Ready Player One was either a fantastic tribute to nerd culture or an annoying slog filled with nostalgic pandering, it really depends on who you ask. But what usually isn’t up for debate—with a few exceptions—is how cool that whole The Shining sequence was. For many fans, it was an exciting tribute to a classic film. For director Steven Spielberg, it was an ode to a friend.
Spielberg recently chatted with Entertainment Weekly about why he chose to have The Shining serve as a quest location for the Jade Key hunt in Ready Player One, instead of WarGames, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or any other film sequence actually featured in Ernest Cline’s original book. On the surface, you’d think it was simply because it’s a cool set piece, full of iconic imagery and terrifying moments. But for Spielberg, the answer was much more personal—you might even call it “nostalgic.”
“It was nostalgic for me because I first met Stanley Kubrick on the set that I depict in Ready Player One,” Spielberg said. “The main living area with the grand fireplace in the Overlook is where I first encountered Stanley in 1979 when I went to look at the sound stages. They were about to build the sets for Raiders of the Lost Ark in Elstree Studios... When I found out Stanley had completed a set and was planning his shots, I asked if I could meet him.”
Their first encounter was a bit awkward, with Spielberg questioning why Kubrick was using a tabletop-sized replica of the Overlook Hotel to set up shots when “you’ve got the whole set!” But afterward, Kubrick invited him over for dinner and the two of them became very close friends, a relationship that lasted 19 years until Kubrick’s death in 1999. Ever since Spielberg has spent parts of his career paying tribute to his friend’s memory—first by completing one of Kubrick’s final dream projects, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, and now this.
There are lots of things to like about The Shining sequence in Ready Player One—for example, how they mixed physical and digital sets to ensure human actors wouldn’t look like they were on a green screen. Also that weird maze scene, which Spielberg said kind of came to life after the team spit-balled a bunch of weird, random ideas until a couple of them clicked.
“We did a whole series of thumbnail sketches just to try to break things open,” he said. “What if the hedge animals come to life and start chasing us? What if we go into the bathroom and all of a sudden it turns into a hamster wheel and you can’t get out? What if we take the hedge maze miniature that’s on the table in the original film and our characters are miniature, and a giant ax comes swinging through?”
But I think what I love the most about that scene is how it gave Spielberg himself a chance to be nostalgic about his own life, his relationships, and his work. He was infamously shy about referencing his own stuff in the film but didn’t shy away from honoring the cinematic legacy of his dearest friend. That is true nostalgia right there.