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