Release Date(s)2018 (July 24, 2018)
Studio(s)Warner Bros. Pictures/Amblin Entertainment/Village Roadshow (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg, is a science fiction excursion into a virtual reality world where anything is possible. Based on the novel by Ernest Cline, the movie takes place in 2045. The world is overpopulated and has the look of a massive junk yard, with apartments piled one on top of another in towering, rusting heaps. People can escape their bleak reality by putting on special glasses and entering the OASIS, a virtual world where you can go anywhere, do anything, and transform yourself into any person you want to be. OASIS’s creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies), has bequeathed his huge fortune and control of the OASIS to the winner of a contest to locate and unlock three “Easter eggs” — keys hidden within the OASIS.
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, X-Men: Apocalypse), a poor kid dealing with an abusive home life in a tenement, is really good at gaming. Under his gaming tag, “Parzival,” he enters the OASIS determined to solve the clues and find the keys. With his posse, known as High Five, he hopes to win the race for the inheritance against a smarmy corporate big wig named Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One), who intends to use OASIS to keep players impoverished and addicted to its transitory highs.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Ready Player One is the abundance of visual references. Because the OASIS was the brainchild of a pop-culture fanboy, it is filled with countless references to movies, TV shows, toys, and fads, mostly from the 1980s but from other periods as well. Some are given full-out scenes, such as a marauding King Kong and a series of episodes right out of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Others are given less screen time but register at once — the Millennium Falcon, the chest-burster from Alien, the DeLorean from Back to the Future, the sphere of annihilation from Dungeons & Dragons, Chucky the killer doll, the Batmobile, and even the Magic 8 Ball. The list is nearly endless.
Director Spielberg has always had a knack for creating exciting movies, but they have always been grounded in solid characters, whether they were facing earthbound villains (Raiders of the Lost Ark) or more fantastical ones (Jurassic Park). The problem with Ready Player One is that we aren’t given reason enough to care about Wade or his quest. Though his goal carries greater weight than finding a Golden Ticket in a chocolate bar, Wade has about as much substance as his virtualy reality avatar. Spielberg provides endless exposition but comes up short when it comes to characterization. His goal seems to be to move on to the cinematic razzle dazzle.
The film does look sensational, an action flick on speed, with constant movement, brilliant colors, and computer imagery overdrive. The director counts on lots of nostalgic recognition as images of bygone pop culture appear regularly, but things move at such a breakneck pace that it’s difficult to absorb the onslaught of information.
Sheridan’s Wade Watts falls into the mold of the young, unproven underdog bucking the establishment, and we’re supposed to root for him automatically. But Spielberg hasn’t given Wade enough of a profile for Sheridan to work with. As a result, he is merely another visual prop, shuffling back and forth between virtual to actual reality. His times in actual reality pale compared with the amazing world of his imagination.
Ready Player One continues the now all-too-common tendency of directors to overstay their welcome. The film is too long by at least 20 minutes. There are opportunities to trim scenes and eliminate others without hurting the movie’s impact. The visuals are spectacular, and I can understand the reluctance of Spielberg to cut what looks so impressive, but even great effects wear thin if overdone, and that’s what happens here.
The old phrase “Less is more” aptly applies to Ready Player One.
Though the movie seems to be stating that we should spend more time in actual reality nurturing relationships rather than retreating to a fantasyland of one’s imagination, it fails to resonate because Spielberg is far better depicting virtual reality than actual reality. When the film returns to the real world periodically, the movie loses steam and drags. After experiencing the wonders of the OASIS, what a letdown to come back to a neighborhood that resembles a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
There are several bonus making-of featurettes on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, ranging from various cast and crew members waxing nostalgic over the 1980s, comments from author Ernest Cline about the inspiration for his book, the actors discussing the audition process, and numerous comments from director Spielberg. Despite the quantity of extras, none really provides any significant information.
Visual quality is superb, with brilliant color and fine detail, especially in the OASIS sequences. The Dolby sound is very loud, yet allows the dialogue to be heard clearly. The decibel level is likely intended to add excitement to the visuals, but it does become overbearing.
- Dennis Seuling