"We estimate we can sell up to 80% of the individual's visual field before inducing seizures"
I thought that it was very amusing that the first thirty minutes or so of the film run through almost all of the imagery that was shown in the trailers. In a world in which trailers seem to spoil all of the big moments of a film from the very beginning it was nice to be surprised again, not least by what was done with the big new filmic reference that occurs in the mid-section.
I really liked this and it captures a lot of the core themes of Cline's book, whilst also subtly weighting things a bit more towards an optimistic vision where the characters face a lot of trials but they are not quite as harrowing as they feel in the book, making it a good case study of adaptation. Mostly because the film is much more of a love story that helps to make the real world more livable in (which dampens down some of Wade's more abrasive aspects of chasing after a girl who may or may not have any interest in him, because the feeling is mostly mutual from the very beginning. Also the friendship aspect is much stronger in the film compared to everyone being out for themselves, even with Parzival and Aech having their friendship strained, until the final coming together for the collective action climax. Amusingly even the bad guys have friends in the film, with I-R0k being wonderfully upgraded from just a school bully in one early scene of the book to a full on henchman buddy figure, which any true villain needs! Contrasted with the real world counterpart of F'Nale. When even the baddies have companions the character's lives cannot ever be as lonely and isolated as they are allowed to get in the book!), and also because many of the darker things that Wade faces have been transferred over to Art3mis/Samantha.
Perhaps it is intended mostly to be a way to build Art3mis's backstory up a bit more, which does work for the film by having her reckon with indentured corporate servitude for debt repayment as her father did before her (exorcising the trauma that he never could in some ways), but in having her face almost all of the real world danger, as well as seemingly being the head of an underground resistance movement (with a member sporting an unfortunately highly recognisable facial tattoo, which seems a problem in trying to keep the organisation low key! At least have someone else go out to buy the metaphorical vegetables! In the sense that the bunch of carrots seem intended to pointedly contrast with the overcrowded urban world. With the introduction of the resistance group, we also get roof gardens and greenery appearing in the real world for the first time) that arguably means that Wade is left as almost a hero more by default, and becomes heroic more because of the friends he has around him than by particularly having to face his own demons. Art3mis even gets the equivalent of the real world meet up scene with Aech and the other members that was originally Wade's in the book! And she also takes on the key role that in the book was played by the Johnny 5 robot from Short Circuit! In the end Art3mis is the main action heroine of the film, if just in practical terms of doing almost all of the important actions.
However Wade still faces the real world drone strike that kind of does him a favour in both book and film. Whatever Happened To Aunt Alice anyway? Wade feels a bit guilty about her in the book whilst both the aunt, or "my mother's sister" as Wade tellingly calls her later on (the familial affection being at one extra remove), and the latest abusive boyfriend are relatively untroublingly gone post-explosion in the film, as Wade gets kidnapped by the resistance movement (its sort of as if it is what allows him and Samantha to bond as now they have both lost family). But suddenly being part of an extant organised resistance movement means that Wade does not really have to face going on the run and having to rebuild his life alone and anonymously in another city, where escaping to the OASIS becomes even more important as the only place where he actually is somebody, and is even a celebrity (it is also another example of the 'real world' being scary in terms of geography, emphasising the literal distance between people compared to the online world. Everything is geographically compressed in the film, that somehow makes everything 'easier' to navigate in a practical way). Instead the film brings the action back to the Stacks, allowing both for Wade to return 'home' (strangely like the end of the War of the Worlds remake) as well as for Sorrento to come face to face with the real people in the real location he committed, or at least signed off on, a real world atrocity to take place in (the explosion in the Stacks with Wade walking away from the wreckage literally ashen-faced, could also be another veiled Spielberg 9/11 reference post his War of the Worlds remake. And we literally get Sorrento equated with the alien ships of the 1953 War of the Worlds at one point). The book is much colder and detached regarding the idea of 'community', even online, and once Wade leaves the Stacks and his home town for the anonymous big city (eventually to become a literal nameless drone to a corporation, even if just for a short time), he will never return. By contrast, in the film he rallies his community together to face the corporation, both everyone online as well as those others who also live in the Stacks.
Also the High Five are separated off in different cities, as well as different continents in the book and are only able to be brought together by the intercession of a benevolent corporation rather than a nefarious one (Ogden Morrow has a much bigger behind the scenes guiding role in the book, though it is still there to some extent in the film) is another point that is there but rather muted as a theme within the film, along with the ideas that really everyone from the lowliest anonymous player with the free to play version of the game to the besuited corporate drones with their state of the art VR-rigs (which does get used for some fun moments in the film!) are acting within something much bigger than themselves - the ideological battle for corporate control turned into one for the future of the online universe, but also with the sense that Wade Watts and Nolan Sorrento could be any archetypal hero or villain. I suppose though that the idea that the lead hero and villain of the tale are not particularly special in themselves (more the avatar for the interests of others) cannot really be heavily made in a film that actually has to function as a blockbuster fantasy film as well! Though also I think the film hints at their similarities by having Sorrento's avatar seemingly modeled after the burly early look of Superman with the cowlick and Art3mis briefly putting Parzival in a Clark Kent disguise! Interestingly Wade also notes at one point that one of Halliday's favourite quotes was by Lex Luthor, which turns all three characters into a trinity and adds to the sense that Halliday might be a flawed creator figure! (Weirdly the 'trinity' in the book is Parzival, Aech and Art3mis, while in the film the implicit connections are more between Halliday, Sorrento and Wade, fighting for control of the direction of the system, which perhaps might be a telling philosophical change from collective action towards the primacy of individual consciousness and will of a figurehead moulding the general direction of a social system from the top down)
A lot of the economic elements of the book that fleshed out the world are subtly different too. The idea that everyone has to work and go to school in the OASIS whether they want to or not, and that making the online space a subscription only one would isolate everyone from not just the entertainment and socialisation aspects but also from actually being able to be employed or educated too (literalising the haves and have nots) and that
is what makes fighting for freedom of access to the online world as a right for all so important is almost completely gone in the film to the OASIS being mostly just a place where people can "spend their time" (which is an interesting choice of words in itself!) and arguably people do not need the OASIS just for day to day existence in the same way. In the film it is more about selling advertising and microtransactions to annoyingly clutter up a user's experience rather than totally isolating users from being able to interact with the system (in that sense the target of criticism has changed its focus from subscription MMOs like World of Warcraft that 'addict' players into entirely living within their created universes, which aside from WoW have all mostly gone free to play anyway now; through free to play games in general which not so subtly suggest that it is probably necessary to buy tons of extra stuff to have the 'true' experience, and the concern about kids playing a 'free' game that they then end up spending all of their parent's money on; into something more like EA's
games that you buy initially but which also feature microtransactions and lootboxes! This interestingly feels as if it reflects changing concerns in the video game sphere between the release of the book and film). Which itself plays into the slightly too underlined ending (the equivalent of the underlined ending of The Post!) in which we are told that people can make do without the online world, if only for two days a week! I guess that at least they kept the big 'OFF' button in there without using it! (A recent example of a film taking the rather blunter 'press the OFF button for the good of all, whether they like it or not' approach is the climax of that Bruce Willis film Surrogates)
It also loses that aspect of each of the three keys being prototypes of new products that Halliday is getting people to posthumously playtest for him before release to the wider public (which will also push the company forward into new world dominance in the various fields). Instead it is about exploring Halliday's regrets in his own life which takes precedence. This is probably understandably altered for a Spielberg film, where more intimate friendships and a love story takes precedence here over the economic wide scale impact ones.
But that does lead to the best alteration moment of the film, with the temptation to sign the contract in a room full of riches exchanged for Halliday's childhood room, which is this film's equivalent of the ending of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the choice there of the simple carpenter's cup over the jewel encrusted chalice. Luckily Sorrento did not get there first and dissolve into a pile of dust by choosing wrongly!
Though I should emphasise that I do not think any of these changes were really for the worse, more that it is still more than worthwhile to read the book as well as watching the film. I think that if I have any criticism of the film it is that the Alan Silvestri score sometimes seems a bit too perky for some of the more dangerous moments, and kind of feels as if it quotes from Stuart Little too obviously! But in a film about other media being reformed into something new, it seems fitting for Silvestri to quote a little from his own themes! But whilst the score is orchestral and lush and works, I think there would have been a great opportunity here for some other musical styles as well, especially as there is quite a vibrant subgenre of 8-bit games being given modern remixes, which would really have fit well with the themes of the film. I am not that familiar with the retro game remix culture myself but recently went through Retro Gamer Magazine's cover CD of themes such as Lightforce
and Galway Is God
, etc, and would have been very impressed if music like that had showed up in the film! (Though it was amusing to hear Twisted Sister's "We're Not Going To Take It" song used in the film, particularly since a cover of it also recently appeared in the end credits of Wolfenstein II!)
However the film still captures that sense of a being a love letter to a creator of pop culture worlds with the suggestion that, as with all of the clashing together brands being used as avatars (I cannot remember if this was in the book, but it came as a surprise to find out that Daito's avatar is Toshiro Mifune! Which of course leads to that astonishing media mash up of imagery in the final fight of Mifune jumping out of the Serenity ship before transforming into a Gundam mid-fall, all to battle Mechagodzilla!), perhaps better than the threat of punishment for copyright infringement and misuse of intellectual property, is for people to at least spend a moment to acknowledge the hand of the original creator in the work that they love and has inspired them so much, and which they then use to build upon for their own purposes. Whether that is acknowledging that Adventure was designed by Warren Robinett or that Spielberg directed the film from Cline's book.
I suppose the main lesson that I took from the film though was that we might think that suits with haptic feedback crotches would sound like a lot of fun, but they end up causing nothing but trouble!