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At this point, it's hardly a secret that Ready Player One is a film chock full of Easter eggs and references. Like Ernest Cline's original book, it constructs an original story around an army of existing characters like The Iron Giant and Superman, which has drawn some criticism from certain corners of the internet for a perceived attempt to capitalize on nostalgia. With that in mind, CinemaBlend recently asked Ready Player One screenwriter Zak Penn to address those critiques during the film's recent press day in Los Angeles, and he downplayed them by reminding us that Ready Player One always had an original story at the center of its references. Penn explained:
I think I tweeted something to the effect of, if you think Steven Spielberg is going to make a movie that just fires a string of references at you, you must not have seen his films. I mean, I wouldn't write that either, but the idea that Steven would direct a movie like that seems insane. It's not like there's not a story in the book. There's a clear story and there's characters. Yes, at times Ernie goes on with his references because he likes to because it's a book and it's his right to. We were never going to have Wade read off a string of references or walk through the entire movie WarGames. Nor did Ernie want us to.
Zak Penn makes a clear point. While the references have become a major talking point in the conversation surrounding Ready Player One, it's worth remembering that the book and movie both tell one original story. It's all about Wade Watts (played by X-Men star Tye Sheridan in the film) searching for an Easter egg in the fictional OASIS, which will bring him fame and fortune if he locates it before anyone else. The story requires him to sift through an entire decade worth of pop culture, but those characters and stories aren't actually elements of the main Ready Player One story. The references are just there for fun.
From there, Zak Penn continued and explained how many of these critiques came about after online users saw a number of Overwatch characters in a trailer for the film. The screenwriter continued and clarified:
I obviously, given my age and the stuff that I do, I get all of the references and they're cool to me. But I never thought that the movie would live or die on its references. Even now when I read fans who are like 'Oh is it just gonna be a bunch of characters from Overwatch?' They just happen to be in the trailer. They're just background. It's just that everyone in the background happens to be either a created character or a licensed character.