I can’t believe they’re making a movie of Ready Player One

It’s coming out on 26 March, and the book was appalling dreck. The only question is whether the movie will improve on the source material somehow, and be at best a direct-to-dvd crapfest, or whether it will wallow in the bizarre 80s obsession and be a Star Wars Christmas special for millennials. I’m going guess the latter.

Yes, I know, some of you will tell me that you loved the book. Don’t care. It was a one-shot special purpose stimulator for geek/nerd pleasure centers, and I’m sure it was like a hit of cocaine for some of you. It was, however, an objectively bad book.

Here’s another example of its flaws that initially sailed right past me, because I didn’t care for much of any of 1980s cartoons built around toys, or Knight Rider, or the A Team, and even the stuff I did enjoy at the time, like E.T. and The Goonies, weren’t well captured by the book, except as fleeting references that I was supposed to adore. “Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is a circle jerk of male geek culture sustained over a grueling 400 pages.” Yeah, it’s a stroll through the Not-Pink Aisle at Toys’R’Us.

That why everything from Transformers to The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can get reimagined with CGI reverence — but the idea of a blockbuster live-action American Girl Dolls or The Powerpuff Girls franchise sounds laughable.

Hey! I really liked the Powerpuff Girls! They were much better than He-Man, which my kids just ate up.

Here’s an amusing riff on the built-in bias: Jenny Nicholson reads from an imaginary Ready Player One…For Girls. It’s just like the version for boys! Bad!


  1. djeo says

    I liked the book a lot as I was reading it, even though I knew at the time it was a guilty pleasure. Enough so that I bought copies for everyone in my gaming group.
    I could only tell you the vaguest sketch of what it’s about since reading it though.
    I expect the movie will be a visually delightful popcorn film that won’t make two dents in my consciousness – and that’s what Spielberg is aiming for.
    I can’t defend the criticisms, they’re on point.

  2. kome says

    People who defend RPO as any kind of good story remind me a little bit of people who say that sacred texts like The Bible are good literature. No, it’s not, and beyond that it was never meant to be. It’s not necessarily a problem to like it, but at least be honest about what the thing is that you like. We all like a little schlock now and again (some of my favorite comics and video games are… objectively terrible on a number of fronts), but trying to elevate the schlock as anything substantive or with depth is really sad.

  3. cartomancer says

    Now, here’s a funny thing. I am a male in his mid 30s who grew up on all this 80s children’s fare (though in England, where we got most of your American stuff as well as our own home-grown programmes, games and cultural touchstones). I am also massively nostalgic for my childhood, being one of those children who never wanted to grow up and one of those adults who finds the “adult” world a pale, thin and inadequate substitute for the joys of the first golden sixteen years his life. I am pretty much the ideal demographic for this stuff.

    But I don’t really want to read this book or see this film. Because nostalgia is a personal thing. It’s mine. Nobody else could possibly do my memories of all this stuff justice. They’d focus on the wrong bit. They’d miss out what I found most memorable. Memories are idiosyncratic enough that we don’t all share the same touchstones in the same way. It just wouldn’t work for me.

    Also, and this is what I find most interesting, the massive gendering of children’s culture in the 80s was something that had very little impact on me. I know now that it happened entirely at the behest of the marketing industry, Indeed, an awful lot of my happy childhood obsessions were created in the most venal and capitalistic way possible. I have no problem with that – they’re still my memories. They were and are still important to me. Almost all of culture derives from pretty unpleasant things in some capacity. But this whole notion that there was a “boys'” 80s/90s culture and a “girls'” 80s/90s culture, and you only got exposure to one of them, is not one I experienced. I got pretty much every reference from both the original and the youtube lady’s parody version. When I was growing up I didn’t realise that I was only supposed to be into the “boy” coded stuff, so I browsed from all the aisles of the toy shop with equal gusto, and watched all the cartoons. They say that this is quite common for children who are going to grow up gay – that we engage with society’s gender prescriptions differently, even without being taught to. Some gay people report only being keen on the stuff for the other gender, but I was interested in both. I watched both He-Man and She-Ra, Transformers and My Little Pony, Defenders of the Earth and Teddy Ruxpin. Funnily enough I tended to like the female and gender-unspecific characters in the male-coded media, such as He-Man’s Sorceress and Orko, and the male characters in the female-coded media.

    Though, looking back on it now, He-Man seems to be about the gayest cartoon anyone has ever made. Featuring, as it does, a blond-haired pretty boy who holds aloft a phallic symbol given to him by a feather-clad diva and transforms into a muscle-bound hunk wearing a close approximation of bondage gear. His “secret” is known only to an older moustachioed gentleman with a daughter but no wife and a timid, clumsy, awkward creature who hides away from scrutiny for fear of not measuring up. And his main opponent is a similarly muscle-bound creature with a skull for a face and a community of animalistic mutants, which stands as an AIDS warning from the time before medical treatment had caught up and the dangers of underground gay culture.

  4. lotharloo says

    I had no idea what Ready Player One was so I looked it up. In my uninformed opinion, it looks like a typical Holiwood way of milking the “Matrix” fanboys for more money: Virtual reality, special effects, yada yada, very Matrixy attach the name Spielberg and I bet they are guessing they will roll in cash.

  5. says

    I don’t get all the hate for the 80s culture part of the book. I have no particular love for the 80s and nevertheless enjoyed the book as a techno dystopia thriller. It’s not necessarily high brow literature but for some reason crapping on it has become a niche genre unto itself, comparable in size to, say, the crapping on david brooks genre, but with far less justification. Ready Player One is no worse than harry potter, for instance

  6. Artor says

    I enjoyed the book. It’s not like it was great literature, but it was fun, much like gorging on cheap pizza can be fun. The movie will probably be no worse than many of the action flicks to come out this year.

  7. says

    #6: Think of a movie like Atomic Blonde — it’s also deeply saturated with 80s culture, with an 80s soundtrack, centered on events in the 1980s. It’s great because it has a story and strong characters working on a background of the 80s.

    RPO takes the background and turns it into the entire point of the story. There’s nothing there other than cheerleading for the 80s. If Atomic Blonde had spent the entire movie with the characters pointing out that this is an 80s band, this is an 80s cultural motif, this is an 80s hairstyle, to beat the bad guys we must master 80s trivia, gosh, this is the 1980s, isn’t it neat, it would have been just as awful as RPO.

  8. paxoll says

    Complaining that something is not great literature is stupid on so many levels. Is someone trying to paint this as great literature? Is there any objective way to rate literature? I find the “literature” being taught in high school and college is absolute rubbish, and I could waste a bunch of time and effort writing essays on why it is so, but that would be hypocritical. The fast and furious franchise is terrible in my opinion, so I don’t watch them, I could find things to enjoy about watching them if I tried, but have yet to find any reason to. Ready Player One is the same thing. A fiction that appeals to a niche set of the population. I’m essentially the target audience for this book/movie, I was transitioning from preadolescence to adolescence in the 80s and will likely “get” every reference. But I have no interest and therefore will not bother seeing it. I suggest doing the same instead of ranting about it.

  9. dukeyork says

    Very clever, and I’m a little disappointed at how few of her references I got.

    I think she missed by not calling it “Ready Player Two”, but that’s probably just me man-splaining.

  10. Becca Stareyes says

    I should try to dig up the article I found that noted that Ready Player One portrayed a very different view of fandom than the author was used to, a competitive fandom about having and knowing the most, rather than a more cooperative fandom about creating new things. (And that that dichotomy about how to be a fan was often also gendered — you assume the trivia buff and the collector are male, and the fan fiction writer and cosplayer are female.)

    My inner completist notes that there have been American Girl movies, but only one made it to the theaters. Even then, it was retelling stories from the books, rather than re-inventing the property as a group of time-travelling pre-teens out to learn lessons about American history and protect the timestream.

  11. microraptor says

    Anyone else feel like it’s got a bit of a stealth insult in the premise? Namely the part about how everyone lives in a video game because the real world is terrible?

  12. says

    If there is any justice in this world Ready Player One should become a cultural punchline as much as Twilight is. It’s exactly the same level of subwriting and pandering to its target demographics

    Ready Player One is the male geek ego masturbating. The story, such as it is, makes make geek knowledge the key to wealth and saving the day. Uggggghhhhhh.

    Fuck this movie/book so much.

  13. says

    I’ll wait before judging the movie. This is Spielberg, who has used movies to speak on political issues before. And several of his movies were based on books, yet he reworked them to be his own. I’ve also heard that his recent movies have been masterpieces of nuanced moral messaging.

    My only real misgiving about Spielberg is his supposed approval of JJ Abrams…

  14. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Nicholson’s video was AWESOME.

    And fuck all y’all who don’t don’t think SS stomping through the Glo Worms is realistic: She may only be half the monster that Blueberry Muffin is, but BM is a fucking TITAN.

  15. says

    @12, microraptor

    Anyone else feel like it’s got a bit of a stealth insult in the premise? Namely the part about how everyone lives in a video game because the real world is terrible?

    Yes, I think there’s potential…

  16. says

    Whilst it wasn’t a very good film, The Da Vinci Code was better on screen than it was as a book. Maybe this film will, likewise be an improvement.

    (And I’m as optimistic as that sounds about it, but will likely watch RP1 eventually anyway.)

  17. anbheal says

    Truffaut or Fellini once approached Hitchcock about joining up to make War & Peace. Hitchcock replied (I paraphrase): “Absolutely not. I can turn a reasonably good book into a very good movie, and my great talent is turning a mediocre book into a nearly-great movie, but I will never touch a great book — I could only do it dishonor.”

    I happen to believe Spielberg is the greatest director of the past 40 years — he gets much better performances from his cast than Kubrick or Demme or Spike Lee or Tarantino have typically managed, particularly young and inexperienced ones. He has more movies in the AFI Top 100 than anyone else. And two years ago with the solid Bridge of Spies he passed John Ford and William Wyler for the most nominations over a career for his movies (135, 140, somewhere in there). He makes it look effortless, but it’s very hard to make a good movie, let alone a great one. It’s worth rememering that Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner have both won more Best Pictures than Hitchcock or Kubrick combined.

    Plus, like Tom Brady (who’s come in 2nd in MVP voting 9 times), he gets dinged for being Spielberg. Crash is widely considered among the three worst Best Pictures ever — but they just weren’t going to give it to the far superior Munich.

    If Stevie wants to throw some big glossy suburban teen CGI at me, I could do worse. I could get Cameron or Abrams, next level down, or I could get total crap. If my 13-year-old daughter wants to see this, I’m in. The man knows how to entertain, and The Muse needn’t wear a frown.

  18. says

    Even when they do try to make something for girls and women, it’s a half-assed. The Jem and the Holograms movie was written and directed by a bunch of guys who didn’t have any feeling for the material. So of course it bombed and gives the studios a data point to look at as an excuse to not even try.

  19. says

    I read (listened to) the whole damned book. It really wasn’t very good for what I would guess is most audiences. Maybe if you have absolutely zero life and spent more time than you should have in pop culture in the 80’s. In fact the book is kind of like a glorification of and justification for doing so. And the female characters are completely what an unempathetic male would think they are. One-dimensional and vapid.
    My 19 year old son is excited about the movie, but then, he hasn’t read the book…

  20. says

    Oh great, the movie is directed by Spielberg. We have reached peak ego masturbation.

    Also, in the past week I have seen the 2005 Oscar race referenced like 4 times and no one mentioned Brokeback Mountain as the film the Oscars snubbed (likely due to homophobia). What the hell? Personal feelings aside, it’s obvious that the consensus from that race was Brokeback Mountain was the best film of the year. The only major prize it lost was the Oscar for Best Picture.

    Crash is thoroughly mediocre. However, anyone claiming it is in the top three worse best picture of all time clearly haven’t seen all the best picture winners. The Greatest Show on Earth, Broadway Melody, The Great Ziegfeld, Out of Africa, Cavalcade are all clearly worse as far as pure filmmaking goes. Gentlemen’s Agreement, Gigi, Cimarron, Gladiator, Gone With the Wind, and a few others probably are worse when you take into account theme and social commentary. Things like Around the World in 80 Days, Chicago, Shakespeare in Love, The Artist or even It Happened One Night are all (far) better made films but are far more frivolous than Crash.

    I don’t even think it’s in the top 3 of the greatest difference between the best picture winner and one of the nominees. Moonlight, a worthy winner, has a greater difference in quality over the unfairly maligned and denied La La Land (and for that matter Hell or High Water) than Crash had over any of the nominees in 2005.

  21. lotharloo says

    Oscars is a shit award. If you want to be serious about movies you definitely don’t use it to decide the best director. Spielberg is great director but his movies are mostly high quality entertainment rather than art.

  22. Kreator says

    I bought the book a while ago and only started reading it now in preparation for the movie; so far my opinion is “mediocre,” even for what it sets out to be. I’m sad to learn that the reference-fest leans so heavily masculine. When I was a kid during the 80’s I didn’t just love Transformers, He-man or the Ninja Turtles: I also liked My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite, She-ra, Jem and the Holograms, and other “non-macho” shows. (Sailor Moon as well, but that was during the 90’s for me).

    If you really want to be put off this book/film, though, you just have to take a look at this god-awful poem by its author. I actually haven’t gone back to the book yet after reading that.

  23. Scott Simmons says

    Live action Power Puff Girls? Where can I buy tickets?
    Also, Jenny Nicholson is a damn comedy genius.

  24. microraptor says

    Tabby Lavalamp @20:

    I’d say it was less “didn’t have any feel for the material” and more “just wanted to make a shitty Hanna Montana knockoff.”

  25. says


    The Oscars are far from perfect. They, however, are a quick and dirty way to cut through film history. There’s very few great directors/producers who haven’tbeen recognized by them in some way. Hell both Kubrick and Welles got Oscars despite the myth they didn’t.

  26. blf says

    Like others have mentioned, I also have no recollection of ever even hearing about the book(or forthcoming movie). I had to look it up on Ye Pffffft! of All Knowledge, and gave up on the second sentence, “… Easter egg in a worldwide virtual reality game…”. A trivial variant on low-quality (as in I cannot suspend my disbelief) fantasy novels.

    (This presumes, of course, the partly-quoted synopsis is not too misleading.)

  27. snodorum says

    I would argue that masturbation is the human animal’s most important adaptation. The very cornerstone of our technological civilization. Our hands evolved to grip tools, all right—including our own. You see, thinkers, inventors, and scientists are usually geeks, and geeks have a harder time getting laid than anyone. Without the built-in sexual release valve provided by masturbation, it’s doubtful that early humans would have ever mastered the secrets of fire or discovered the wheel. And you can bet that Galileo, Newton, and Einstein never would have made their discoveries if they hadn’t first been able to clear their heads by slapping the salami (or “knocking a few protons off the old hydrogen atom”). The same goes for Marie Curie. Before she discovered radium, you can be certain she first discovered the little man in the canoe.

    via Good Reads
    I’ve rolled my eyes and cringed throughout the entire book. But this was a definitive low point (though I am not done yet, full disclosure). I am particularly irritated that he references knocking protons off a hydrogen atom as his “scientific” innuendo. Doesn’t that seem misguided? I’m sure some fanboy physicist/chemist could defend it. But seems like “knocking a proton off” of a hydrogen atom, just makes an ion? I dunno. Dumb all around.

  28. gijoel says

    I was a teenager in the eighties and it kind of suck. Leaving aside my crappy childhood, children’s animation then was a twenty minute ad for toys.You’d get the occasional Japanese or European cartoon, but they usually went for about six episodes before it was cancelled.

    We also had right wing cranks fanning the flames of hatred and hypocrisy and a bumbling moron who was using populist just-so stories in order to antagonize nuclear armed states.

    I’m going back to bed.

  29. says

    Seems to be a fair number of people, male and female, all “excited” for this movie among the Geek and Sundry types. I think, for them, it is purely nostalgia though. We are talking people that, last few times, had whole shows discussing the works of Rumiko Takahashi – Who did Ranma 1/2 and Inu Yasha, as well as others I never heard of, but.. damn, wish I had. lol As well as a the other one in which they went through unopened “collectable card sets”, and tried playing various old games from just about every system they could manage to hook up to a modern TV.

    Oh, I don’t doubt it will probably, to a fair degree, suck, if the book was that bad. But then.. maybe they will manage to make something way better from it (purely on the fact that starting with a basic theme, then throwing out the other 90% that is actually crap, *might* result in a better result.), but who knows.

  30. billyjoe says


    I am particularly irritated that he references knocking protons off a hydrogen atom as his “scientific” innuendo..but seems like “knocking a proton off” of a hydrogen atom, just makes an ion?

    Atomic hydrogen consists of one electron surrounding a nucleus that, in turn, consists of one proton plus either zero neutrons (protium), one neutron (deuterium), or two neutrons (tritium). Knocking a proton off a hydrogen atom would also cause the electron to be “knocked off” because there is no proton (positively charged) to hold the electron (negatively charged) in orbit around the nucleus. The nucleus would now be either non existent (in the case of protium) or consist of either one neutron (in the case of deuterium) or two neutrons (in the case of tritium).

    However the actual quote says “knocking protons (plural) off the old hydrogen atom”. Because the hydrogen atom has only one proton, it would not be possible to knock protons (plural) off the old hydrogen atom.

    However, I wondered why he said “old hydrogen atom”, rather than just “hydrogen atom”. Maybe he was referring to the original experiments that led to the discovery of the neutron by James Chadwick. In those experiments, alpha particles derived from radioactive decay of plutonium were targeted onto beryllium atoms and the particles that were emitted were collected in wax beyond the target. These particles – the newly discovered neutron – were found to knock loose protons from the hydrogen atoms in the wax.

    Anyway, that’s my best guess as to the origin of this saying.

  31. billyjoe says


    Leaving aside my crappy childhood

    Ah…finally…we have something in common. :(


  32. Jeremy Shaffer says

    Someone suggested I’d like the book some years ago. Looking at it, I can see why they did. I’m certainly in the demographic this was directed towards.

    I couldn’t get past page 10.

    I ended up listening to the audio version, but it still came across as atrocious. Once I started getting into it, I thought maybe we were supposed to find the main character- from whose view the story is told- to be an unreliable narrator or that the whole thing was meant to be satire or some sort, but I really don’t think the author is that self-aware. So, it just ended up being a story about an unlikable dipshit who lives in an economically depressed dystopia where we are told there are roving bands of marauders, but delivery services aren’t disrupted in the least; and, his quest for fame and riches in a virtual reality world is never once thwarted by the rolling brown outs that are supposedly a near constant factor in his world.

    With the movie coming out soon and knowing so many who liked- if not loved- the book, I gave the audio another listen recently just so I could have fresh reminders to drag out when I have to defend my dislike of it. With the second time around, it occurred to me that I might have found the slog through it all mildly worth it if it had turned out there was no money or anything else promised at the end of the hunt. If it turned out that Halliday, being the self-absorbed, perpetual man-child asshole he came across as at the very beginning of the book, set the whole thing up just so everyone else would become as obsessed with the same things he had been.

  33. says

    “Off the old hydrogen atom” is just an attempt to make the phrase sound more masturbatory. I’m sure it has earned a few snickers from its intended audience.

    I dunno. The movie could turn out to be entertaining. It happened once before that Spielberg, as executive producer or whatever his title, took a book that had been recommended to me by a friend that turned out to be an egregious pile of creaky conceits explained at unbearable length in service of a borrowed plot and stripped all the wretched crap away and filled the gaps with an entirely new movie (and no doubt made buckets of money for its unworthy author). I still enjoy it: WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?, once described by a fellow member of my animation APA as “the worst film you will want to sit through ten times.”

    I haven’t read RPO, and I doubt I ever would or will. For me, nostalgia for the days of my youth come from a time when arcade games were actual mechanical contraptions, like a flight game where you piloted a plane doohickey on a mechanical arm through a variety of solidly corporeal obstacles, or bowling games where you picked up a ball and rolled it at pins that fell down when hit and then set themselves back up. By the 80s, I was thoroughly disgusted with the state of Saturday morning TV. As early as the 70s, I replied to a friend who said that Saturday AM TV was going downhill with “That’s like saying ‘the Titanic is sinking.'” By the 90s, my feeling was that if they brought back any ‘classic’ shows, they’d leave out the characters and make the show all about their gun.

    tl;dr: I’m old, and today’s nostalgia sucks.

  34. snodorum says

    @billyjoe (34)

    That’s some impressive recall about those experiments! I had considered some potential explanations you gave. Though I did not read the section as charitably as you did. I don’t think he is subtly referring to early experiments; it seemed more likely the author is ham handed with his scientific reference there. It was hard for me to give the author the benefit of the doubt after reading everything else he had written up to that point.

  35. says

    Having just read the FilmInk review, Here are some Xs to cover over the part of my comment where I said maybe it would turn out to be entertaining. Copy and paste as necessary: XXXXXXX.

  36. Derek Vandivere says

    I thought the book was entertaining enough for a light read (but then I’m a 48 year old white male geek). Certainly not as plodding and badly written as Dan Brown novels, but basically literary junk food. Telling that I can barely remember the plot points, but for a three hour or so read it was okay.

    And I just had to explain to a friend’s daughter what Saturday morning cartoons were.

  37. billyjoe says


    All considered, I’d have to agree with you. I was just trying to come up with a possible explanation for his pretty strange analogy.

  38. billyjoe says


    Going on your past history of “commentary” I know I shouldn’t, but I’ll be charitable anyway and assume you misunderstood my comment. I was simply saying that, like gijoel, I had a crappy childhood.