The movie with its thick cinematic ’80s pop culture and cinematic references and riveting VFX action already had audiences’ plugged in from the minute Steven Spielberg surprised the crowd onstage. The screams for the Warner Bros./Village Roadshow/Amblin production began promptly and continued throughout the screening as callbacks and nuances popped up not only from Spielberg’s oeuvre, but other iconic Hollywood pics as well. That said, there’s one key, riveting middle sequence, which will have audiences talking and laughing for some time (hint it doesn’t have anything to do with The Iron Giant or the DeLorean). Spielberg even asked the Austin crowd “Please preserve the secret of the movie, because you’re family now.”
Soon after that particular sequence, about an hour and a half into the film, the sound dropped during a VR battle scene. For a minute, audiences thought it was intentional, ala the spaceship explosion scene in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. However, even after restarting the sequence, the sound dropped again in Austin’s 103-year old Paramount Theater. In all fairness to the filmmakers, the Paramount is more a historical landmark than state-of-the-art-movie theater, but the pic is here in Austin due to the hometown love for author/scribe Ernest Cline and star Tye Sheridan. When the sound came back five minutes later, the theater roared to a deafening glee like Van Halen was returning to the stage for an encore concert performance.
“Let me first say this perhaps is the greatest anxiety attack I’ve ever had,” said Spielberg acknowledging the glitch to great cheers following the screening.
Sheridan said, “This is the best two hours of my whole life, except for the part when the movie stopped and the sound wasn’t working. That kind of sucked. But it did kind of build it up, didn’t it?” to which the audience roared.
Ready Player One has been one of the most VFX heavy films that Spielberg has ever worked on in his careeer.
“When I make a movie that I direct behind the camera, and I made a whole bunch of historical films like The Post and Bridge of Spies where I direct behind the camera, I’m pretty much in control of that. But when I decide to make a movie where I’m sitting in the audience with you, and I direct a movie in a seat next to you, that means I made the picture for you. And your reaction is everything, everything.”
Spielberg explained that before he read Cline’s YA novel, he read the author’s script adaptation for the movie which he wrote with Zak Penn. Set in Columbus, OH, in a not-too-far dystopian future, Ready Player One tells the story of a poor, advanced gamer Wade Watts (VR name Parzival) who in a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory obsession with the rest of the world pursues three keys in an impossible VR game world designed by a late Steve Jobs-type James Halliday. The winner who collects all the keys gets the controlling share in Halliday’s gaming company, and as a result becomes a trillionaire. Wade is assisted by a rag-tag rebellious posse including a girl he falls for, Samantha/Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), in keeping the keys out of the hands of a corporate ogre Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).
“When I read the book, the scene that made me say completely yes to the film was a four page dialogue scene between Parzival and Art3mis. It’s the most they ever take in the book together. If I can capture in a bottle and reduce it to movie length to get that relationship; because this is character movie as well as an action movie,” said the three-time Oscar winning filmmaker.
Spielberg also gave props to wife Kate Capshaw as an influence for making the movie. “My wife was jogging, and everyday when she went out and ran would listen to the book on tape. And this is not her kind of story, gaming. She’s never played a videogame in her life. You don’t have to play a videogame to understand the story. She came back to me after three days –I already decided to do it–she said, ‘Oh, there’s no decision to be made, you’re making this movie!”
Co screenwriter Zak Penn attributed the film’s quality to a “total team effort for three years on one screenplay. The reason why you see so many movies that are so bad is because directors don’t take the writers who they need and who they like and keep them in a team. That’s not the way that Steven Spielberg works.”
Spielberg told fans that the reason why he works on two movies at the same time, goes back to when he multi-tasked on 8MM films as a kid.
“I found when I had multiple projects, I don’t get lost on one. I’d come back to one with complete clarity and my objectivity is the thing that I fear the most losing. The second I become too subjective about something and get too inside the story, I can’t see it from the audience’s point of view. By doing several things at the same time, I get to have a renewal of objectivity.”