The direc­tor’s got game

Turns out, Steven Spiel­berg has just the right back­ground for ‘Ready Player One.’

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Jen Yam­ato jen.yam­ato@la­ Twit­ter: @JenYam­ato

Steven Spiel­berg un­veiled eye-pop­ping footage from his up­com­ing “Ready Player One” at San Diego Comic-Con, of­fer­ing a first glimpse at the tale of a young gamer search­ing for the ul­ti­mate Easter egg in a vir­tual re­al­ity game packed with a brain-bog­gling ar­ray of pop cul­tural ref­er­ences.

Not that the Os­car-win­ning direc­tor needs to prove his gam­ing-nerd bona fides. Dur­ing a visit to the L.A. Times stu­dio, “Ready Player One” au­thor Ernest Cline re­vealed how the film­mak­ing leg­end earned his stripes decades ago.

“[Spiel­berg] used to have a lit­tle ar­cade at Am­blin back in the ’80s, and he was ob­sessed with break­ing a mil­lion points on ‘Mis­sile Com­mand,’ ” said Cline.

The only prob­lem? He had a movie to make.

So what was a direc­tor hell­bent on notch­ing his high score to do?

Haul “Mis­sile Com­mand” out into the woods, hook it up to pro­duc­tion gen­er­a­tors on the set of “E.T. — the Ex­trater­res­trial,” and keep play­ing, nat­u­rally.

“And there, out there in the for­est, play­ing be­tween set­ting up shots,” Cline said ap­prov­ingly, “he broke a mil­lion points on ‘Mis­sile Com­mand.’ ”

That level of hard­core ded­i­ca­tion and nerdery will be on full dis­play in “Ready Player One,” co-scripted by Cline and Zak Penn, which stars Tye Sheri­dan as Wade Watts, a teenager in a rav­aged fu­ture circa 2045, in which peo­ple es­cape their grim real lives by es­cap­ing into the vir­tual world of the “OA­SIS.”

When the cre­ator of the OA­SIS dies, Wade adopts the avatar Parzi­val and em­barks on an epic quest to win own­er­ship of the realm, a la Willy Wonka and the Choco­late Fac­tory, by find­ing the afore­men­tioned Easter egg.

The 2018 Warner Bros. re­lease is primed to hit all the right retro-nostal­gia but­tons with “cameos” by iconic char­ac­ters such as Gan­dalf, the Iron Gi­ant, Duke Nukem, Freddy Krueger, the car from “Chris­tine,” and the DeLorean from “Back to the Fu­ture.”

Join­ing Sheri­dan as Wade/Parzi­val are T.J. Miller as i-R0k, the world’s “first vir­tual hit­man,” Olivia Cooke as Art3mis, an ally who drives the sleek red cycle from “Akira,” and Ben Men­del­sohn as Nolan Sor­rento, the ne­far­i­ous head of a cor­rupt cor­po­ra­tion known as IOI who’s also af­ter the Easter egg.

Work­ing with Penn and Cline to adapt the VFXheavy “Ready Player One” to the big screen, Spiel­berg pushed to ex­pand cer­tain char­ac­ters from the book into big­ger roles, such as Miller’s i-R0k.

Miller, who ar­rived in cos­play dressed as Duckie from “Pretty in Pink,” shared an­other tale of nerdery from his direc­tor: What does Spiel­berg geek out over?

Billy Wilder’s Os­carnom­i­nated 1957 drama “Wit­ness for the Prose­cu­tion.”

“He’d been watch­ing this movie over and over and over again for like a week, or weeks, be­cause he’d be­come very ob­sessed with it,” re­called Miller. “We watched it, and he’d ask us ques­tions like, ‘Don’t you love that first track­ing dolly shot when they first come into the court­room?’ He just had the whole thing com­pletely mem­o­rized and wanted to ask all about the lit­tle tiny things. That’s pretty nerdy.”

Jaap Bui­tendijk Warner Bros.

TYE SHERI­DAN is Wade, a teen in 2045 who es­capes his grim world via a VR game in “Ready Player One.”

Jay L. Clen­denin Los An­ge­les Times

THE CAST of “Ready Player One,” T.J. Miller, from left, Ben Men­del­sohn, Olivia Cookie and Sheri­dan visit The Times photo stu­dio at Comic-Con on July 22.

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