Steven Spielberg’s nostalgic sci-fi action film Ready Player One will have a surprise world premiere at SXSW on Sunday night. In fact the “surprise” isn’t much of a surprise. There had already been speculation that the film would hold a “secret” screening at this year’s festival. The movie stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Mark Rylance, Ben Mendelsohn, Mckenna Grace, Simon Pegg, T.J. Miller and Lena Waithe.
Based on the novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One takes place in a dystopian future where VR has become the primary means of escape. The story concerns a game inside the VR world OASIS where players race to find an easter egg worth a fortune. In OASIS, players adopt avatars and compete in contests. As the movie’s trailers have shown, most of the visuals in this world are built around pop culture artifacts from our own world. In Ready Player One’s future, everyone is apparently nostalgic for stuff from the 80s. When a young man named Wade Watts (Sheridan) uncovers the first clue to the easter egg’s whereabouts, he finds himself plunged into a dangerous adventure playing out both inside VR and in the real world.
As reported by Variety, Ready Player One will give the public its first look at Spielberg’s take on Cline’s novel Sunday night at SXSW. Janet Pierson, director of film at SXSW, said in a statement:
“We are thrilled to be premiering Ready Player One at SXSW. The film brings to the screen a story that has captivated millions of readers around the globe, written by Austin’s very own Ernest Cline. And in the hands of Steven Spielberg—inarguably one of our greatest directors—we know the film is going to be a special cinematic event for our attendees.”
SXSW previously held “secret” screenings for Furious 7 and T2: Trainspotting. The festival last year also helped launch big summer studio movies Baby Driver and Atomic Blonde.
Ready Player One certainly looks the part of a potential blockbuster. It’s based on a popular book. It appears to have stunning visuals. And all-time box office king Steven Spielberg directed it. Despite all this, there has been a lot of negative pre-release buzz about the movie. Much of the criticism has centered on the marketing, which has leaned heavily on the movie’s nostalgia angle. Indeed, Ready Player One looks positively stuffed with “do you remember” moments. Nostalgia for the 80s has of course has been rampant in movies for quite some time now. But Ready Player One looks to some like a potential jump-the-shark moment for the trend.
The move by Warner Bros. to give Ready Player One an SXSW screening could potentially reflect concern about the movie’s prospects. They could be hoping that, by giving festival audiences an early peek, they can begin building some positive word-of-mouth. And maybe then the conversation will be about the movie’s story and not the apparent nostalgia overload. But arguably, the studio itself is partly to blame for nostalgia dominating the conversation, by choosing to spotlight the nostalgia moments in their marketing, instead of the film’s own unique story and characters. Selling nostalgia instead of selling Spielberg doing sci-fi again could come back to bite WB in the end.