This post contains SPOILERS if you haven't read the book and don't want to miss out on some surprises. "Ready Player One" is last year's most inventive sci-fi novel. Like a literary Quentin Tarantino, author Ernest Cline takes tropes from '80s sci-fi and fantasy movies, video games, and books and blends them into their own unique creation. The story primarily takes place in a MMORPG that blends video games and the world wide web, called the Oasis. The next step after Snow Crash's Metaverse, the Oasis is where most people spend their time in 2044. In a vaguely dystopian world that doesn't sound too different than the present day, people primarily live their lives through their avatars. They live, work, shop, party and go to school online in the Oasis. It's a computer generated reality that looks very lifelike, so I imagine a sort of Tintin/Polar Express thing could actually work. But the biggest task will be licensing all the film, video game, and TV characters, plus specific scenes from movies, most notably War Games. It would require the sort of situation that happened with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where Warner allowed Disney to use the Looney Tunes characters.
But let's pretend I'm in charge of casting the movie. For Wade Watts/Parzival, an 18-year-old high school student/gunter, I'd pick Jeremy Allen White. His name may not be familiar, but if you watch Shameless, you'll know him as Lip Gallagher. He's not cookie cutter handsome, but he is good looking. He's not overweight, but he looks like he could put some on if he needed to. Plus he's a pretty charming actor. I could see him as convincingly love struck and driven.
Art3mis, a 19-year-old student/gunter/blogger is described as a little overweight. Mind you, 160 pounds on a 5'7" frame isn't really overweight so much as curvy with big thighs. I'd pick Mae Whitman. She's done great work on Parenthood and in the little seen In Treatment. She also has the geek cred for her work in Scott Pilgrim and Arrested Development. But it's really on TV where she's shown her talent as an actress. She can convey such a seething look of hurt, it's heartbreaking. That will be needed to carry her when Art3mis gets really down on Parzival.
Aech (pronounced like the letter H) gets tricky to cast. He's Parzival's best friend, another high school student/gunter. But he's also an overweight black chick in real life. You'll probably have to cast an unknown. Gabouray Sibidie is a little old for the role, but her demeanor on talk shows highlights that she'd actually be awesome at the part. But you'd need a different actor for the avatar version. How about Dan Byrd who plays Courtney Cox's son on Cougar Town? He can play socially inept with the best of them. Plus he's got comedic chops, and Aech is kind of the sidekick.
Shoto is tricky because he's Japanese. His age is never stated, but I get the impression he's a little older, maybe 20? He needs to speak English perfectly too. You could cast a Japanese-American actor in the role, since Shoto says he partially grew up in the US. I could cast a Japanese adult, but the last Japanese movie I saw with a ton of kids is Battle Royale which is over ten years old, so those kids won't pass as teens anymore. Someone get me some headshots!
On to adults. The most prominent is the villain, Sorrento, the head of the Sixers. He needs to be formidable and scary. I always like the idea of casting someone who usually plays good guys as the bad guy, so how about John Cusack? He was in a ton of '80s movies that get referenced, it'd be cool if he could turn that on its head. Ernest Cline mentioned in an interview that he'd like to see '80s teen movie actors in this, and he's one of the few who's still a big name. I'd like to see him use his charm for evil instead of good.
For James Halliday, creator of the Oasis and the Easter egg contest, how about Christopher Ecclesteson? He has awesome geek cred since he's played The Doctor in Doctor Who. But he has the ability to play badass and seem really vulnerable at the same time. Has anyone seen Jude? God, that was a traumatic movie. He also has the most intense stare ever.
The last main character is Og, Ogden Morrow, co-creator of the Oasis and friend to James Halliday. Is it weird that I would like to see Levar Burton in this role? Maybe it's because Wade credits him with teaching him to read, and Levar Burton was instrumental in teaching me to love reading from his years on Reading Rainbow. Plus he seems to have Og's joie de vivre.
Whoever takes on the project has their work cut out for them, but it's a wonderful book and Ready Player One could be an awesome movie. Let's hope it ends up in the right hands. (ahem) Joss Whedon.