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‘Ready Player One’: Only Steven Spielberg Could Make the ’80s Pop Culture/VR Mashup — Here’s Why

Without the iconic director, according to the film's writers, there's no way the highly anticipated adaptation could have ever happened.

Steven SpielbergWarner Bros. Pictures panel, Comic-Con International, San Diego, USA - 22 Jul 2017

Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

There’s no denying that Steven Spielberg has had a massive impact on pop culture for decades, and perhaps the ultimate living document of this fact will end up being the 2018 film “Ready Player One,” based on the fan favorite novel by  Ernest Cline and seeped in references to classic ’80s pop culture, while also depicting a grim view of the future.

During the Warner Bros. presentation at Comic-Con on Saturday, July 22, the legendary director (making his third-ever appearance in Hall H) was asked why he was fascinated by Cline’s novel. “It’s the most amazing flashforward and flashback at the same time — to a decade I was very much involved in as well as a future that I think is out there awaiting all of us whether we like it or not,” he said.

And it was lucky for Cline and the others involved that he was interested — because according to them, there was no way the film would have been made if Spielberg hadn’t made it.

“Ready Player One” imagines a version of the year 2045 where most of humanity lives in squalor, and chooses to escape into a virtual reality known as the Oasis, which is rich with nostalgic pop culture references, including some of Spielberg’s earlier films.

“I never thought it could be a movie,” Cline said, a sentiment screenwriter Zak Penn said that he shared.

“To be honest with you, I thought this would never happen,” Penn said. “I never thought we’d be able to make this movie, because we’d need someone like Steven Spielberg to direct it. And when they told me they were going to send it to him I was like, ‘oh, he’s never going to do it.'”

But Spielberg was intrigued, though when he first read the book, his initial reaction was “they’re going to need a younger director,” in part because of the density of the virtual world imagined by Cline.

“It’s the most complex movie I’ve ever worked on, and I think Steven might agree with me,” Penn added. “There was so much material, so much stuff in the book you can use — finding a way to winnow it down, that in itself was a challenge.”

But while events from the book might be condensed to some degree, expect the pop culture references to be amplified. “One of the most fun things was listening to Zak and Steven come up with fun things to insert into the film, and because it’s Steven a lot of people said yes,” Cline said.

Co-star T.J. Miller noted that “doesn’t like to reference his own movies in a meta way,” before unzipping his red Elliot-from-“E.T.”-style hoodie to reveal an airbrushed “E.T.” t-shirt. “I’m also wearing ‘Back to the Future’ shoes, in the full spirit of Comic-Con,” Miller said.

Speaking of “Back to the Future,” Cline revealed that not only does he drive a Delorean, but when he first met Spielberg he brought a piece of the car (the glove box lid) for Spielberg to sign.

“‘Have you ever signed a Delorean before?’ I asked him, and he said no. So then I said, you know who’s the only person in the world with a Steven Spielberg-signed Delorean?” Cline said to laughs.

It was a fitting fanboy moment, one that was just a part of what Cline called “the most amazing and gratifying experience of my life.”

“Like a lot of people in this room, I grew up watching this man’s movies and they’re kind of woven into the fabric of my DNA. They’re how I learned to become a storyteller,” he said.

“Ready Player One” premieres March 30, 2018. 

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