‘READY PLAYER ONE’ TAKES SPIEL­BERG BACK & TO THE FU­TURE

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In Ernest Cline’s novel “Ready Player One,” the main char­ac­ter drives a DeLorean be­cause of “Back to the Fu­ture,” and uses a grail di­ary be­cause of “In­di­ana Jones and the Last Cru­sade.” The films of Steven Spiel­berg loom large in the story lit­tered with pop cul­ture ref­er­ences. That the leg­endary film­maker then ended up be­ing the one to take Cline’s fu­tur­is­tic-nos­tal­gic vi­sion to the big screen is a small Spiel­ber­gian mir­a­cle.

“I hadn’t read any­thing that had trig­gered my own imag­i­na­tion so vividly where I couldn’t re­ally shut it off,” said Spiel­berg, who, with “Ready Player One,” out Thurs­day, re­turns to the wide-eyed grand-scale block­buster film­mak­ing that he made his name with.

The sci-fi spec­ta­cle with a re­ported $175 mil­lion pro­duc­tion bud­get presents a near-fu­ture vi­sion of a dystopian so­ci­ety that has all but aban­doned the real world for an es­capist vir­tual re­al­ity ex­is­tence. In 2045, most peo­ple, in­clud­ing the teenage hero Wade (Tye Sheri­dan), spend their lives as avatars (Wade’s is a cooler ver­sion of him­self named “Parzi­val”) in the vir­tual world of the OA­SIS — a VR game cre­ated by an ec­cen­tric ge­nius, James Hal­l­i­day (Mark Ry­lance), who has promised his wealth to whomever wins and finds the “Easter egg.”

It’s be­cause of Hal­l­i­day, who, like its au­thor, came of age in the 1980s, that the OA­SIS is chalk full of 80s nos­tal­gia from Atari to Bucka­roo Ban­zai. It’s also why Cline as­sumed that “Ready Player One” would be im­pos­si­ble to adapt. How would any­one be able to se­cure all the rights?

That it ended up be­ing Spiel­berg do­ing the ask­ing helped a lit­tle, but pro­ducer Kristie Ma­cosko Krieger is the one he cred­its for get­ting ev­ery­thing from Chucky to the Iron Giant in the film. She spent three years work­ing with Warner Bros. to ob­tain all the nec­es­sary clear­ances from var­i­ous stu­dios. Some they didn’t use, like the main “Star Wars” icons (al­though you may spot an X-Wing or R2D2 in a few frames), and some Spiel­berg just nixed him­self, like the moth­er­ship from “Close En­coun­ters of the Third Kind.” He didn’t want too many of his old movies in his new movie.

“There comes a point when I would have just had to de­fer to some­one else who likes my movies and not make a movie about my movies,” Spiel­berg said.

From film­maker Steven Spiel­berg comes the ac­tion ad­ven­ture “Ready Player One,” based on Ernest Cline’s best­seller of the same name, which has be­come a world­wide phe­nom­e­non.

The film is set in 2045, with the world on the brink of chaos and col­lapse. But the peo­ple have found sal­va­tion in the OA­SIS, an ex­pan­sive vir­tual re­al­ity uni­verse cre­ated by the bril­liant and ec­cen­tric James Hal­l­i­day (Mark Ry­lance). When Hal­l­i­day dies, he leaves his im­mense for­tune to the first per­son to find a dig­i­tal Easter egg he has hid­den some­where in the OA­SIS, spark­ing a con­test that grips the en­tire world. When an un­likely young hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheri­dan) de­cides to join the con­test, he is hurled into a break­neck, re­al­ity-bend­ing trea­sure hunt through a fan­tas­ti­cal uni­verse of mys­tery, dis­cov­ery and dan­ger.

Spiel­berg di­rected the film from a screen­play by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline. The film was pro­duced by Don­ald De Line, Spiel­berg, Kristie Ma­cosko Krieger and Dan Farah; with Adam Som­ner, Daniel Lupi, Chris deFaria and Bruce Berman serv­ing as ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers.

“Ready Player One” stars Tye Sheri­dan (“X-Men: Apoca­lypse,”“Mud”), Olivia Cooke (“Me and Earl and the Dy­ing Girl,”“Bates Mo­tel”), Ben Men­del­sohn (“Rogue One – A Star Wars Story,”“Blood­line”) and T.J. Miller (“Dead­pool,”“Sil­i­con Val­ley”), with Si­mon Pegg (the “Star Trek” movies, the “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble” movies) and Os­car win­ner Mark Ry­lance (“Bridge of Spies,”“Dunkirk”).

Be­hind the scenes, three-time Os­car win­ner Spiel­berg (“Schindler’s List,”“Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan”) re­united his cre­ative team from “Bridge of Spies,” in­clud­ing Os­car-win­ning di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Janusz Kamin­ski (“Schindler’s List,”“Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan”), Os­car-win­ning pro­duc­tion de­signer Adam Stock­hausen (“The Grand Bu­dapest Ho­tel”), Os­car-win­ning ed­i­tor Michael Kahn (“Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and Sarah Broshar (“The Post”), and cos­tume de­signer Ka­sia Wal­icka-Mai­mone (“Moon­rise King­dom”). The mu­sic is by Os­car-nom­i­nated com­poser Alan Sil­vestri (the “Back to the Fu­ture” films, “Forrest Gump”).

Warner Bros. Pic­tures and Am­blin En­ter­tain­ment present, in as­so­ci­a­tion with Vil­lage Road­show Pic­tures, an Am­blin Pro­duc­tion, a De Line Pic­tures Pro­duc­tion, a Steven Spiel­berg Film, “Ready Player One.”

Slated for re­lease on March 29, 2018, the film will be dis­trib­uted by Warner Bros. Pic­tures, a Warner Bros. En­ter­tain­ment Com­pany, and in select ter­ri­to­ries by Vil­lage Road­show Pic­tures.

It meant co-screen­writer Zak Penn would have to lose a few of his Spiel­berg-in­spired jokes and ideas that he’d writ­ten into the script be­fore Spiel­berg signed on to di­rect, but he didn’t mind.

“It would have taken you out of the nar­ra­tive. He’s too iconic a di­rec­tor,” Penn said. “You’d be sit­ting there think­ing, ‘Oh, this is from a Spiel­berg film.’”

But ev­ery­thing was on the ta­ble, from the song Cline walked down the aisle to (the Hall & Oats song “You Make My Dreams,” which plays dur­ing the cred­its) to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to “Last Ac­tion Hero,” Penn’s first movie which he had wanted Spiel­berg to di­rect. Penn, for his part, had said “no” to a pro­posed ref­er­ence and was sur­prised when he saw one in the fi­nal cut. Cline had gone be­hind his back to per­suade the folks at ILM to do it.

Most of the ref­er­ences amount to set-dress­ing, pack­ing ev­ery frame in the OA­SIS with eggs that would take even the most ea­gle-eyed viewer mul­ti­ple view­ings to catch.

“My phi­los­o­phy from the very be­gin­ning was, the story is out the front wind­shield and the pop cul­ture ref­er­ences are out the side mir­ror,” Spiel­berg said. “And it’s your choice what you would like to look at.”

The pro­duc­tion used cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy to sim­u­late the OA­SIS for the cast and crew with VR head­sets that would give ev­ery­one a 360-de­gree view of what the vir­tual world looked like. And the film it­self is a mash-up of past and present tech­nolo­gies, in­clud­ing mo­tion cap­ture, com­puter an­i­ma­tion and even film stock, which Spiel­berg used to shoot the live­ac­tion se­quences.

“It was just a small lit­tle touch be­cause I’m try­ing to keep, you know film, mean­ing the chem­i­cal, the chem­istry of film, rel­e­vant and I’m just try­ing, un­til they close the last lab and stop mak­ing raw stock, to shoot ev­ery­thing I can on film,” Spiel­berg said. “It also gave the real world a more gritty fla­vor be­cause when you shoot dig­i­tally, it’s much more like acrylic. And film is more like oil. You get that blend be­tween that world of oil and the tex­ture that an oil paint­ing has with the film and you get the very smooth, al­most an­ti­sep­tic clar­ity of what the dig­i­tal world looks like.”

Lena Waithe, who plays the tech-savvy Aech, said, “I love that he did that. The movie re­ally rep­re­sents where cin­ema is go­ing and where it all be­gan, which is re­ally beau­ti­ful.”

Cline’s novel has al­ready proved prophetic in the dig­i­tal space. He says com­pa­nies like Ocu­lus and Google have copies on hand and, he’s been told, give them to peo­ple who come through the of­fices. And he thinks the movie, which will play glob­ally, will have a more sig­nif­i­cant im­pact.

“The best thing that could ever hap­pen to a science fic­tion writer is to write some­thing that helps in­spire the peo­ple who make it into a re­al­ity,” Cline said. “This movie could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The OA­SIS, es­sen­tially, is not that dis­tant of a re­al­ity. It’s also some­thing of a cau­tion­ary tale about the per­ils of VR, or as, Spiel­berg said how, “too much of a good thing is too much.”

Whether or not au­di­ences will flock to the­aters to soak up the nos­tal­gia and the vi­sion­ary tech is a big ques­tion. Waithe said

the film is a feel-good es­cape, and Sheri­dan stresses that it’s a, “great metaphor for the world that we live in in 2018 and the bal­anc­ing act from your dig­i­tal pro­file to your real world self.” But early track­ing has pegged the film for a weak $35 mil­lion open­ing, de­spite strong re­views. Spiel­berg might not have lost his touch, but mass au­di­ences might also be too dis­tracted to no­tice.

As for Cline, he still can’t be­lieve his luck.

“I tell peo­ple I’m just pre­pared for it to all be down­hill from here. What could ever top this? I’m so lucky, I got to work with one of my he­roes on a story that he helped in­spire,” Cline said. “I’m just ready for the slow fade after this.”

‘READY PLAYER ONE’ CAST PICKS THEIR FA­VORITE SPIEL­BERG FILM

From “Close En­coun­ters of the Third Kind” to “War of the Worlds,” the cast and crew be­hind “Ready Player One” pick their fa­vorite Steven Spiel­berg film.

TYE SHERI­DAN, “PARZI­VAL/WADE”

“‘E.T. (the Ex­tra-Ter­res­trial)’ I think. It’s that story of an un­likely friend­ship with some­one who is an ‘alien’ which I think is so re­lat­able be­cause a lot of us feel alien­ated and iso­lated in our own lives be­cause we’re the only ones who can truly feel what we feel. To have a char­ac­ter that is com­pletely for­eign to a world is kind of a metaphor for me. That feel­ing that ev­ery­body feels out their own place in their world. And the friend­ship be­tween E.T. and El­liott. That movie played hun­dreds of times in my child­hood.”

LENA WAITHE, “AECH/HE­LEN”

“I’ve got a lot. I mean look, I’m a black les­bian so I can’t not say ‘The Color Pur­ple,’ but I also re­ally love ‘Juras­sic Park’ and ‘E.T.’ I also like ‘Lin­coln,’ I just thought it was a re­ally well-made movie and Daniel Day-Lewis is phe­nom­e­nal. Also ‘Catch Me If You Can’ is re­ally dope, I feel like it’s one of the more slept on movies. I just re­ally love the way he tells a story. I love how he tells sto­ries.”

OLIVIA COOKE, “ART3MIS/SAMAN­THA”

“E.T.” tops the list of fa­vorite Steven Spiel­berg films for the stars of the leg­endary di­rec­tor’s lat­est movie, “Ready Player One.” (March 23)

“I have to say ‘Hook.’ The world that he cre­ated is just mind-blow­ing. I know he’s spo­ken about how he didn’t have the best time be­cause it was just kids, but I grew up on that movie. I loved it and I thought it was so mag­i­cal and awe-in­spir­ing and I wanted Robin Wil­liams to be my dad and I think it just en­cap­su­lates pure imag­i­na­tion and also the men­tal­ity of kids band­ing to­gether for the greater good, who do have the great­est moral com­pass and aren’t tam­pered by adult bit­ter­ness and by life.”

ZAK PENN, CO-SCREEN­WRITER

“The eas­i­est an­swer for me to give is ‘Close En­coun­ters of the Third Kind’ be­cause I think it’s one of the most unique. It tells a story through sound and im­age. Ev­ery time you hear those notes or ev­ery time you see an im­age of the devil tower the story shifts. It’s so hard to tell a story that way. And it’s a movie I loved. But I mean look, it’s re­ally tough. I love so many of his films. I’m a big fan of ‘War of the Worlds.’ I don’t think it is as per­fect a movie as ‘Raiders (of the Lost Ark),’ and I think ‘Close En­coun­ters’ is a per­fect movie, but ‘War of the Worlds,’ man does that hold up well. I’ve watched it so many times. But he makes so many dif­fer­ent kinds of movies. Like ‘Schindler’s List.’ How do I not in­clude that in my fa­vorites list? The only rea­son I don’t is be­cause it’s so dev­as­tat­ing. It’s not easy with Steven.”

ERNEST CLINE, AU­THOR AND CO-SCREEN­WRITER

“It’s this one (‘Ready Player One’). I can’t help it. But my sec­ond fa­vorite would be ‘E.T.’ It meant so much to me as a kid and that’s why my fa­vorite mo­ment in ‘Ready Player One’ is when Wade is on the washer and dryer and look­ing out the win­dow and dream­ing of a bet­ter life. It’s such an Am­blin mo­ment. It’s Sean Astin in ‘The Goonies’ or Henry Thomas in ‘E.T.’ when he’s at the sink and he’s look­ing out the win­dow and the steam is ris­ing and he’s dream­ing of a bet­ter life. That in­spired me to write this story and then the guy who did that ended up ex­e­cut­ing my idea. It’s pretty great.”

“Ready Player One,” a Warner Bros. re­lease, is rated PG-13 by the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica for “se­quences of sci-fi ac­tion vi­o­lence, bloody im­ages, some sug­ges­tive ma­te­rial, par­tial nu­dity and lan­guage.” Run­ning time: 140 min­utes. Three stars out of four.

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