Steven Spielberg’s new fantasy, Ready Player One is based on the novel of the same name, written by Ernest Cline. It was published in 2011 and spent over 100 weeks on New York Times best sellers list, and became a worldwide phenomenon.
Set in the year 2045, the real world is a severe and unforgiving place, where a group of friends, known as the High Five, led by Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, X-Men: Apocalypse) escapes daily into an immersive virtual universe known as the Oasis. There they can go anywhere, be anyone – they are only limited by their imaginations.
When the creator of the Oasis, James Halliday (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies) dies, he leaves his vast fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest. Wade and his friends immediately join the treasure hunt, unaware that they are trying to not only save the Oasis, but their world.
Steven Spielberg, a three time Oscar winning producer/director (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan), came to the Goya Studios in Hollywood to talk about his new movie which opens on March 29th, 2018.
Ready Player One - Steven Spielberg with Ernest Cline
Ready Player One – Director / Producer Steven Spielberg with Novelist Ernest Cline ©2017 Warner Bros

What was it about this story and characters that made you want to make the film?

I think anybody who read the book that was connected at all with the industry would have loved to have made this into a movie.

The book had seven movies in it, maybe twelve. It was just a matter of trying to figure out how to tell the story about this competition, and of these (two) worlds. And to make it both an express train, racing toward the third act and, at the same time, make it a cautionary tale about leaving us the choice.

Where do we want to exist? Do we want to exist in reality or do we want to exist in an escapist universe? Those themes were so profound for me.

As a filmmaker do you feel something different when you’re making something that is escapist?

For me, this film was my great escape. This was a film, for me, that fulfilled all of my fantasies of places I go in my imagination. So I got to live this for three years. I got to escape into the imagination of Ernest Cline and Zak Penn (who wrote the screenplay with Cline,) it was amazing. But I came back to earth a couple of times. I made Bridge of Spies and The Post while I was making Ready Player One.

I got that whiplash effect of going from social reality to total escapist entertainment.

Ready Player One - Steven Spielberg
Ready Player One – Director / Producer Steven Spielberg on set ©2017 Warner Bros

There’s so much passion, joy and imagination in this film.

I had a passionate and amazing cast. I think their combined ages were younger than me. So I fed off that energy.

Ernie gave us a playground to basically become kids again. We made the movie in an abstract set. We all had virtual reality goggles, and inside the goggles was a complete build of the set you saw when you saw the movie. The only way the cast had a chance to understand where they were (was to wear the goggles); but when (they) took the goggles off it was a 4,000 square foot white empty space called a volume. So the actors had a chance to say, ‘Okay, if I walk over there, there’s the door,’

It was really an out-of-body experience to make this movie and it’s very hard to really express what that was like.

Why was the 80’s used as the virtual world?

It was a decade where there wasn’t global and domestic turbulence, chaos and seismic change. In the sixties we had seismic change with the Civil Rights Movement, with the assassinations of Jack and Bobby Kennedy. There were all these different eras, and Ernie focused on the 80’s in his book.

Ready Player One - Steven Spielberg
Ready Player One – Director / Producer Steven Spielberg inspects the Delorean car on set ©2017 Warner Bros

There are so many iconic symbols in the Oasis. Why wasn’t the mother ship from Close Encounters in the movie?

There comes a point where you just defer to somebody else who liked my movies, and not make a movie about my movies. There were a couple of iconic characters from my films, especially the Delorean, which came from the book directly. Otherwise, there were a lot of things we could have put in that we didn’t.

Can you talk about your relationship with nostalgia and how that might have changed over the years?

That’s a great question, because I have the most intimate relationship with nostalgia. And it’s based on the fact that when I was 11-years-old I started taking 8 mm movies of my family on camping trips growing up in Arizona.

When videotape came in, I started taking videotapes. And then I started taking my 8 mm sound movie camera when I was hanging around with Coppola, Lucas, Scorsese and DePalma, that whole group back in the seventies. I’ve got something like sixty hours of footage of all of us growing up, making movies together which someday could make an interesting documentary, if I can get the rights (from) any of these guys – probably 80% of the footage they would not want released.

And today in my life I do all the videos of my family growing up. I have a really great editor, Andy, in our office, and he cuts together the whole year in the life of my family. All my children, my grandchildren, and we have screenings called the Annual Family Video. So I basically live in nostalgia.

Ready Player One - Steven Spielberg and Tye Sheridan
Ready Player One – Director / Producer Steven Spielberg and Wade Owen Watts / Parzival (Tye Sheridan) on set ©2017 Warner Bros

The audience at the South by Southwest premiere of the movie was very enthusiastic. Can you talk about their reaction?

I was hiding in the back. I heard a lot of it. I’ve made a lot of movies and I’ve gotten a lot of interesting reactions to my films, but I’ve never heard anything like this before.

I was shaking hands with a lot of people that came forward while we were leaving the stage. Somebody yelled out, ‘I have the line you should use as an ad for this movie – Make America Feel Good Again.’

Ready Player One - Steven Spielberg
Ready Player One – Director / Producer Steven Spielberg with giant robot on set ©2017 Warner Bros

Steven Spielberg Soundbyte

Special effects has changed so much in thirty years, I asked Steven Spielberg if he was ever frustrated and wanted to redo the effects on his older movies. Click here to listen to his reply.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.