Ernest Cline’s New York Times best-selling novel Ready Player One has been stuck in movie-making limbo for some time now, and fans of the book have been dying to know: will a film adaptation of the book ever really happen? Zak Penn, the film’s screenwriter speaks to the difficulties with bringing such a unique book to the big screen.
The most ominous hurdle in creating the movie should be a surprise to no one. Cline’s novel is full of references to classic video games and movies, and bringing those to a feature film will be somewhat of a nightmare when it comes to obtaining the rights to those games and films. Nerd Report says Penn took "huge liberties" while he penned the screenplay.
"You write a script, you take your chances, you say, ‘This is what we’re going to do. This is where we’re going to take cars and scenes from these movies and these properties,’ and then you hope that you’ll get the rights to it, but we’re not at that point yet. I just finished the script. When you start getting into production and casting, that’s when you would start going through and saying, ‘Okay, can we get the rights to Donkey Kong?’ or what have you. It’s very different in a film like that than it is in a documentary where you can just declare fair use and do it."
Attempting to reference all of the games, films, and shows referenced in the book will certainly prove to be quite a task. The book’s narrator, Parzival, mentions actual planets devoted to various fandoms, such as Lord of the Rings and Firefly. Parzival himself ends up owning spacecrafts from his favorite sci-fi stories, and his "butler" Max is inspired by a sci-fi film. Without getting spoilery, fans of the book will know the amount of material the book uses from movies like War Games and Monty Python and the Holy Grail is huge. Getting the rights to these films and games will most likely prove to be a huge--and expensive--task.
The other hurdle the movie will face is discovering a way to depict people playing video games in such a way that does make moviegoers feel like they are sitting around, watching someone playing a video game. The book is able to seamlessly move from reality to the virtual OASIS, and bring the reader right into that action, taking them along for the ride right alongside Parzival, Art3mis, Aech, Diato, and Shoto. A movie will have a bit of a more challenging time depicting people as they play a video game without actually depicting someone playing a video game.
Penn says he’s found the magic formula, and while he isn’t ready to share what that formula is exactly, he says he has gotten the seal of approval from Ernest Cline himself. The book is filled with several moments that will translate easily to the big screen, and some that will have to be translated to film in a bit of a different fashion. Penn was able to work very closely with Cline as he wrote the script, and was able to float his ideas past the book’s author. If Cline wasn’t crazy about an idea, Penn scrapped it and started over.
With the script officially submitted, it seems as though the work to bring Ready Player One to the big screen is only just beginning. Obtaining the rights to the various properties referenced in the book and the film will prove to be a hefty (and expensive task). However, at this stage it seems as though things are moving forward with the book’s film adaptation, which is a good thing. While there isn’t any discussion on who the moviemakers have in mind for the roles (can I submit my name to play Art3mis?), and there is no start date for production, with Penn’s completion of the screenplay, it looks like, for now, we can still expect to see Ready Player One on the big screen. We just don’t know when.