For a novel absolutely dripping with nostalgia, the film version of Ready Player One was no less jam-packed.
**Spoiler warning: Massive spoilers for Ready Player One below**
From Garbage Pail Kid stickers to King Kong and Rubik's Cubes, there was enough nostalgia to go around for everybody to find something from their childhoods. But certain elements pack more of a punch than others. While the book was a nearly endless stream of "Hey, remember this?" name-dropping, Steven Spielberg has found a way to expertly navigate the fine line between a retro binge and an engrossing story that happens to use pop culture icons from the past.
For a movie that practically begs for repeat viewings to catch all the nostalgia, here's a list of some of the best uses of nostalgia in the film, along with a few missed opportunities.
Rush (Missed Opportunity)
Once again, the Canadian rock back Rush has been denied the place of prominence it so rightly deserves. This wouldn't be so surprising or considered a missed opportunity if we hadn't seemingly been promised the group's music with the inclusion of "Tom Sawyer" in one of the early trailers for the film. It brought chills during the trailer, but just seeing a 2112 poster on a wall and T-shirt on Samantha hardly makes up for the lack of seminal prog rock in Ready Player One.
Pac-Man (Missed Opportunity)
Other than some flashes in the background, Ready Player One is devoid of Pac-Man Fever. In the novel, Parzival achieves a perfect game by completing all 256 levels before the arcade game's memory was overloaded beyond capacity, making the game unplayable. For this, he was rewarded with the 1981 quarter, which in the movie was given to him by the Curator. A pivotal plot point in the book was instead relegated to a lone Pac-Man cocktail table in Aech's lair, some stickers on a visor, and some Atari 2600 box art on Halliday's childhood bedroom wall.
Saturday Night Fever (Missed Opportunity)
Disco sucks! When Art3mis and Parzival meet up at the Distracted Globe to try and use their newly-discovered key we're treated (?) to a levitating dance featuring the Bee Gee's Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I know the OASIS allows users to access nearly anything they want, but there are a seemingly infinite number of songs that would have played better to the target audience than an overplayed disco hit. "Thriller," anyone? There were few groan-worthy parts in RPO, but this was certainly one.
Dungeons and Dragons (Missed Opportunity)
At first glance, it would seem that Dungeons & Dragons was almost completely missing from Ready Player One. To readers of the novel and fans of D&D, it had to be disappointing that the entire "Tomb of Horrors" plot line was scrapped. Sure, the iconic logo popped up in the background while Parzival shopped for his arsenal, creator Gary Gygax was name-dropped, and astute viewers may have noticed a 20-sided polyhedron inside the glowing Orb of Osuvox (an obvious nod to 20-sided dice used in playing the RPG).
Sure, the orb wasn't canon, but even the incantation I-roc used to activate the 99th-level magical artifact wasn't a nod to D&D but rather Merlin's Charm of Making from Excalibur.
Other than a "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" peek at a Raiders of the Lost Ark poster and a shot of a T-Rex that may or may not be from Jurassic Park, Back to the Future is one of the few self-referential properties that Steven Spielberg allowed to be used in Ready Player One.
Although we already knew we'd be treated to the Delorean by watching the movie's trailer, seeing it play as an integral part in the race to the first gate and coming back again for the final battle was truly satisfying. The only thing we were denied was a sweet sweet acceleration to 88 miles per hour.
A Chestburster from Alien ripped through the Goro disguise used by Art3mis at the Halliday archives to both comedic and startling effect. The fact that she used the chomping jaws as a puppet immediately after startling Parzival chased any lingering effects from the jump scare away with laughter from the audience. Other than Ripley's rifle being used later in the film, I think this may be the only reference to the 1979 movie Alien, but it was done surprisingly well.
Godzilla was a huge crowd-pleaser in my screening, but I have to say I was a little disappointed when I realized the mechanical lizard materializing for Ben Mendelsohn's Sorrento during the final battle wasn't Grimlock from Transformers. That mild disappointment was quickly squelched by the tail-lashing destruction unleashed from the creature that first made its appearance in 1974's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. The fire-breathing demise of a defiant Daito was icing on the cake.
The '80s cultural icon Rubik's Cube was a pleasant surprise, but when they casually called it a Zemeckis cube, my ears perked up a little. The reason for the name change was made apparent when the valuable artifact was used to save Parzival and Art3mis from certain defeat at the Distracted Globe by making time reverse 60 seconds so they could escape. The concept was great, but it was the instantly recognizable Alan Silvestri theme from Back to the Future (which was directed by Robert Zemeckis) that made it magical. If only the Zemeckis cube went back in time long enough to save us from that dreadful Saturday Night Fever dance!
There were few things in this movie more hilarious than the murderous living doll from the '80s movie of the same name used as a weapon in the final battle against Sorrento's hordes. The fact Chucky was instantly trying to stab Parzival before he could throw him into throngs of IOI minions was a nice touch and added to the humor. The audience was already giggling, but when you saw just how much damage the creepy nightmare fuel did to players in the OASIS, the laughter was overwhelming. It was an unexpectedly brilliant touch. It was a much better use of a horror icon than the throwaway shot of Freddy Krueger being vaporized in the first few minutes of the movie. We'll have to wait for the Blu-ray to see if Jason or Michael Myers made the cut.
While there were many crowd-pleasing moments during Ready Player One, none was more so that hearing Daito say "I choose Gundam" before kicking serious butt as the iconic mecha robot from 1979's Mobile Suit Gundam. The fact that Daito kept his cool and waited patiently before joining the fight helped to build the reveal. Sure, it was a blatant nostalgia grab, but the fact that Spielberg gave us a movie with Gundam fighting against Mechagodzilla is the stuff of geek fantasy.
"We're not worthy! We're not worthy!"
Surprised this made the list? Me too. Even though I knew RPO would be chock full of pop culture, Madballs were nowhere on my radar. Seeing the mummified Dust Brain Madball be used as bomb was such an obscure reference, I may have squeed with glee. The fact that this gross-out toy first laughed maniacally before first spraying skin-melting ooze then exploding to destroy the giant baddie is something seven-year-old me never expected to see in my lifetime. Although half the audience may not recognize a Madball, and it was only a quick blast-from-the-past callout, it was executed with perfection.
For fans of a certain age, The Iron Giant holds a dear place in their hearts. Seeing the massive lumbering robot from Aech's workshop used in the final fight was super satisfying, but still worked for the movie even if you didn't happen to recognize it as the titular character from the Brad Bird-directed animated feature.
Some viewers may argue that the anti-violence spirit of the character was sacrificed for cheap thrills, but most of the audience seemed to agree it was just awesome! The bittersweet end of the Iron Giant was made even better by the hilarious nod to another pop culture staple, Terminator 2.
Retro gaming was a huge fixture in the book, so even though we didn't get the Joust battle in the movie, it was still nice to see Atari play such a pivotal role. Unlike many other pieces of nostalgia that just appear in the background, the prominent use of the classic wood grain Atari console, and the game Adventure in particular, was a clever love song to Warren Robinett, who graced us with the first ever in-game "Easter Egg" and showed us that playing to win isn't always the most important thing. It may not be as action-packed as some of the earlier references, but it's a loving nod to a childhood staple that spawned a billion-dollar industry that continues to this day.
Not only was the surprise inclusion of the movie The Shining a complete shock to fans of the Ready Player One novel, it's probably the most welcomed new addition. With a mix of humor and horror, watching Aech, Parzival and the rest of the High Five navigate the movie filled with tidal waves of blood, creepy twins, decaying corpses, and an ax-wielding madman was the highlight of the movie. Cleverly used to solve the mystery of a creator who hates his creation (Stephen King didn't like Stanley Kubrick's film), The Shining scenes delved deep to advance the plot, inject some fun, and went far beyond "Remember this?"