Decoding Ready Player One
Let's press play. It’s time to deconstruct the new trailer for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. The movie about the quest to unravel clues that will grant the winner ownership of a virtual-reality universe is packed with references to video games, movies, and TV shows of the past. Off we go …
The trailer opens with Tye Sheridan’s Wade Watts (who got his name because his dad thought it had good superhero alliteration) walking through a junkyard on the way to his hideout, where he keeps his visor and haptic suit. What strikes me is how much the character looks like a young, babyfaced Spielberg.
It's the year 2045, and this is where Wade lives, where a lot of people live: the Stacks. Trailers welded together in Jenga-like structures. Remember Madballs from the ’80s? One of the snarling characters is rendered in graffiti in the lower right. This is the first of many throwbacks.
In the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline, who co-wrote the screenplay, Wade lives with with his aunt, along with several other squatters, and his bedroom is the top of the washing machine. All night long, a giant screen outside his window projects dream imagery at him. The song playing is “World in My Eyes,” by Depeche Mode.
Even people living on the streets in squalor scrape together money to lose themselves in virtual-reality visors and immerse themselves in the OASIS, which is free for all. If the corporate overlords were ever to seize ownership of this program, they would make it costly to join, locking out the impoverished who see this alternate world as their only getaway.
Bridge of Spies Oscar winner Mark Rylance plays James Halliday, the creator and owner of the OASIS, who — upon his death — pledges half a trillion dollars and ownership of the virtual world to whoever can solve his riddles.
Rylance has a somewhat Gene Wilder look in this film, which may be a tip of the purple top hat to Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
, which provided inspiration for Cline’s story. The pins on his lapel are hard to discern, but the obvious one is the old Milton Bradley touch game Simon
— as in “Simon says.”
That would be Steve Jobs. He may have been the force behind the iPhone, but Halliday created an entirely new universe. Godlike, he now commands his admirers in a quest from beyond his own life.
This Wired magazine cover goes by in a flash, but there's a QR code in the lower corner. Maybe it leads to something?
Ben Mendelsohn plays Nolan Sorrento, an executive with Innovative Online Industries, or IOI, whose initials look a little like a TIE Fighter from Star Wars. He wants to solve Halliday’s riddle and take ownership of the OASIS, mostly because there’s a fortune to be made with it — but also because he feels human beings have become apathetic about fixing the world’s problems since there’s an easy escape for them. He wants to make it harder (and costlier) to enter a new reality.
Here we see Wade Watts’ alter ego, Parzival (named after the knight Percival from Arthurian legend), as he loads into the OASIS, taking the form of a stylized, aspirational young hero — rather than a geeky, ordinary-looking kid from the Stacks.
The first major part of the quest is a race to recover the Copper Key. Here you see the 1960s Batmobile, the V8 interceptor from Mad Max, the Mach Five from Speed Racer, and the van from The A-Team lined up for the competition amid hundreds of generic IOI egg hunters.
Where we're going, we don’t need roads
Parzival’s ride is familiar to any movie fan — the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future, one of the only references in Ready Player One to a movie Spielberg helped make. You can hear some of the score from the Robert Zemeckis time-travel movie at the end of this trailer.
In this closeup of Parzival, you see the characters in this digital realm aren’t meant to look photoreal. They have a texture to them that’s almost pixelated. If they look a little like video games, that’s because they are video games.
Parzival meets Art3mis (played by Olivia Cooke), a warrior-goddess rival in the quest to unlock Halliday's puzzle. In the background of this dance club are numerous familiar figures, including the behemoth Blanka from Street Fighter and a bartender wearing one of the terraced red hats of the band Devo.
Art3mis gets physical with Parzival in their virtual forms in an erotically charged shot.
We see the handprints of Art3mis rising up the chest of Wade’s haptic suit. These garments allow users to feel sensation — sometimes pleasurable, but pain is also possible. Actual humans can get injured from their suits if they take a severe enough hit.
Movie fans love a good Easter egg hunt, and this is the grand prize of Ready Player One — an actual egg. Here we see it displayed like a relic in the Vatican. Written across the walls are some words from Halliday’s invitation:
Three hidden keys open three secret gates
Wherein the errant will be tested for worthy traits
And those with the skill to survive these straits
Will reach The End where the prize awaits
Her vehicle of choice is the motorbike from the anime film Akira. In this shot, you can also see she’s a Wonder Woman fan from the logo affixed just below the windshield.
Art3mis passes another major character, Wade’s goliath-like friend Aech, who is piloting the Bigfoot monster truck during the Copper Key race.
Here you see Aech doing a little happy dance during the race. Just because Art3mis slipped ahead at one point does not mean the contest is lost for our other friend and hero.
A wizard hands Wade one of the keys — but this is no ordinary Dungeons & Dragons man of magic. Halliday's own avatar in the OASIS was a Gandalf-like sorcerer named Anorak. This appears to be him, handing over the spoils of victory for one part of the puzzle.
Art3mis is actually a young woman named Samantha, and during the quest she and Wade become allies both within the OASIS and in real life. Here, she welcomes him to "the revolution."
What she didn’t mention is that the revolution would also apparently include Dance Dance Revolution.
You’ve got the touch, part 2
As innovative as the haptic suits may be, nothing can beat the embrace of a real loved one in the real world.
The Joker and Harley Quinn are shook.
As the soundtrack shifts to Van Halen’s “Jump,” we’re treated to a scene of King Kong leaping from a digital Empire State Building, with a vexing biplane circling the skyscaper. Although the OASIS is steeped in ’80s pop culture, a movie from the 1930s can still sneak in. Some things are timeless.
In this battle sequence, you see Chun-Li from Street Fighter raising her arm alongside Tracer from the present-day video game Overwatch. Behind them to the left is Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. Again, although most of the OASIS is defined by the ’80s and ’90s, it’s a world where users can create any identity they like.
It’s a little hard to tell who’s who in this massive crowd scene, but the Battletoads,
a 1991 rival to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
, appear to be leading the charge.
Art3mis and Parzival meet the Curator, a figure who controls some of the publically available archive about Halliday and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) and their efforts to create the OASIS.
In Cline’s book, Parzival secures an extra life by playing a perfect game of Pac-Man. That extra life comes in the form of a digital 1981 quarter. Maybe watching a character play a retro video game isn’t the most cinematic of dramas …
… And it appears the Curator is giving Parzival a coin. Could the archive have contained a puzzle that leads them to this reward? Always go to your library for research, kid. Libraries hold unexpected treasures.
Just like Henry V and the famous St. Crispin’s Day battle speech (“We happy few, we band of brothers”), Parzival gets his moment to lead: “Like many of you, I came here just to escape. But I found something much bigger than just myself. Are you willing to fight?”
In the snowy battle scene, Parzival rallies the troops not by raising a sword, but by lifting a boombox — an homage to John Cusack’s iconic scene from Say Anything. Those answering the call include DC’s Deadshot.
A giant flying robot that can shapeshift into a jet rises to heed the call.
So does the murderous little doll Chucky, seen here taking out an IOI egg hunter.
And of course, a massive horde of followers also joins the charge, towered over by the Iron Giant. With friends like these, how can Parzival lose?