For pop culture enthusiasts with an affinity for the 1980s, one of the most important books in recent memory will soon make the jump from the page to the screen. Steven Spielberg is gearing up for the release of his take on Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, and all eyes are on the film adaptation to offer up the same affection for geek culture that the book had when it hit shelves back in 2011. That said, with a film version of the beloved novel on the way, there's one specific area in which the movie can actually fix the source material: it can downplay the pop culture references and avoid spoon-feeding them to audiences.
Those of you who have read Ready Player One already likely know what we are referring to here. Almost every set piece in the novel is inspired by a classic video game, movie or TV show from the 1980s, and the protagonist Wade Watts (played by X-Men: Dark Phoenix's Tye Sheridan in the film) regularly calls out the touchstone that specific moments relate back to. Some pop culture references are inevitable, such as the influence of Blade Runner's Voight-Kampff Test or John Badham's WarGames. That said, the book is also full of references that don't inherently enrich the story. At numerous points throughout the novel, Wade will liken a particular situation of his to something that happened in a classic film or TV show, just because the comparison exists. One chief example of this is a scene in which the act of firing two guns reminds him of a John Woo movie like Hard Boiled.
It's okay for the book to do something like this, but a movie only has so much time to tell its own story. If Ready Player One takes the time to call out every single reference packed into its runtime, the actual story will never go anywhere. The better option, as is often the case with book adaptations, is to trim the fat and only focus on the things that truly matter to the story. In film, it's all about keeping things economical.
Downplaying the sources of the references in Ready Player One would also go a long way towards embracing the underlying themes of the movie itself. At its core, the Ready Player One story is a tale of triumph for discerning fanboys and fangirls. The core narrative focuses on a group of die-hard pop culture nerds using their vast collective knowledge to sift through the iconic movies, TV shows, and music of the 1980s hidden in the OASIS simulation to find an Easter egg that will lead them to a life-changing fortune. The entire story is predicated on the idea of locating nuggets of pop culture information hidden in plain sight. The film can actually tap into that idea by letting viewers sift through every frame to find the Easter eggs for themselves (something that fans have gotten good at in the internet age), and it will take Ready Player One to a new layer of meta that the book couldn't achieve.
With all of that said, we do need to address the fact that this is not necessarily a condemnation of the way Ernest Cline's Ready Player One handles its use of pop culture references. A book is an entirely different medium, which means that it lends itself to that particular style of storytelling. In the book, we spend the entire story in Wade Watts' head, which allows the narrator to spoon-feed us all of the exposition and explanation that we could want. By contrast, movies tend to operate from a third-person perspective, so the lack of an ever-present internal monologue could make it challenging to tell the story in the same way as the source material.
Ready Player One will debut in theaters later this month on March 29! Make sure to watch out for all of CinemaBlend's up-to-date coverage on the adaptation of Ernest Cline's novel. For now, check out our comprehensive reaction roundup of the film and take a look at our movie premiere guide to stay informed on all of the major movies set to debut on the big screen in 2018.
Originally from Connecticut, Conner grew up in San Diego and graduated from Chapman University in 2014. He now lives in Los Angeles working in and around the entertainment industry and can mostly be found binging horror movies and chugging coffee.
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