The screenwriters and cast discuss bringing Ernest Cline’s celebration of 1980s pop culture to the screen.
Ready Player One was born out of author Ernest Cline’s love for classic video games, as well as Roald Dahl’s book Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Golden Ticket in Cline’s story is an Easter egg that has been hidden in a vast virtual reality world – the OASIS – by its late creator, and the one who finds it will inherit his fortune.
With the clues and challenges within the OASIS informed by 1980s pop culture – everything from Back to the Future and WarGames, to Atari and Canadian rock band Rush – the players must be well versed in the movies, video games and music of the period to unlock the gates that will lead them to the ultimate prize.
“This is the ultimate eighties’ remix,” says T.J. Miller, who plays the villainous i-ROk.
“It samples everything from every type of pop culture and it’s going to reinforce the existence of that and encourage people to go back and see these movies that are referenced. That’s really cool.
“I had a Star Wars moment when I realised i-ROk is this bounty hunter and that he would look up to the greatest bounty hunter in science fiction, which is Boba Fett. And so in the film I do an impersonation of Boba Fett, which is both easy and hard because he only says like five lines in the entire trilogy. I really geeked out on that.”
Tye Sheridan, who plays protagonist Wade Watts – better known as his OASIS avatar, Parzival – adds: “The Iron Giant, for me. It’s one of my favourite movies ever.”
Cline, who co-wrote the screenplay with Zak Penn, says he set out to mash-up everything in pop culture and pay tribute to it all at once.
“The whole time I was writing the book, I never imagined there would be a movie. When I started work on the screenplay, I realised now it’s my job to turn this unfilmable book I’ve written into a movie, and that’s why I was so blessed to have Zak and Steven Spielberg come onboard, because they’re more experienced filmmakers and also passionate about movies and books and pop culture.
“So it’s working with like-minded people to reimagine it and make it cinematic. Even though things had to change [from the novel], invariably, they would always consult me and get my input on those changes.”
Penn and Cline also assisted in educating the younger cast members on some of the eighties’ references, which included teaching Sheridan how to properly hold an Atari controller, and introducing them to one-hit wonder bands.
“Music is such an important part of it and there was a lot of discussion about music during the writing process,” says Penn. “We debated which version of New Order’s Blue Monday to use – should it be the dance remix or the ’82 original?”
Penn also reveals that Cline could well be the ultimate geek. “Ernie knows more about pop culture than anyone I have ever met. I know a lot but I pale before him. What happened in the third episode of Knight Rider? Ernie knows. What did Steven Spielberg do on Tuesday in 1981? Ernie knows. It became a thing on set that we would ask Steven, ‘What’s something that no one would know about you?’ And he’d say, ‘Well, I shot second unit on Scarface for a day.’ So we’d text Ernie, and… Scarface! We could never stump him, and he wasn’t looking on the Internet, his answers were instantaneous.”
Ready Player One is in cinemas now. Steven Spielberg speaks to STACK.