July 16, 2018
Box Office $137.02 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $34.99 3D BD, $44.95 UHD BD.
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language.
Stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Lena Waithe, Hannah John-Kamen.
In its quote displayed on the cover of Ernest Cline’s nostalgia-inspired novel Ready Player One, USA Today described the book as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” And despite a significant number of elements changing in the translation from page to screen, that’s an apt description for director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation as well. (Unless you want to subscribe to Red Letter Media’s theory that an episode of “Danny Phantom” serves as a better inspiration, but that’s a conclusion you’ll have to reach for yourself.)
Like the book, the film is a love letter to 1980s pop culture, so it seems apt for Spielberg, whose films helped define 1980s pop culture, would take on the task of directing it. Even more interesting is how Spielberg toned down the references to his own works, not wanting the film to appear too self-serving.
The focus on a very specific slice of the zeitgeist, especially with a story set in 2045, might not seem to make much sense (after all, it’s not as if 1950s pop culture dominates today), but the narrative presents a certain logic as to why this would be the case.
In the world of the film, humanity has become obsessed with a virtual online world called the OASIS, whose creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) grew up in the 1970s and ’80s and was himself obsessed with the pop culture of the era. Upon his death in 2040, he left a series of clues within the OASIS that would lead to three keys that, when collected, would unlock the portal to a golden egg, giving whomever discovers it wealth beyond belief and complete control of the OASIS. Solving the clues requires studying the things that Halliday loved, and thus a resurgence of decades-old pop culture references within the OASIS among those seeking the top prize.
Among the egg hunters (known as “Gunters”) are 18-year-old Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who worships Halliday almost as if he were a god, and the freedom fighter Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), who wants to find the egg to make sure the OASIS doesn’t fall into the hands of the IOI corporation, led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who wants to exploit it by selling ads everywhere.
The film is a fun adventure with some eye-popping visual effects and enough background details to require several viewings to spot them all. And looking beyond the pop culture references, beneath it all is a typical Spielberg parable about the value of teamwork versus the destructive nature of greed, and how it’s not exactly healthy to ignore the real world to spend all your time watching movies and playing video games.
The movie also makes some great use of music, beginning with Van Halen’s “Jump,” a song that resonates throughout the film as the story asks the game’s participants to “take a leap” when it comes to finding a connection with other people.
The Blu-ray includes six featurettes running nearly two hours in total. The bulk of it is the 57-minute “Game Changer: Cracking the Code,” which is the primary behind-the-scenes look, focusing on the writing, casting and filming — much of which involved the actors in motion-capture suits.
That leads into the 25-minute “Effects for a Brave New World,” about creating the digital world of the OASIS as well as enhancing the real-world scenes.
The eight-minute “Level Up: Sound for the Future” deals with the sound effects team led by industry veteran Gary Rydstrom.
Film music fans will enjoy the 10-minute “High Score: Endgame,” about how composer Alan Silvestri, who has worked on numerous Spielberg-produced movies, stepped in to work with director Spielberg for the first time (as longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams was off doing The Post).
Rounding out the bonus materials are the five-and-a-half-minute “The ’80s: You’re the Inspiration,” and “Ernie & Tye’s Excellent Adventure,” in which Texans Cline and Sheridan re-unite in Austin for a fun discussion about the film just before its premiere.