Discussing Book to Movie Conversions (Specifically Ready Player One)

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?

11 thoughts on “Discussing Book to Movie Conversions (Specifically Ready Player One)

  1. Well said. The movie does what it should, converting RPO into a more visual and interactive story.
    I only wish I was able to relinquish the book as easily as others can 🙂

    • It’s definitely a process. There were some places where I felt it more keenly. I definitely think I found it easiest in the midst of the race and the Shining, where the visual/cinematic spectacle was highest. Might have also helped that I was more than a little tired when I saw it 😅.

      • I definitely enjoyed the race and the challenge to the first key. I liked The Shining, especially Aech. But I was not a fan of the zombie dance part. It seemed to suddenly go from The Shining to The Great Gatsby Zombie in design. I guess I spent too much time trying to find the logic behind the plot choices

      • I can see that. In some ways the zombie component did feel like they “realized” they needed to give the characters something to engage. And now that I think about it, Artemis was the one who solved that, at least on screen, and since they were a team at that point, it’s a bit odd that Wade was the one to “have all 3 keys” and solve the puzzle.
        I think at a certain point I just sortof shrugged and thought “Mario Kart doesn’t make much sense either, but it’s a fun ride.”

  2. Haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but I have written screenplays and novels. They are two different storytelling forms. One is visual, the other depends on the imagination of the reader to experience the story through words. Movies are external, novels are internal. I could go on. The point is, each stands on its own as story. I just recently ran into this with “A Wrinkle in Time,” a book I’ve re-read and re-read since childhood. The movie, unlike the book, really emphasized the visual, and in that way told the story of Meg rescuing her father in a much different way. Both are valid. Both work. I prefer the book (I’m not a huge fan of Oprah Winfrey’s, but I liked the kid actors) because it is a much more intimate form. While based on Madeline L’Engle’s story, the movie is really Ava DuVernay’s story inspired by L’Engle. And you are very right: because of time constraints, novels are usually massacred to adapt them to film.

    • Mmm. I think that’s true of many of us. In part it’s just hard to compete with a strong first impression. And it’s not too often that weak novels are made into movies.

  3. My first issue came with Halliday’s Video. It just didn’t feel right, but I am not sure why. But I did really like the car chase, the visuals when he was under the track were really cool 😀

    • That’s a good point! In the book he frequently appears as his character, but the movie put a greater emphasis on his mundane form.
      I did like the quasi joke of “if you can’t beat the obstacles, circumvent them” in regards to the race. I see it a lot with mazes.

  4. I can’t comment on RPO, because I greatly disliked the book, and didn’t care about the movie (except for the battle at the end. That was fun).

    I did recently see Annihilation – which was a box office bomb. And an excellent movie.

    It did a great job adapting from the book – but it wasn’t just a repeat. Movies basically need to tell their own version of the story. Otherwise, they’re derivative. And you might as well go read the book.

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