'Ready Player One' Book vs Movie: What Did Steven Spielberg and Ernest Cline Change?

When Ready Player One novelist Ernest Cline was invited to adapt his best-selling sci-fi mystery to the screen, he assumed he'd have to make some big cuts.

"While writing my early drafts, one of the first things I was asked to drop was The Distracted Globe, or the zero-gravity dance club. That was distressing to me," Cline told Newsweek, "because I thought it would make for a beautiful set-piece."

Luckily for Cline, when Steven Spielberg came on board to direct the film, the veteran filmmaker showed up to the first Warner Bros. production meeting with a "dog-eared" copy of Ready Player One full of notes. "He asked me, 'What happened to the dance club?' and I said, 'Well, we had to think about cost and execution.' Spielberg said, 'Those are not problems anymore.'"

So, Cline's fantasy dance sequence is alive at the center of the ambitious, CG-filled film, thanks in part to Spielberg's assertion. Overall, the author said the script he finalized with screenwriter Zak Penn and director Spielberg is breathlessly close to what he imagined when writing his novel.

A poor teen named Wade Wilson (Tye Sheridan), using the codename Parzival, still fights and schemes his way into solving a Willy Wonka-style series of challenges laid forth by an open-world game designer, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), and bad guy Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) still tries to beat Wade with his team of trivia-hungry shills at a company called IOI. Wade enjoys a romance with a girl named Samantha (Olivia Cooke), username Art3mis, and their buddies Sho (Philip Zhao), Daito (Win Morisaki) and Aech (Lena Waithe) are along for the ride.

There were several changes made throughout the adaptation process, however. We explain the most notable shifts, in case super-fans want to log into the OASIS and hope to find it unchanged.

wade wilson
Tye Sheridan as Wade Wilson in 'Ready Player One'. Warner Bros. Pictures

Some rearrangements in the contest

Cline's book can be a little confusing at times. The plot structure shudders occasionally under the weight of all his 1980s pop culture references and explanation of the OASIS. In the novel, players earn keys during a challenge, and then they use those keys to open a gate, which leads to more challenges and another key.

In the movie, the central quest in the game has been simplified. There are three keys, unlocked by figuring out complicated brain teasers and rifling through the OASIS's founder's digital archives. All three keys can be exchanged for a golden easter egg and total control over the OASIS.

The theatrical poster for 'Ready Player One'. Warner Bros. Pictures

New minor bad guys

In the book, villain Nolan Sorrento simply heads IOI and works on his dastardly plans alone. The film gives him a bodyguard and assistant, F'Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen) and expands the role of i-R0k (T.J. Miller), the only character we never see outside the OASIS. There's no confirmation on why, though it's possible Warner Bros. wanted to minimize the visibility Miller, who was accused of sexual assault in December 2017.

Lena Waithe as Aech in 'Ready Player One'. Warner Bros. Pictures

The good guys, aka The High Five, get more involved

One of the criticisms often lodged at Cline's novel was that Art3mis, his female lead, had no character depth or agency in the story. The film puts Art3mis and Parzival in a room together, in real life outside the OASIS, early on in the story, which allows them to build a real romantic relationship. The script also fleshes out her background just a bit more, making her into a political rebel and an active player in the revolt against IOI.

Likewise, the other characters around Parzival have been expanded and complicated: Sho and Daito are brothers and they both live to the end of the movie, though Daito is murdered by IOI in the book. Most of the fun, active action sequences in the book fall exclusively to Parzival, who acts alone in most of his heroism, the movie thankfully spreads the wealth around, allowing everybody a big moment or two.

The last "go outside" note

At the end of the film, Wade tells the audience via voiceover that he and his team of buddies introduced a new schedule for the OASIS after winning the challenges, decreeing that the whole thing shuts down on Tuesdays and Thursdays. "To spend time with loved ones," Wade says, and we watch him kiss Samantha in the apartment they now apparently share.

In the book, there is no such admission that playing video games 24/7, especially VR and immersive open-world games, is a little unhealthy. In fact, the film's central thesis is that no one can act without friends, nor should anyone want to. Though Cline's novel leaves the quality of online friendships up for debate, Ready Player One the movie ends on an almost-instructive note, telling its captive audience to spend some quality time IRL.

Ready Player One hits theaters Friday.

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