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Why Ready Player One was 'one of the hardest films Spielberg has ever made'

We take a look behind the scenes of the film.

Image: Jaap Buitendijk

Source: Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube

THERE’S A LOT riding on Steven Spielberg’s latest film Ready Player One, the follow-up to his Oscar-nominated The Post.

The films couldn’t be more different: while The Post occupies a period of time in recent history, Ready Player One plunges the viewer into a dystopian future, where the earth of 2045 is a hellish place to live.

Let’s gloss over the fact that 2045 isn’t actually that far away, and concentrate on what the future is like in this 2011 book by Ernest Cline: a place where people seek solace in a virtual reality world called Oasis.

The book is set in Columbus, Ohio, where people live in stacked-up trailer parks and the world is literally crumbling around them. Oasis provides them with a way to have fun, let loose, and escape what’s going on in the world outside.

READY PLAYER ONE Source: Jaap Buitendijk

At its heart, Ready Player One is fantasy – it’s about Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan) and his battle to find an easter egg hidden in Oasis, and win half a trillion dollars and control over the world of Oasis itself.

That means money’s to be made – so when Wade’s avatar looks like he’s getting close to the easter egg, nefarious forces appear to try and stop him.

When news came that the cult book was to be adapted into a film, a bit of backlash occurred – as Vox put it in its explainer:

How did the consensus on a single book go from “exuberant and meaningful fun!” to “everything that is wrong with the internet!” over the span of seven years?

It turned out that the answer was Gamergate, a battle within the gaming community over race, gender and the alt-right, which as Vox says “changed the way we talk about geek culture” and meant that books about this culture would no longer be treated as harmless fun.

But what did that mean for the film? It meant that at first, everything about the project came under a microscope, including the poster artwork:

The book and the film are jam-packed full of cultural references from the 1970s, 80s and 90s. And it’s this that’s bound to be a huge draw – with a serious penchant for nostalgia these days (think Stranger Things and It) people love being reminded of what they enjoyed as they were kids.

And there’s no better director for giving us nostalgia than the legendary Steven Spielberg.

There were nine references in Ernest Cline’s novel to seminal ‘80s classics produced or directed by Spielberg – including two mentions by name – but not all will make it to the screen.

80% of the pop culture references in the script were cleared to appear in the film – including King Kong, The Joker, Mobile Suit Gundam, Gandalf, Chucky, Freddy Krueger, Lara Croft, Duke Nukem, Chun-Li, Blanka, Sagot and Ryu from Street Fighter

Notably, Spielberg says Ready Player One was the third hardest film he’s ever made, following Jaws and Saving Private Ryan. Much of that must be due to the fact that it has two worlds in it: the real world and the virtual world. It’s quite a technological feat to manage to capture both of these.

Behind the scenes

READY PLAYER ONE Source: Jaap Buitendijk

The film involved two back-to-back productions – one captured on the virtual production stage at Warner Bros Studios Leavesden and the other a traditional live action film shoot on practical sets and real locations across the UK – then stitched together by Spielberg.

Four huge sets were created by production designer Adam Stockhausen and constructed on stages and the backlot at Leavesden, including Wade Watts’s home in the Stacks, a vertical slum of trailers piled high as skyscrapers.

As for this aspect, the towers in the Columbus Stacks were built from 60 actual trailers (or caravans) hauled onto the Leavesden backlot, then piled up layer by layer on a backbone of heavy steel girders in a collaboration between Stockhausen’s art department, led by senior art director Stuart Rose, and the special effects and stunt teams.

READY PLAYER ONE Source: Jaap Buitendijk

The first reviews of the film arrived this week, and it looks like the initial fears made way for a balanced look at the highs and lows of the film. So far, it has an 82% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 64% rating on Metacritic.

ABC News:

Yet Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” a rollicking virtual-world geekfest flooded by ’80s ephemera, doesn’t just want to wade back into the past. It wants to race into it at full throttle. For those who get their fix through pop nostalgia, “Ready Player One” is — for better or worse — an indulgent, dizzying overdose.

Chicago Tribune:

Lest we forget, “E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “A.I.” and “Minority Report,” to name four of the director’s achievements, sampled all sorts of established literary and screen classics. “Ready Player One” is a different and more disposable diversion. It’s like a visualization, however immersive and impressive, of movie trivia night down at the local bar. But as I say: By a whisker, Spielberg wins the race against his own material.

Consequence of Sound

To be fair, the pivot from movie to film never flat-out condemns VR or pop culture as much as it points out the flaws inherent in both. But even this conceit of finding a happy balance between fantasy and reality is glaringly unearned when considering that literally everything that’s good about Ready Player One comes from the OASIS.

Read: ‘The Celtic Tiger was ridiculous – it was a moment that needed to be dramatised’>

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