Unlike the car race sequence that occurs towards the beginning of the movie or the final battle at the end, which both fly through references like a Family Guy episode directed by Michael Bay, The Shining challenge is a more leisurely paced homage. As if he's checking items off a list, Spielberg recreates almost every memorable aspect of director Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror film. We get the creepy twins, the elevator filled with blood, the photo of all the partygoers on the wall, the unfriendly guest in room 237, and the axe-chase in the snow. (He even has Wade reference the fact that Stephen King hated the adaptation.)
What made Spielberg make such a drastic departure from Cline's text? The second challenge in the book involves Wade literally quoting lines from the Matthew Broderick movie WarGames from memory. (In a book filled with tedious set-pieces, it stands out for its inanity.) It's not hard to see why a more cinematic, action-oriented version of the challenge was cooked up for the movie adaptation. We need to see the characters struggle and overcome challenges, not simply show off their movie trivia cred.
Though The Shining is hardly an obscure movie, it's not exactly in the cyberpunk wheelhouse that Ready Player One inhabits. According to an interview with screenwriter Zak Penn, who shares a co-writing credit on the script with Cline, he was inspired by the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Action Hero, which follows a young boy who gets pulled into the movie screen of a violent thriller. But The Shining wasn't there first choice: Penn says Blade Runner was in an earlier draft of the script but was eventually ditched because Blade Runner 2049 was in development at the same time.
Not so coincidentally, The Shining was also released by Warners, the same studio distributing Ready Player One. Just like a viral tweet sent out earlier this week, which found Steven Spielberg walking through his house with a camera pointed at himself like a teen vlogger and chastising Carl's Jr. for selling "Spiel-burgers," there's nothing about Ready Player One that doesn't feel like an act of brand maintenance. By doing an updated karaoke version of the era when he was at his commercial peak -- there's even a moment when composer Alan Silvestri samples his own Back to the Future score -- Spielberg feels like he's outrunning his own past, like Indiana Jones getting chased by a giant boulder. Or perhaps the audience is Indiana Jones and Ready Player One is the boulder? It's hard to tell.