“He was really handing over his child to someone else,” the Steven Spielberg collaborator says of the film’s most intimate scene.
[This story contains spoilers for Ready Player One]
For composer Alan Silvestri, Ready Player One was a blast from the past, with him not only revisiting his work in Back to the Future, but also helping re-create an iconic piece of movie history.
In one of the film’s more crowd-pleasing moments, Parzival (Tye Sheridan) and his team of Easter egg hunters head to the Overlook Hotel, the setting of Stanley Kubrik’s 1980 adaptation of The Shining. There they must solve a puzzle on their quest to save the virtual universe known as the OASIS.
This version of the Overlook used both physical sets and CGI to re-create the haunting location of the original Kubrick film. Director Steven Spielberg was adamant about the sequence’s authenticity and Silvestri’s work was key to that.
“Steven wanted the original score, to be faithful to that film,” said Silvestri, who took inspiration from the music by TheShining‘s Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind. “It was very fun to re-create that and see how he mirrored the shots in the film.”
Despite the film’s futuristic setting, Silvestri didn’t want to go for a futuristic sound that might date the film or make it feel emotionally hollow.
“With this score, I never tried to project the idea of what music in 2045 would sound like. It was all about playing on the emotion of the characters and playing up the action, which has a very timeless feeling,” he said.
Crafting the climax scene’s score was especially challenging for Silvestri. The scene sees Parzival meet the avatar for OASIS co-creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the man who set up the contest for control of the OASIS after he was diagnosed with an illness and knew he would be dying. The moment takes place in a re-creation of Halliday’s childhood bedroom, and is perhaps the film’s most intimate scene as he passes ownership of the OASIS to Parzival.
“After talking with Steven, it appeared to me that after Halliday got his bad diagnosis, he was really handing over his child to someone else. The OASIS was his creation and it was a culmination of his life’s work,” said Silvestri. “He designed a great way to find a new parent for this child that he could no longer care for.… And he found someone pure of heart, who loved the good things about the OASIS just as he did.”
The composer admitted that working with Spielberg could be intimidating given his work with John Williams (whom Silvestri calls “possibly the greatest artist to ever score a film”) on Indiana Jones and, more recently, The Post. At one point, the director was working on both Ready Player One and The Post simultaneously with both Williams and Silvestri.
“Steven showed me a very early cut of the film, then he went off to shoot The Post while I wrote 30 minutes of music. He was very supportive of what I came up with based on the assembly cut.… We actually spent a day in the studio with a live orchestra playing my early ideas,” he said.
For Spielberg, it was vital that they payed musical homage to the pop culture references in the film, particular Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future trilogy, which Spielberg produced and Silvestri scored.
“There were several instances where Steven said, ‘I don’t want something similar to the Back to the Future score, I want the exact score and I want this particular section of it. I want it the way it was in the film.’ Steven had a lot of fun with the score,” said Silvestri, who also noted that the director wanted to present a positive view of where VR technology could take humanity.
“This film has a very hopeful and optimistic way to look at virtual reality. It treats it as a grounds for love and companionship, unlike seeing it as a removing-from-nature and distracting tool,” said the composer.
While Ready Player One is still going strong in theaters, Silvestri is just weeks away from releasing his next big film.
“It’s funny because I feel like everything is still shaking… the dust hasn’t quite settled just yet,” he said last week by phone. “I wrapped Infinity War yesterday, and it was a really different experience than anything I’d done before, especially in regard to the approach and balancing quick shifts in tone.”