SAN DIEGO — When Steven Spielberg first read the book “Ready Player One,” which is about a dystopian future where humans take refuge in a virtual reality world, he had one thought: “They’re going to need a younger director.”

But Spielberg decided to take on the challenge anyway, spending two and a half years bringing author Ernest Cline’s vision to life. The director unveiled a new action- and nostalgia-packed trailer for the film Saturday at San Diego Comic-Con to much excitement.

The 6,500-person Hall H crowd gave the director a standing ovation and cheered heartily when the first images of “the stacks” appeared showing a bleak vision of the housing situation in Columbus, Ohio, in 2045. Tye Sheridan stars as the lead character Wade Owen Watts, who longs to have been born in the 1980s.

For Spielberg, the film was a chance to both go back to his heyday of filmmaking while also gazing into the future. Eagle-eyed viewers spotted references to everything from “Tron” to “The Iron Giant” in the footage.

“It was like the most amazing flash-forward and flash-back at the same time,” Spielberg said.

For Cline, having Spielberg directing the adaptation of his book was like closing a circle. He grew up on Spielberg’s films, which informed how he evolved as a writer.

“They are woven into the fabric of my DNA,” Cline said. “I learned how to be a storyteller because of this man.”

He brought his DeLorean to his first meeting with the director in honor of “Back to the Future,” which he had Spielberg autograph, Cline said.

Co-star T.J. Miller went one step further in his Spielberg fandom, sporting “Back to the Future” inspired sneakers, and “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial” inspired red hoodie and T-shirt.

Spielberg, who simply smiled at his gushing actors and collaborators, said that he was really proud of the footage, which gives “a slight taste of things to come.”

“Ready Player One” opens in March 2018.


Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr