Ready Player One was a 2011 novel that landed somewhere between the ultimate nostalgia binge and a gaming geek’s wet dream.
Here’s the book’s official plot description if you haven’t had a chance to give it a read yet:
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
A full year before the book was even released, WB saw potential in it for a movie adaptation (not that surprising given that the current movie landscape is dominated by nostalgia and geekiness) and optioned the rights.
Zak Penn was assigned to write the screenplay, and four years later, he’s turned in a draft that the studio is reportedly very happy with. So happy in fact, that their shortlist of potential directors is basically a “who’s who” of fantastic genre directors.
All of them would be pretty incredible choices if WB can land them, but I think some are definitely more fitted to the material than others. Here is how I would rank WB’s shortlist, in order of increasing Ready Player One-ness (accompanied by some cool art inspired by the novel).
5. Christopher Nolan
Nolan was the first name leaked from the studio’s shortlist, and if nothing else, I think the fact that he’s even being approached shows a lot of confidence in Zak Penn’s script. Nolan has basically built a career out of being incredibly ambitious, spending huge amounts of money, yet somehow still managing to produce movies that are extraordinarily popular with both the critics and general moviegoers. WB has so much confidence in him at this point they let him ditch the Batman franchise to work on a $165 million space movie with Matthew McConaughey.
Pretty much any movie that Nolan is interested in directing would be better for it, given that he’s an extremely dedicated director who really throws himself into every project that he’s involved in.
That being said, I think Nolan is by far the worst choice on WB’s shortlist. One of the best aspects of Ready Player One was its sense of fun and, dare I say, whimsy; especially during the main character’s early days of exploring the virtual reality. That tone is important in setting up the dichotomy between his awesome VR life, and his shitty IRL one.
As much as I love Christopher Nolan’s movies (and I love Nolan’s movies), the man does not have a whimsical bone is his body. His films might be grand and epic, but they’ve always maintained a firm sense of grounding in reality; a sort of grit and practicality that I don’t feel like lends itself to a story like this.
And frankly, that’s not even touching on the fact that Nolan’s sense of humor is not particularly… well let’s just say it’s not his strong suit (this isn’t a car).
4. Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson is a very interesting choice as he’s spent most of the past 15 years working on some version of The Lord of the Rings. That series has been one of WB’s biggest cash-cows, and now that he’s finally done with it, it’s no surprise that they’ve approached him for Ready Player One.
I think Jackson’s experience working extensively with CG sets and characters (and doing a pretty amazing job with the technology) definitely gives him an edge in this department. Ready Player One‘s virtual reality setting will undoubtedly require quite a bit of technical wizardry to pull off, so it’ll certainly help to have a director who’s comfortable in those areas.
That being said, I think Jackson’s biggest point against him comes in with the whole Lord of the Rings thing. Those six movies have been the focal point of over half of his creative career, and I think his work outside of that series has suffered for it.
Since Fellowship in 2001, Jackson has only directed two non-LotR movies: King Kong and The Lovely Bones. Both movies were visually impressive, but at least with The Lovely Bones, extremely awkward in its storytelling.
Ready Player One might have a lot of crazy visuals, but at its heart, the appeal is going to be in how the character’s journey is handled.
I feel like Jackson is having a hard time readjusting to filmmaking outside of Middle Earth, and throwing him into a project like this would result in big-budget CG spectacle that looks great, but falls flat emotionally.
3. Edgar Wright
Wow, Edgar Wright is such an interesting choice. There are few directors working today that have as distinctive a style, and even fewer who are comfortable tackling action-oriented movies.
I think Scott Pilgrim definitely showed that Wright has the right stuff to bring Ready Player One’s virtual reality environments to life, and his witty style of dialogue would be pretty much perfect for the novel’s tone.
The big reason why I don’t feel like Wright would be the best choice to helm this movie though (at least amongst this group of potential directors) is that his personal storytelling style relies pretty heavily on not taking itself very seriously.
The two films that put him on the map, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, were more or less straight parodies of zombie and action movies respectively; and the rest of his filmmography is only slightly more subtle in its lampooning of various tropes.
Ready Player One has a pretty ridiculous premise, and a great sense of humor, but the story absolutely requires that you be able to buy into the VR world. It doesn’t work if we’re sitting there laughing at how silly it all is.
2. Matthew Vaughn
Artwork by sharksden
At face value, Vaughn is probably the least “iconic” of the directors on this list, but I think he’d be a damn fine choice to take on Ready Player One.
While his directing career started with Layer Cake, a pretty by-the-numbers British crime film in the vein of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, he soon graduated to much more fantastical stories.
Stardust and X-Men: First Class both showcase some of Vaughn’s penchant for big visuals combined with smaller character moments, but I feel like 2010’s Kick-Ass is the biggest reason why he’d be great for Ready Player One.
Kick-Ass managed to combine a sense of fun with an atmosphere of real peril and consequences. Taking even a few steps back reveals just how silly and unrealistic the premise is, but through how he handled the story and characters, Vaughn was able to breathe some authenticity into it, without losing that “comic-bookey” layer of hyper-reality.
I think (disregarding the blood and gore) that Kick-Ass‘s tone is right on the money for this project, and showcased the right balance between fun and realism that Ready Player One needs.
Plus, it showed that Vaughn is comfortable adapting a pre-existing story (and if I may be so bold, actually making changes that improved upon the source material).
1. Robert Zemeckis
Artwork by sharksden
Robert Zemeckis is reportedly WB’s top choice, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s tough to succinctly describe just how big of a nostalgia-binge Ready Player One is, but I think anyone who’s read will immediately recognize just how big of an influence his filmmaking was on that novel’s setting.
Lately he’s been a little obsessed with motion-capture, but before that he was the one responsible for creating some of the most iconic movies of the 80s and 90s including Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump.
Back to the Future in particular features prominently in the book, and I’d personally love to see Zemeckis revisit that era in his career. Given that he was arguably at his creative peak during those two decades, I think Zemeckis is probably as tuned into that period of pop culture as anyone, which is important thing to get right to adapt this novel.
Outside of the story though, I think Zemeckis, compared to everyone else on this list, is the least tied down to a particular tone and style. His career has encompassed everything from Romancing the Stone to Cast Away to The Polar Express.
Unlike the other directors on this list, Zemeckis’s filmmography has no real distinctive approach to it. In my mind, that would give a story like Ready Player One room to breathe and exist in its own space, without being overshadowed by the director’s personal flair (which I think is a real concern with guys like Edgar Wright and Chris Nolan).
Ready Player One is a pretty unique story, one that’s strongly rooted in our pop culture past, but also one that should have a chance to shine on its own merits.
I think all five of the directors on this list could provide it with that opportunity, but more than any of the others, I think Robert Zemeckis is the right guy for the job.