It’s fair to say that Steven Spielberg’s take on Ready Player One, a story about Easter Egg hunters in a virtual world stuffed with 1980s references, is rather different to the 2012 source novel written by Ernest Cline.
Sure, the major beats are the same – loner Wade Watts uses his online avatar Parzival to try and win control of late tech boss James Halliday’s fortune, as well as the online Oasis world where he and everyone else in the world now spends their time – but a lot of details are altered, changed or rewritten entirely for the film version, including some of the book’s most important moments and a general shift of focus away from some of the more in-depth geeky references.
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Below we’ve chronicled some of the most notable alterations between Cline and Spielberg’s versions of the story, often included to make the action more cinematic or to make the story run smoother.
And the first big change definitely simplifies some things…
1. The race for the keys
The structure of the tasks is by far the biggest change made for the film version of Ready Player One, with the various challenges that Wade/Parzival (Tye Sheridan) must complete to win control of the Oasis totally rewritten for the screen.
In the book, each task begins with beating one challenge to gain a certain kind of key (Copper, Jade and Crystal), which are then used to access a gate. The gates themselves must then be “cleared” by completing a couple more tasks, before the hunt is on again for the next key.
By contrast, the film has a task to win each key, and that’s it. The keys don’t open gates – they open one door at the end of the game, through which the winner goes to meet the virtual version of James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and take control of the Oasis.
The content of the tasks themselves are also almost entirely different, but we’ll get to that in time.
2. Wade’s life
Wade’s life at the beginning of the story is fairly similar in both book and film, with the young ‘Gunter’ (slang for Egghunter) living in stacked caravans in Columbus, Ohio with his aunt and very little money.
However, there are a few crucial differences. Wade’s aunt is a slightly more positive character in the film (her boyfriend, played by Ralph Ineson, is the real villain) while Wade himself is a little less down-and-out.
In the book, Wade has so little money that his avatar Parzival can do nothing but attend a virtual school on the planet Ludus (a concept cut from the film is that in 2044, pretty much everyone goes to school in the Oasis), as he lacks the in-game funds to travel to other “worlds” and take part in more interesting parts of the game. Notably, the need for spaceships or teleportation to traverse the Oasis isn’t heavily featured in the movie either.
Some of this penury is reflected in the film – during the racing task, Wade spends a lot of time sweeping up coins from downed cars – but he’s already an active player of the game when the movie begins, while the novel version of the character is stuck on one world until he tracks down the first key.
3. New characters
A couple of new or completely altered characters are included in the film version of Ready Player One, including Hannah John-Kamen’s F’Nale Zandor (the head of IOI’s operations in the physical world and a secondary antagonist for Wade and his friends) and TJ Miller’s i-R0k, a freelance bounty hunter employed by IOI to track down Wade.
i-R0k exists in the book but is a completely different character, only a small-time Gunter who hangs out with Wade and Aech (Lena Waithe), and later tries to blackmail them into telling him the location of the Copper key. He fails, but his efforts attract the attention of IOI.
4. The first task – the Copper Key
Speaking of that key quest, it’s definitely one of the biggest changes between book and film. In Cline’s novel, Wade tracks down a recreation of Dungeons and Dragons module Tomb of Horrors on his school planet, before completing the task by beating a D&D character (called Acererak) at the video game Joust, narrowly edging out star gamer Art3mis (Olivia Cooke in the film) from being the first to access the key.
After accessing the key Wade/Parzival clears the gate by playing through old-school first-person shooter Dungeons of Daggorath and re-enacting Matthew Broderick film WarGames.
By contrast, the movie version of the Copper key task eschews all of that and just has a massive race instead, with characters driving 80s-appropriate vehicles (like Wade’s own Back to the Future DeLorean, which he gets much later in the book) over a Mario Kart-esque course where they have to dodge attacks from King Kong and a T-Rex to reach the finish line (as it turns out, the secret to winning is driving backwards onto a different, safer course, a clue Wade picks up from old footage of James Halliday).
5. Wade alone
After refusing to work for baddies IOI and their boss Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), both book and film see Sorrento blow up Wade’s home, sending him on the run.
In the film he’s picked up by Art3mis and some other rebellious types and goes to live with them; however, in the book he goes undercover by himself as someone called Bryce Lynch, living alone in an apartment block, shaving off all his hair and playing in the Oasis pretty much 24/7.
Later in the book, Wade manipulates his false identity to have himself taken into one of IOI’s Loyalty Centres, where players work off their debts by performing manual labour inside the Oasis. From in there, he’s able to hack IOI’s servers and pick up crucial information
However, in the film it’s Art3mis who ends up inside IOI, and not on purpose.
Still, after being picked up for her genuine debts she’s still able to work from the inside thanks to help from Wade and some of the other players.
6. Daito and Shoto
Speaking of some of those other players, the way that fellow “High-Five” Gunters Daito and Shoto appear in the books and films is very different. For one thing, their names are different – Shoto is simplified to Sho in the film – and the pair are already personal friends of Wade/Parzival and Aech in the movie, in contrast to their later prominence in the book. The film also sees them as brothers, though this was something they only pretended to be in the book.
Later on their stories also diverge, with the book version of Daito murdered by Nolan Sorrento and IOI, while the character in the movie instead teams up with Aech and Wade to take the fight to Sorrento, and plays a major part in the final battle.
In the film, Sho is also revealed to be only 11 years old, whereas his book counterpart is portrayed as roughly the same age as the other contestants.
Other characters in the film correlate more directly with their book counterparts, with some minor changes (for example, movie-Aech is a little older and fixes vehicles inside the Oasis – the book version was more juvenile and mostly hung out in a virtual basement).
7. The second task – The Jade Key
In the book, the task for the Jade Key is to travel to the planet Frobozz and solve text-adventure game Zork. To clear the Jade gate, you have to pass a test by Blade Runner’s Voight-Kampff machine (used to tell if humans are replicants in that film) and complete the arcade game Black Tiger. At the end of Black Tiger players have to pick a robot, which comes into play later on.
In the film, Wade and his fellow players instead have to re-enact Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, mixed together with a zombie game that was one of the first projects James Halliday worked on.
While this is obviously quite different from the book, the re-enactment is something of a twist on the WarGames task mentioned above, and the movie task’s emphasis on Halliday’s romantic life – and specifically that he was in love with his business partner Ogden Morrow’s wife – does play into the novel’s story in a slightly more subtle way (her Dungeons and Dragons character name, Leucosia, is his password).
8. The butler
The way that the film approaches Simon Pegg’s Ogden Morrow (co-creator of the Oasis with Rylance’s Halliday) is also fairly different from how he appears in the book.
In the film, it’s revealed at the end that Ogden Morrow is controlling a virtual butler character in the reference library (where our heroes watch films of Halliday’s life for clues), who also fudges the rules to give Wade a quarter that later allows him an extra life in the Oasis after everyone else’s characters have been killed. It’s not massively difficult to spot it’s Pegg, as he’s doing it in his normal English accent (to play Morrow, he goes American).
In the book, Wade gained the quarter by playing a perfect game of Pac-Man on the planet Archaide (you see what they did there), and a virtual Ogden himself only turns up hosting his birthday party at an Oasis nightclub.
In the books the real-life Ogden also appears a bit earlier, hosting the remaining High Five members at his home before they plug into the Oasis for their final battle; while in the film he only turns up in person at the end of the film once Wade has already won control of the Oasis.
Still, we do see plenty of him in the film’s pre-recorded shots of Halliday’s life, another thing that plays a much larger part in the film than it does in the book.
9. The third task – The Crystal Key
The third task is actually where the film comes closest to matching the book, though there are still some differences. In the Ready Player One novel, a clue at the end of the Jade gate task points the player towards Rush album 2112. The record’s lyrics direct them to the planet Syrinx where they can play a Les Paul Gibson guitar to unlock another clue to the Crystal Gate before offering the guitar on an altar to get hold of the Crystal Key itself.
To clear the gate, Wade and his crew have to travel to Halliday’s in-game base Castle Anorak to play Atari arcade game The Tempest, role-play Monty Python and the Holy Grail (as they did with WarGames earlier) and then find the first ever hidden video game Easter Egg in 1979 game Adventure.
As explained above, the film simplifies this system so there’s only one task for the key and no “gates”: the players just have to travel to Castle Anorak and play Adventure to unlock that Easter Egg. However, they have a choice of many Atari 2600 video games, and playing the wrong one drops their avatars through a field of ice.
Before that, though, in both screen and print versions they have to get past IOI and their forcefield…
10. The final battle
In both the book and film IOI get themselves to Castle Anorak before Wade/Parzival and his friends can complete the task, covering it with a forcefield and attempting to win the final challenge before anyone else can get to it. However, in the novel Castle Anorak sits on the planet Chtonia; in the film it’s on the already-established battle planet Doom.
In the book, it’s Wade’s earlier hacking that allows him to lower the forcefield. However, in the film it’s Art3mis who gets it down after learning the magic spell that dismisses the energy barrier (and due to her avatar being inside the field after she was put to work for IOI).
The final battle in the film sees Aech launch her Iron Giant in battle where she runs up against Sorrento in a MechaGodzilla. Combined with Shaito in a Gundam (piloted by Aech in the book as Shaito had already died), they manage to hold Sorrento long enough to let Wade through to play Adventure and unlock the door.
The book plays this slightly differently, with anyone who clears the second Jade gate gaining access to a giant robot. The Iron Giant replaces the good guys’ robots in the film, while Sorrento has ‘MechaGodzilla’ Kiryu in both print and on screen.
In the book, however, Wade’s robot Leopardon (from the Japanese TV show of Spider-Man) is destroyed, and he’s only able to get past Sorrento by using a capsule to temporarily become Japanese Tokusatsu hero Ultraman, a character Spielberg was unable to get the rights for in the finished film. Instead, the Iron Giant helps him get past Sorrento.
The end of the battle, when Sorrento uses an artefact to destroy every player in the game including himself, remains in the film’s story, as does Wade/Parzival’s survival thanks to the extra life he picked up earlier in the narrative. However, the external forces affecting his final attempts to get the Easter Egg in the movie – mainly led by IOI’s F’Nale Zandor and Sorrento himself as they chase his van to kill him– aren’t really present in the book.
11. The ending
As noted previously, the ending of the film is altered slightly to that of the book by the preceding action, most notably in Art3mis and Wade/Parzival’s relationship. By the time the movie ends the pair have spent quite a lot of time together in the real world (meaning their relationship develops a bit), but the book only has them meet in person right at the end, after the final battle.
Wade’s decision to split ownership of the Oasis between all his friends is the same in both versions, though obviously in the film he has an extra friend – Daito had already been killed in the book.
However, his plan to turn off the Oasis two days a week to force people to spend time with their families and loved ones only exists in the film. Given that most schools and business were run through the Oasis, this would have had disastrous consequences for the economy and future generations in the world of the book.
Ready Player One is in UK cinemas now