San Diego Comic-Con take note: SXSW one-upped y’all on their preview night.

While TV episode screenings and B-grade pic previews are de rigueur the evening before Comic-Con, Warner Bros. and HBO created experiences tonight so that SXSW denizens could literally live within their respective upcoming projects, Ready Player One (March 29) and season 2 of Westworld (April 22).

Both Time Warner labels should consider taking these pop-up 3D sets on the road to raise excitement even more in the days leading up to these projects’ debuts. Recent examples of such cool ‘live the movie’ stunts connected to studio tentpole launches include the haunted house re-creation from New Line’s It last fall in Los Angeles and F I F T Y, the Christian Grey multi-room experience that Universal staged prior to Fifty Shades Freed‘s opening.

Thursday night began with a visit to HBO’s recreated Westworld‘s Sweetwater town, 17 miles outside of Austin in J. Lorraine, Texas.


HBO really committed to this. They put attendees in white and black cowboy hats (really good Stetsons, nothing fake), and had white-dress clad Delos models guiding us and making introductions in the foyer as folks segued to the theme park’s western train. It was akin to walking in Logan (Ben Barnes) and William’s (Jimmi Simpson) spurs. And instead of traveling to Delos/Westworld by train, bus was the primary means of transportation.


However, upon arrival, those attending the Westworld experience received a little shock (it is Westworld, right?), and not in the sense of the robots turning on their masters. The bus made a hard turn into the park, forcing its back wheel into a ditch, and leaning the vehicle significantly toward its right side. There was some actual concern from those on board: Could the bus tip? If the vehicle moved forward, it would take out a sign, and backing up onto a busy road wasn’t an option. However, everyone kept their cool and quickly disembarked.

Once inside, attendees walked amid a sea of bartenders, horses, Delos employees, rough riders, prostitutes, and village people all of whom had a great sense of play that rivaled the colonial thespians at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. Take a gander at this saloon fight:


But the big hint from the pop-up town tonight was this guy on the right: The Samurai warrior from Westworld’s sister park Samurai world. He was aimlessly wandering the park, shooting scary looks at everyone. While we all know that season 2 will deal with Samurai World, this guy’s presence provides a sign that Delos possibly loses even more control over the parks to the extent that the Samurai hosts start straying beyond their borders into Sweetwater. Another catch tonight was that if you wandered deep enough on the two-acre-plus property, you’d catch behind-the-scenes Delos tech moments of their architect hand-crafting the bare bones of a host.

Traveling back to downtown Austin, Warner Bros. took over Brazos Hall, a two story city block with Ready Player One‘s 1980s-futuristic world crafted by the pic’s Oscar-winning production designer Adam Stockhausen. Inside was a place in which Westworld attendees traded their stetsons for Devo hats; their BBQ and card playing for VR goggles and 1980s arcade games, as well as photos with the Iron Giant and the Back to the Future DeLorean. Stockhausen’s fingerprints ran from ground to ceiling in the venue including an A.I.-Kubrickian-like Infinity Room from Ready Player One (see below) as well as the trailer park-like cottages which we see stacked in movie spots.

HTC Vive VR rooms were a plenty with Ready Player One infused 1980s pong games like Smash in play as well as pop hits from Depeche Mode and Michael Jackson cranked up on the speakers; a futuristic disco meets arcade. Ready Player One star Tye Sheridan even showed up to try his hand at VR-DJ-ing (take a look at above clip). On Sunday, there’s a Twitter livestream with Sheridan and other cast members Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Win Morisaki, Philip Zhao and Ben Mendelsohn, as well as screenwriter Zak Penn, and author/screenwriter/co-producer Ernest Cline.

Today Ready Player One hit tracking with a 4-day domestic opening range of $35M-$42M with some thinking it could make as much as $60M-plus over the long Easter holiday. However, what those numbers aren’t factoring in is the big social media blast that Ready Player One will receive coming out of SXSW this weekend, not just with these stunts, but from its upcoming surprise screening. The promotional push on this Steven Spielberg Amblin/Village Roadshow pic is just getting warmed up.