Star Wars, The Oasis, And What This Means
At one point, we see a younger Halliday arguing with Morrow about how he'd rather make worlds than rules, and wishes they could go back to when it (the OASIS, the company and maybe many other things in his life) was just a game to play around in. Even if the connection between the two men never consciously occurred to him otherwise, it's difficult not to think that Spielberg might have been able to relate to the sentiment; having been around to watch firsthand as Lucas (who always, it seems, preferred to tinker and experiment with filmmaking than produce full-scale features) mused about wanting to return to independent, smaller work but felt constrained by public demand for more and more Star Wars.
What that says about the ending of the film, of course, is a whole other set of subsequent questions. If Halliday is George Lucas, is Spielberg himself Morrow (played by Simon Pegg in the film as a fairly distinct departure from the more direct Wozniak-y of the novel)? Is Wade, this analogy, Kathleen Kennedy (or J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson)? Does that make IOI (the evil mega-corporation that wants to take over the OASIS and turn it into an ad-driven profit machine) the Disney, and thus we're living in the "bad version" of the story already?
Of course, it's very possible that no allusions to actual people were intended - or were even actively avoided; in much the same way that the film opts to downplay references to Spielberg's own filmography (although a T-Rex, possibly from Jurassic Park, did appear); leaving the 80s-obsession mainly to Halliday and Wade while imagining the rest of the OASIS as populated by a broader cross-section of familiar and obscure avatars.
Regardless, what's clear is that Spielberg (who is almost always heavily involved in plotting out the stories for his films), screenwriter Zak Penn and Cline himself keyed in on a much different take on Halliday in crafting the film; and that change seems to have informed the whole of the adaptation: a less cynical, less outwardly-dystopic take that trades nerdier-than-thou smugness for introspection as to the nature of why we feel nostalgia in the first place - and what we might gain by sparing a thought for the very real (and, often, somewhat fragile) humanity of the people who create the things we love, identify with and come to feel nostalgic for.
Few people are better equipped than Steven Spielberg to understand that side of the experience - but also to have seen (through more than one friend) what happens when people forget.
- Ready Player One (2018) release date: Mar 29, 2018