If I could only keep one, I'd take the novel. But I'm a book guy at heart. I wouldn't begrudge someone taking the movie to their own desert island.
We watched it a few months ago. Liked it quite a bit. Weeks later, Lynn read it. Very good, she told me. But "it's very different from the movie." So I read it and had great fun. (My favorite throwaway line was the bit about the "geezers" Cory Doctorow and Wil Wheaton, still getting re-elected to keep fighting the good fight). It had been long enough since I'd seen the movie that the details had faded, so I wasn't making comparisons. I took the book on its own terms.
It's an Easter basket of unexpected toys and games, a Hallowe'en sack of delights, all familiar but popping up new. It's been years since I spent a lot of time playing video games, but I could almost feel my fingers flexing as I turned the pages. I wanted to go back and play every one of those old games, watch every one of those eighties movies.
I finished it midweek and we watched the movie again just a couple of days later. The specifics of the book's version were still sharp. I thought the changes the moviemakers made were absolutely fine. I didn't miss anything that was taken out. The movie's so engaging and well paced, there wasn't time for that. I liked the fact that the challenges were different. Not that I liked them better than the ones in the book, just that it was fun to have more of them. Of course they were much more visual. The big dance scene was more vivid on film than the swirly version I'd cooked up on my own. The book's a little darker, the movie a little sweeter. The movie compresses the love story, but that was okay. They only had so much time to play with.
There's something fundamentally askew in trying to judge whether any book or movie is the better version. They're such different ways of telling stories. Least likely to be effective is a film that hews too closely to the arc and incidents of the novel, or a novelization that does little more than recount the settings and episodes of the movie. If comparisons must be made, it should be to compare the book to other books and the film to other films. How effective are they at using the tools of their craft to transport the reader or the viewer? To give them an effective experience.
The ingredients of the Ready Player One book and movie are different, but the dish is recognizably the same. I'll grate pecorino-romano instead of parmagiano-reggiano to sprinkle on tonight's bolognese. Last time I used bucatini pasta instead of tonight's pappardelle. I'll bring up a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino instead of an Amarone. And don't get me started on the meats in the sauce, which vary every time I make it. There are good reasons for all of those variations but they all result in the same dish. Sure, you might prefer one variation over another. But it's silly to say that one is "better" than the other if you're suggesting anything more than personal taste.
When Josie was small, e-books and e-readers were climbing their first big wave and there were endless arguments over which was "better" and how soon e-books were going to eliminate print. In those days, she was a big fan of The Monster at the End of This Book, in both its print and iPad versions. Somedays she'd go for one, some days the other. Different experiences. She'd've been horrified if I'd told her she could only pick one.
Those debates have settled down now, although they haven't quite disappeared. And while I may happily substitute grana padano for the pecorino in Josie's beloved cacio e pepe if that's what I've got on hand, I have to be careful who to tell that to if I want to avoid a lecture on the only right way. (And alright, yes, I'm the guy who declares there's no such thing as a "vodka martini" -- there are just vodka drinks served in a martini glass! But I'm joking. The grievance vein in my temple isn't pulsing.)
Where does that come from? That seemingly irresistible impulse that so many have to declare that their preference isn't just preference, it's the only correct thing. Is it people being so insecure about their own taste that they need to declare that all other versions of taste are inferior? Or is shouting about it just one more way the internet helps people be thoughtless?
If I were only allowed one version of Ready Player One, I'd pick the book. But that's me. I wonder which version of The Monster at the End of This Book Josie would've picked if she'd had to. So lucky to live in a world in which she doesn't. She'd've bawled.