Steven Spielberg just put his quarter into the game.
The filmmaker’s adaptation of the virtual gaming epic Ready Player One is officially a go, with plans to have it in theaters on Dec. 15, 2017.
It’s based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, set in the year 2044, when America is an impoverished wasteland where people escape into the utopia of a virtual-reality simulation that is packed with worlds dedicated to geek nostalgia from the 1970s and ‘80s.
Many of the movies and games obsessed over by the characters in the story are, ironically, the very types of tales Spielberg pioneered early in his career. The story centers on a high-school kid operating under the handle Parzival, who goes on a quest to uncover clues to controlling this digital kingdom. (“Parzival,” in a case of some very retro pop culture, is one of the knights of Arthurian legend who searched for the Holy Grail.)
In Cline’s book, this infinite, digital world known as OASIS was created by the late James Halliday, one of the richest and most powerful individuals in the real world, whose death triggers a treasure hunt: All of his money and dominion over the virtual world will be awarded to anyone who uncovers (and solves) a series of puzzles and riddles based on the classic arcade games, TV shows, and music that Halliday grew up with.
Anyone can play, but to find them and figure them out, players must have a deep knowledge of vintage pop culture, which triggers a tsunami of retro-geek analysis around the globe. There are countless individual competitors, but the tech corporation IOI is among the most ruthless, eager to claim OASIS among its holdings — and make it a haven for those who can afford to pay.
If the film maintains fidelity to Cline’s novel, Spielberg will be calling in intellectual property favors on the magnitude of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which united scores of cartoon characters owned by competing studios. It’s one thing to name-drop pop-culture touchstones in a book, but it’s another to get Atari, Dungeons & Dragons, John Hughes movies, and Star Wars all in one motion picture.
Warner Bros., which is releasing the film, previously worked with Spielberg on Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The studio also released two films he produced, Gremlins and The Goonies, which are exactly the type of movies the characters in Ready Player One worship as sacred texts.