that no one else will have to die in indentured servitude, like her father did in one of the IOI’s Loyalty Centers. Just to show how far the movie pushed the “evil corporation” angle, there was also a proposal by Sorento that defined exactly how much ad space could be sold to player’s visual field before it induced seizures. Shades of the “Blipverts” from Max Headroom.
I’m going to put the brakes on here because I do want to address how a movie has to be different than a book. A book that has playing Pac-Man for two hours is perfectly fine. Trying to put that up on the screen? What were they going to do, the cliche of cutting to a clock with the minute hands advancing rapidly before cutting back to see Parzival win the game?
No. That would be boring to watch. Two of the quests were changed to things that do work better on screen, with action and excitement. Likewise, there were substitutions for some of the pop culture elements because rights couldn’t be obtained. But because Steven Spielberg was directing, he was able to get about 80% of what he asked for, and what was used is just as cool as what’s in the book.
I started off by calling this movie the killer app that might make me consider upgrading my TV. I know that I will be buying it the moment it comes out on Blu-ray, and I am going to be standing two feet away from the screen, using the frame advance button on the remote so I can look at the details very closely.
The book and the movie are about Easter eggs. The writers (author Ernest Cline and Zak Penn, who has written some of the Marvel/Fox movies) put in Easter eggs. Spielberg put in Easter eggs. The two special effects companies put in Easter eggs. There are things on screen that you will only be able to see once you’ve got it on home video. Ernest Cline says he doesn’t know all of what was put in there.
I want to know. I want to find them all. And I want to verify what I think I saw happen in one of the interactive exhibits. If I’m right, it’s very subtle and cool.
Ready Player One is still in theaters and will be out on home video this summer. Ernest Cline has already announced he’s working on a sequel for the book, and recently he stated that he’s trying to structure the next book so that it’s not only a sequel to the first one, but can be used as the basis for a sequel to the movie.
James Halliday saw the future and then built it in the form of the OASIS. I can’t wait to see what Ernest Cline’s future for this story will be.