Can a movie be better than the book? The Case of Ready Player One
With adaptations now common in the film world, readers have been proven time and time again that a movie adaptation can never be as good as the book. It’s a notion that had good reason. Books have more time to develop storylines, characters, and a world. Books invite readers on a personal journey with the characters and whatever they imagine is the true story. I’ve been a proponent of agreeing that books are ‘better’ than movies over the years, but I’ve started to question if this notion should be absolute. Can a movie be better than the book? In some cases, I think that yes, yes it can.
After my friend’s encouragement, I read the book Ready Player One by Ernst Cline. Now, I must preface that I’m not the target audience for this book. I didn’t grow up in the 80s, I’m not well versed in fan culture, and I’m not a teenage boy. As Cline described, this book is, “… a love letter to geek culture.” That letter certainly is not addressed to me. Regardless, I read the story for the adventure.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is set in the year 2044 where reality is a really ugly place. Eighteen-year-old Wade Watts finds an escape in the virtual utopia called the OASIS. When OASIS creator James Halliday dies, the late OASIS creator dedicates his entire will and inheritance to whoever can pass three very difficult tasks that will lead to uncovering an Easter egg. A global mad hunt ensues to find this egg, a lottery ticket, that is concealed in the virtual world.
I finished the book and didn’t quite understand the hype for it. One of the main reasons I didn’t care for the book was the writing style. For the first 100 pages, Wade tells the reader how everything works in the world. There is no room for the reader to uncover the clues along with Wade, as he breaks down every detail and feeds it to you. Where’s the adventure in that? Beyond the 80s references, the story was a fairy tale treasure hunt where plot conveniences, flat characters, and wish fulfillment didn’t add up to a great story that was promised.
Despite my problems with the book, I went to see the movie. I had faith that Steven Spielberg’s direction would make for a fun movie, and I was interested to see how he handled the more problematic aspects of the book. I went with the friend who initially recommended the book, and we both came to the same conclusion when we left the theatre together. The movie was better than the book.
How could that be? The book was rich with allusions and world building details. It was a love letter to geek culture. How is it that both the person who liked the book and didn’t like the book come to the same conclusion?
I have a theory why. This book dealt with virtual reality, an inherently visual concept. What better platform is there to showcase a virtual reality story than a movie where there are not only words on a page (the script), but music, sound, and grand visuals that dazzle us. It brought the story to life in a way that didn’t translate in the book for me. It was easier to show us the world as Wade walked through each scene and all the details in the book existed around him. Beyond that, Spielberg has a deep understanding of what stands as the epitome of geek culture: The Eater Egg. Everything thematically and narratively revolves around this. It gave a focus and coherence to the narrative that wasn’t present in the book. Not only could someone who understood all of the 80s references like my friend enjoy it, but someone who didn’t like me. Additionally, the secondary characters are given more agency in the movie, which led this tale to be the action-packed adventure that I had wanted the book to be.
It now makes me wonder about the nature of adaptations. Can they not only bring a beloved book to life, but a story that is more suited for the screen? While everyone can have a preferred platform in which stories are told, I can no longer say whether a book is better than a movie. Instead, the question I ask myself is: does this story work better as a book or movie? With Ready Player One, I believe it’s a story that is perfect for the screen.
Are there any stories that you’ve encountered that work better as a movie than they did as the book? Decide for yourself if Ready Player One is a better suited for a book or movie by checking them out from WPL collection.
— Eleni Z.