The latest trailer for Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One dropped this week, and it's a sweeping piece full of tension, emotion, and a feeling of high-stakes adventure, all set to a rousing cover of the classic song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, "Pure Imagination." It is, in no uncertain terms, a great trailer. Why hasn't the marketing been like this so far?
Up to this point, the marketing for Ready Player One, based on Ernest Cline's debut novel, has been a scattershot mess of pop culture references with little context to tie it all together. As cool as it is to see The Iron Giant fighting alongside Overwatch's heroes and Halo's Spartans, the end result is that the film seems like bait for nostalgic YouTube Easter Egg videos, rather than any kind of intelligent discussion. The original trailer presented the film's context in a rather dry manner, covering its dry narration with first glimpses at iconic pop culture images like Back to the Future's De Lorean car, a Gundam, Chucky from Child's Play, King Kong, and more.
What did Warner Bros. get so wrong initially, and is it possible for them to turn things around?
This Page: Where Warner Bros. Went Wrong
The Problem With Ready Player One's Marketing
Nostalgia can only take a film so far. TV and the multiplex are packed with revivals to long-dormant franchises, from Star Wars and The X-Files to Creed and Mad Max, but they all succeeded in their way because they had a greater purpose than empty feelings of childhood: the latest batch of Star Wars movies have aimed to build on their immense legacy, and Creed's use of the Rocky character will go down in history as one of the great "distant sequels" of all time, but there's got to be more than that.
Indeed, the original Ready Player One book earned its share of criticism for leaning too hard on iconic images from other mediums, be they from film or video games, to the point where the call-backs to other works of art couldn't help but get in the way of the story at hand. There is a tight, engaging tale, rife with social commentary and a bittersweet outlook on humanity's future, but it's arguably overshadowed by, "Ooh, Ultraman, fun!"
This perception of the novel is held by many who easily dismiss it as trite and shallow, and the first trailer for the film didn't do much to dissuade doubters. While the spectacle on display is undeniable, the overall look and feel of the trailer is more akin to a video game than a movie, which raises the question: "why not just make Ready Player One a video game instead of a movie?"
Of course, the film is directed by Steven Spielberg, an undisputed master of his craft, so it's almost certainly understood that the finished film will contain more of the heart and soul present in the more recent trailer. On the flipside, however, that also puts the movie in a bad place. If audiences go in expecting a full-on nostalgia-fest, yet find that the pop culture appearances are mere cameos with no substance to their roles, those would-be fans are going to be pretty upset. They might even feel tricked.
All in all, Ready Player One is in an unenviable position of being a month out from release, lacking in identity, and having its one marketing tool – nostalgia – already feeling played out.
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