In what maybe the perfect sythesis of director and material, it seems that Steven Spielberg has claimed the right to make the film version of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, a novel that Hollywood’s been very eager to adapt since even before it was published. The book takes place in a virtual reality environment where various “players” search out the one Easter egg that will let them take control of said world. So why is Spielberg the perfect man for the job? The book includes several mentions of the master’s work and references to his 70s/80s heyday with hits like the Indiana Jones trilogy, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, and The Goonies.
Deadline announced Spielberg will join forces with Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow to bring the film to life. If you love the book and are excited about the possibilities of having Spielberg on board to direct, chill out because this will be the filmmaker’s project after his next project. Next up for Spielberg is the release of the Cold War drama Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks, and later this year we’ll start another adaptation based on the fantasy book by Roald Dahl called The BFG. So this will be unlikely to hit the big screen before 2017, or late 2016 at the earliest (sometimes Spielberg does back-to-back projects).
Those logistics are relatively easy to figure out though, the real challenge of Ready Player One will be the mind-boggling number of references to various movies, video games and other cultural touchstones that are mentioned in the book. “Clearance” is the term in movie and TV production for getting permission to use all the various trademarks, and to put this simply, Clearance for Ready Player One is going to be a bitch.
To begin, let’s remind you of the novel’s plot:
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
To give you some idea of what all’s referenced in the book – including Atari games, Dungeons & Dragons, Marvel and DC comic books, Saturday morning cartoons of the 80s, Ghostbusters, Star Trek, TRON, and the music of R.E.M. and Oingo Boingo – can be found here. Basically, Ready Player One is a Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or The LEGO Movie of 80s nostalgia. Although directors like Robert Zemeckis, Peter Jackson, and Christopher Nolan had all been mentioned as possible directors, perhaps the influence of Spielberg will part the red tape and make getting approval to use all these references an easier process.
The more interesting question than the legal one is the cultural one. I’m guessing that the references to his own work and the vivid reality created in the pop culture mash-up is what appealed to Spielberg, who, even if he wasn’t directly involved in the film, show or other item referenced, was still highly influential on the era. In many regards, Spielberg and his successes was the dragon everyone in Hollywood was chasing in the 80s, and his ability to make, find and develop material that was instantly appealing to a mass audience. So if Spielberg gets any more meta on this he might as well hire Senor Spielbergo, his cheap Mexican equivalent.
A note of caution though, Spielberg is very well-known for signing onto projects that never come to fruition, or come to fruition under different filmmakers years later. Somewhere, the script for Robopocalypse is gathering dust on a shelf. Or a hard drive more likely.
We’ll have more news on Ready Player One the movie as it develops.