June 24, 2014

READY PLAYER ONE Gets An Extra Life With Writer Zak Penn

The weather was beautiful this past weekend, so the wife and I walked to the beach that's conveniently located a mere two blocks from our apartment and features a lovely view of the planes taxing around the runways at Logan Airport.  After feasting upon a small mountain of fried clams, I pulled out my Kindle and finally set about the task of re-reading Ernie Cline's fantastic sci-fi novel Ready Player One.  It's an engrossing read to be sure and once again I find myself unable to put the thing down.  It only took me about ten pages before I found myself wondering whatever happened Warner Brothers' proposed film adaptation.

This morning that question was answered.  According to The Wrap, Zak Penn has been hired to do a rewrite of the original script by Cline and Eric Eason.  Warners won a significant bidding war for the project way back in 2010 and we haven't heard much about it since then.  But it seems that the studio is gearing up to shop the project around to directors this fall.  In a perfect world they'd capitalize on Disney's colossal fuck up and hire Edgar Wright for this, post haste.  Sadly, I doubt we live in that world.

Penn has writing credits on a number of geek-friendly properties that are not exactly what you'd call highly regarded by their target audiences, stuff like X-Men: The Last Stand, The Incredible Hulk and Elektra.  But he also wrote PCU and has a story credit on The Avengers, for what it's worth.  That geek sensibility is crucial when it comes to Ready Player One, which centers around a teenager who navigates through a virtual reality simulation (the Oculus Rift is modeled after Cline's OASIS) searching for clues that will lead him to a vast fortune hidden by the simulation's creator.  The virtual world is actually a whole universe made up of different regions drawing on popular sci-fi, fantasy and video game properties; the Firefly universe resides next to the Star Wars universe, which neighbors Star Trek, Dungeons & Dragons and Lord Of The Rings.  

The whole thing is a pastiche of every great genre franchise in the past 30 years, which makes any proposed film adaptation an intellectual property nightmare.  According to Cline, he had such a miserable experience with his first film Fanboys that he intentionally wrote Ready Player One as something that no one would ever try to adapt for the big screen, but anyone who's read the book can tell you just how incredible it could potentially be if someone could somehow manage to pull it off.  Plus I expect that folks like Nathan Fillion would totally be up for a fun cameo.

I had the chance to meet Cline briefly at South By Southwest this year and he's both down to Earth and totally hilarious.  He signed a copy of the book for me, asking "Star Trek or Star Wars?"  You can see my answer below, as well as an extra postscript he added once I showed him my then days-old Ghostbusters tattoo.  If he trusts Penn to take a pass at the script (and Penn was apparently his choice after meeting him during the recent New Mexico excavation for long lost E.T. Atari cartridges) then I'm inclined to trust Cline.  Besides, if this project ever does come to fruition, its success will truly rest on both the choice of director (seriously though, Edgar Wright) and what properties the studio can gain the rights to feature.  If they half-ass it, then what's the point?

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