Ready Player One: How The Iron Giant’s Role Got Giant-Sized

We look at how the Iron Giant went from a passing cameo in the Ready Player One book to being a showcased favorite for Steven Spielberg.

When the entire cast, writers, and a director named Steven Spielberg strolled across the Paramount Theatre stage at SXSW, they were greeted with euphoric applause. This is no doubt due to a frenzied movie-loving audience enjoying the world premiere of Ready Player One—and the fact that the movie powered through its finale after starting the climax twice without sound—but it is also because they just saw a love letter to movies, be it Spielberg-produced classics like Jurassic Park and Back to the Future, or something else altogether like The Iron Giant.

Indeed, despite having a small role (barely a cameo) in Ernest Cline’s source material novel, the big metallic guy has a pivotal role in the film version of Ready Player One. And when every castmate and writer was asked to name their favorite homage or easter egg in the film, it was Spielberg who gave a friendly smile and said, “For me, it was being able to bring the Iron Giant back to life.”

So how and why exactly did this creation from author Ted Hughes (as well as of course writer-director Brad Bird) wind up with a scene-stealing role in a Spielberg movie? Well it’s kind of a funny story…

In Ernest Cline’s novel, the friendly metal titan is name-dropped like so much else of pop culture via fleeting shoutout. The actual sequence in which he is mentioned occurs in passing in the book (and this is not a spoiler because it was excised from the Spielberg movie). Near the end of the third act of the novel, after obtaining the second key and gate that allows players to compete for an “easter egg” worth $500 billion in the OASIS, a virtual reality MMORPG, each avatar is given a choice of miniature giant robot to collect. The implication, however, is clear: The robot you select will at a pivotal moment grow to its canonical size to wreak havoc on your enemies.

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Our main character Parzival sees plenty of options, including nearly every Gundam in the books, and plenty of other anime characters too, but he also sees, the Iron Giant. Mentioning the big guy, the narrating Parzival is clearly too distracted as he gets to fanboy-drooling over the robot he finally selects: Leopardon, the giant robot driven by Spider-Man in the live-action Japanese TV series from the 1970s (yes, this actually existed).

While we can confirm that Leopardon is not in the movie version of Ready Player One, the Iron Giant does get a pretty nifty and expansive role. First appearing in the film’s first act in a sci-fi workshop, he is a pet project being built back up to fighting shape by Parzival’s best friend, an avatar who goes by the name of Aech. And if you’ve seen any of the trailers, then you know Aech eventually succeeds and powers the big guy back up to do glorious battle with corporate stooges during a spectacular third act. (It is unclear whether he is still voiced by Vin Diesel or not in the 2018 film).

Also, we do not wish to ruin any of the actual surprises in Ready Player One, but let’s just say that the Iron Giant is unto himself not the only easter egg when he’s onscreen. And what he does next is going to make children of the ‘80s and ‘90s gleeful.

Ready Player One opens on Thursday night, March 29.