Like so many others, when I read the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline I simply fell in love with the nostalgic ride through the 80’s, all thanks to a virtual reality world called The Oasis. From start to finish it was a book filled with pop culture references that would make film and video game geeks squeal with delight, and it was no surprise that the book was a hit and would be turned into a film. There were only two names I could think of that could ever come close to making this film a reality: Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg. With Spielberg involved, he was the only person I could imagine who had the clout to get all the licensing rights needed to pull this adaption, but still the biggest question I had was, does Spielberg still have it in him? I’m not questioning the man’s talent, but instead it’s the magic and wonder he would bring to his films, from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET, to Jurassic Park, where he could get us to believe the fantastic and impossible was real while we sat in a dark auditorium watching his film.
The Oasis is an open virtual reality world like nothing we have ever seen before, but with how our technology is developing it is quickly becoming a possibility for things to come. There are worlds and planets within The Oasis where you can be in constant battles to win coins, or go to exotic places for a vacation. It’s a world where you can be whatever you want and experience just about anything you want. Basically think about Westworld, but on steroids. The creator of this world is Halliday (Mark Rylance) who before dying announced to all of The Oasis that he created an Easter Egg hidden somewhere in The Oasis, and whoever was to find it would gain sole control of The Oasis and all of Halliday’s fortune.
To get to the egg, though, a player will need three keys that are also spread throughout The Oasis, and each key will present the player with a certain challenge. And it’s in pursuit of the first key where we first meet Wade Watts, in his avatar form of Parzival (Tye Sheridan). For those who have read the book and seen the trailers, this is also when we get to first see the Delorean. The first challenge for the key is a giant race where we get to see the Delorean race alongside the Bigfoot monster truck, the Akira motorcycle, and numerous other classic cars from film, television, and video games. This race is insane and filled with so much over-the-top geek joy, it’s impossible to not feel like a little kid. Because this is a video game world, the rules of the real world don’t exist, so we get to enjoy perhaps one of the most over-the-top racing sequences ever put to the screen.
Now a good portion of the film takes place inside The Oasis, which means a lot of the film is CGI. While The Oasis doesn’t quite look as I imagined it, this is still one hell of a world they have created here. The fun they have with creating these worlds and avatars is great. It’s when we transition to the real world the film continues to stay loyal to the book but gives us so much to look at. I can imagine you could watch this film numerous times and continue finding cool new things to geek out about. Spielberg has explored the future before, but the look here, though, is advanced; it shows us a pollution-riddled city that is overpopulated, with people escaping in the VR headsets. But it’s the real world Wade Watts who pulls us into the story. He’s had a rough childhood, living with his aunt and her drunk boyfriend. It’s obvious why he loves escaping from his real life and living in The Oasis, and it’s Tye Sheridan’s performance that sells this.
Though the film takes some liberties from the book, thankfully the relationship with Aech (Lena Waithe) and Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) remain faithful to the source material. When we get to see Parzival and Art3mis together in both The Oasis and the real world, we get to see Spielberg doing what he does best working with young talent. I do wish we got more time seeing Sheridan and Cooke on screen together, because there is some strong chemistry here, and the budding friendship and romance seems genuine. As for Aech, this is one of those characters who wins you over and quickly becomes one of the more iconic sidekicks in recent film history.
This brings me to the film’s villain, Sorrento (Ben Mendelson), who is basically the stereotype corporate crony but is a villain who is fun to hate, especially when we see his interactions in The Oasis. In the Oasis we see him working with the character I-Rok (T.J. Miller). For those familiar with the character in the book, let me just warn you this is one of the major changes, but Miller manages to pull off being the henchman in a fun and amusing way.
Honestly the plot is simple, and it is very familiar; after all, it’s not all that different from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Only instead of chocolate the prize is running a large video game world. It’s the nostalgia that will spark for many of the adult viewers, though I feel this is a film kids should have a blast with as well. The Oscar for best visual VFX may as well just be given to Ready Player One at this point, because this world is like nothing we’ve seen on screen before.
Zak Penn and Ernest Cline worked together on the script, which is a blessing in a lot of ways. While it is fun seeing many of the things from the book come to life, there are some critical changes that I enjoyed just as much. I’m a little disappointed at how much of the old school Atari and video gaming is missing from the film, though; after all the book was a love letter to the 80’s, but instead the movie seems to delve more into the 90’s and current video games. But the biggest thing that is missing from this film is a score by John Williams. Alan Silvestri delivers a solid score, but it just seemed like a no-brainer to see Williams collaborate with Spielberg on this project. Paired with the score, though, we get several hit 80’s songs. When Blue Monday kicks in at the dance club, for instance, is one of the visual marvels of the film.
There are going to be people who hate this movie, and then there will be the vast majority of people who will simply have a blast with this film. It’s 140 minutes, but honestly, this film doesn’t drag at all. I also believe this is one of those films where people will come away with a variety of favorite moments. Personally I love the sequence where that involves getting the second key, which hopefully no one spoils for you, because it’s truly a unique moment in cinema history (in my geeky humble opinion). I’ve heard friends complain that the film looks too much like a video game. I understand the complaint, but that’s sort of the entire point of the film. Despite being about a video game world, it’s the human connection that manages to resonate most here, and it’s that interaction I hope viewers take away from this.
We live in a time where technology has us connected at the hip, whether it be through texting, Facebook, or using our Alexa devices in our homes, Ready Player One is a glimpse at what things may come. As I write this, Ernest Cline is said to be working on a follow-up book, Ready Player Two, which no doubt will involve more adventures in The Oasis. What will be interesting is to see where things go from here for the sequel book as well as a possible sequel film.
Ready, Player One is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an average bitrate of 60 mbps. This ultra-high-definition image presentation brings out some nice visuals. The source material was filmed at 2.8K but mastered in 2K for the theaters. So this is an upconverted disc with a nice color and contrast bump with 12bit Dolby Vision and HDR. It’s that sweet color separation that allows you to reap such a rich fantasy world here. You get solid colors that deliver wonderful contrast between the natural world and that of The Oasis, where colors are saturated and deep. Even worlds within worlds deliver fun contrasting places; often dark and mesmerizing places. Contrast allows you to appreciate things like the magical orb which draws a brilliant light tightly within and around a nice rich and dark world. Black levels are superior and allow so many levels of dark hues and beautiful shadow definition. The game world provides some nice textures with the odd clothes and avatar characters, particularly Art3mis, who looks stunning here. The amount of detail and texture in her avatar is off the charts. This is one of the richest fantasy worlds to come from cinema since Ridley Scott’s first Blade Runner. It’s a system showoff piece, to be sure.
The Dolby Atmos track defaults to an explosive 7.1 audio presentation. If you want aggressive surrounds that don’t appear to ever stop, this is the one for you. Subs rock almost constantly, providing a dynamic depth to everything from simple dialog to the earthshaking battles. The audio mix keeps you immersed in this fantasy world. Everything from simple water drops echoing in the distance to the ricochet of plasma weapons buzz your ears with little letup. Inside The Oasis there is no letup. The audio design makes you feel as immersed as the players themselves. Through all of this you get perfect dialog levels and a score that can get the pulse racing throughout. Best of all is that it’s all so perfectly controlled that you can set the volume and ride it all out. I can honestly say I’ve not encountered an audio presentation with this much going on and mixed well enough that you can hear it all clearly.
All the Special Features are on the Blu-Ray disc, and there is an option to Play All if you are inclined to see all the bonus features on the disc.
The 80’s: You’re the Inspiration: (5:38) Basically this is a brief discussion about the heavy influence the 80’s had on the book and the film.
Game Changer: Cracking the Code: (57:22) Here we get basically the story of how the film got made, from the book getting into Spielberg’s hands to the challenges of making the film. There are some really cool things about the production of the film for those who are interested in getting a glimpse at how movies are made (especially with all the new technology).
Effects For a Brave New World: (24:39) A look at what went into creating The Oasis and how much detail was needed to create a believable world.
Level Up: Sound For the Future: (8:03) This is a nice look at how sound design works in a film and how important it can be. Seeing how they had to create all the sounds in The Oasis, it was obviously a challenge, but don’t be surprised if these guys get showered with awards this year.
High Score: End Game: (10:04) The most important thing I got out of this is why John Williams wasn’t used and Spielberg went with Alan Silvestri.
Ernie and Tye’s Excellent Adventure: (12:00) A fun interview between Tye and Ernie discussing the book and the film, and their experiences.
Despite the changes from the book, I still had a lot of fun with this movie and know I’ll be re-watching this film numerous times down the road. This is Spielberg getting back to his roots and doing the kind of films that we all know and love him for. With Ernest Cline talking about working on a sequel book, one can only keep their fingers crossed for a Ready Player Two film.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani.