The advertising for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, which hits theaters on March 29th, treads a weird tonal line. Most of it presents the story of pop-culture-obsessed future teenager Wade Watts as cool and exciting. But occasionally, the marketing feels like a surprisingly cutting takedown of the film’s own premise. And I’m not sure where its newest promotional stunt, a series of elaborate movie poster mash-ups, is supposed to fall.
If you’re not familiar with Ready Player One, it’s set primarily in a virtual world called the OASIS, essentially a giant VR amalgamation of 20th century pop culture. So, naturally, the new images recreate iconic film posters using the virtual avatars of Ready Player One’s various characters. (You can see a full roundup at Slashfilm.) Half of them look like they’re advertising some kind of pseudo-anime remake of Bullitt or The Lost Boys — they’re conceptually silly, but seamlessly made, like so:
These posters play on the instinct Cline’s book is trying to exploit: “Wouldn’t it be cool to star in your favorite movie?” (Or, perhaps in this case, “Wouldn’t it be cool to star in your favorite movie and look like the ‘non-threateningly attractive’ member of an uncanny valley boy band?”)
But for a few of the posters — like the riff on The Matrix, below — the aesthetic looks more like something you’d get if you handed a teenager a cracked copy of Photoshop.
It’s crude, awkward… and a pretty accurate depiction of how attempts at self-insert fan fiction usually turn out. In other words, its terribleness makes it kind of great. It’s a more interesting and self-aware take on how cultural references confer — or totally fail to confer — coolness on the people making them.
The same goes for this Rambo: First Blood Part II poster, where Wade Watts’ avatar interprets “deadly resolve” as “mild apprehension,” and displays a surprising reticence to doff his shirt and popped-collar jean jacket for the sake of aesthetic accuracy.
It seems unlikely that Ready Player One will make fun of its own heroes quite this effectively. But the poster stunt at least gives me hope that this clip from the last trailer was meant to be ironic.