When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune. (from IMDB)
We live in an interesting time where pop culture is such a significant part of our lives. With the intensity of our day to day lives consisting of stressful relationships, work, or schooling, it’s all too tempting to want to plug in and checkout of our routines. Ready Player One is an acclaimed 2011 novel written by Ernest Cline which tells the story of a virtual reality world that much of humanity escapes into in an attempt to find a billion-dollar prize the game creator hid within the system. Truth be told, I did start reading the book sometime last year, but abandoned it not too far into it after strong profanity and blasphemy suddenly became pervasive. I’d heard Steven Spielberg was adapting it for the big screen and I’d been told that the story was right up my alley (Heck, the very first page of the book quotes my favorite film of all time, Ghostbusters). Despite the fact that I decided to jump ship on the novel, I was excited about the film — especially with Spielberg at the helm. The end result is a delightful, albeit somewhat shallow, trip down memory lane that shamelessly immerses itself in the pop culture world so many of us have come to enjoy.
Spielberg has delivered so many memorable films in our lifetime. From Jaws and E.T. to four Indiana Jones films and two Jurassic Park films–not to mention a plethora of other films he’s produced (including Back to the Future)–chances are you love something Steven’s put his hands to. Ready Player One acts as sort of a celebration of it all, while also drawing attention to how our immersion in technology has created such a disconnect from each other and the real world. In the movie, it’s literally strapping on eyewear and disappearing into a virtual world; in our present day society, it’s mostly our inability to look up from our smart phones. But while Ready Player One does have something to say about technology in the real world, it’s mostly just a visual spectacle — and one that isn’t limited solely to the video game world or fantasy genre (although it’s these fan groups who will appreciate the film most for sure).
The story of the Ready Player One movie follows the exploits of a teenager named Wade Watts who escapes to the OASIS in a desperate attempt to find the creator’s prize to improve his quality of living. In the OASIS, players hide behind avatars and screen names, and Wade has adopted the name Parzival with a bit of a Marty McFly look–even down to driving the Delorean from the Back to the Future films (and there are some really great Easter eggs from those movies in this one as well). To try to win the OASIS’s challenges, Wade (as Parzival) has to study the life of its creator, Halliday, as well as things he loved — like 80’s pop culture. Along the way, we meet Parzival’s online buddies, including Aech, Sho and Daito, as well as his online hero(ine), Art3mis. Although Parzival and his fellow players have been on the hunt for Halliday’s prize for five years now, things heat up pretty quickly once we’re introduced to them, and it turns into one wild ride.
Spielberg is no stranger to exciting popcorn movie fare, and Ready Player One is pure entertainment. That alone is as much a strength as it is a weakness. If you’re looking for deep, rich characters, Ready Player One actually falls short in that department, but the very nature of the film represents pure escapism. The villain, Sorrento, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is kind of your typical evil business man — very much like the original Tron film. It’s part of what makes Ready Player One complettely feel like a movie lifted out of the 80s. When composer Alan Silvestri isn’t cheekily throwing in nods to arguably the best score of his career, Back to the Future, the songs in the film are pop hits right out of the 1980s. And those pop culture references I mentioned? There’s everything from Batman to Atari to Halo and Battletoads to Hello Kitty, MadBalls, Gundam and King Kong. It’s fun to pick things out like an issue of Highlights. It’s so thoughtfully crafted, and so delightfully engineered to recapture a sense of youth, that it’s tough to fault it for keeping things relatively surface level.
The content, unfortunately, is a mix of what you’d expect from an 80s movie–when the ratings seemed a little looser–and an edgier PG-13 film. For example, one sequence takes the characters into a virtual recreation of the movie The Shining. I have no idea if it’s in the book, but it ended up being a pretty unexpectedly intense sequence (Couldn’t it have been something less horror in nature?). One scene has a character finding themselves in a bathroom where a nude woman pulls back a shower curtain and slowly rises out of the tub. During that scene, we see most of her bare shoulders and cleavage (without total topless nudity), and then her entire bare back (not her butt) as she walks out. But then the beautiful woman turns into an old, decomposing hag, and lunges at the screen. We then see quick shots of this zombified, old, nude woman running around, chasing characters through a few scenes with an ax. It’s surprising and quite gross. A little bit later, we see a ballroom of ghostly zombie dancers (kind of like from Disney World‘s Haunted Mansion ride), as well as a sequence where the elevators open up and a river of blood washes characters down a hotel hallway. There’s one other gruesome moment where a large avatar corners Parzival and an alien from Alien bursts through its chest and proceeds to chew up the front of the character, until it falls away revealing another person underneath. It’s meant to be funny and shocking at the same time. There isn’t much else in the sexual content arena, however, we briefly see a woman dancing (clothed) by a pole while wearing her OASIS goggles, and Art3mis runs her hands over Parzival in the OASIS and we see the sensation ride up Wade’s suit in the real world, starting around his crotch. Sadly, there’s quite a bit of language, including at least 1 “F” word, roughly 14 uses of the “S” word, and occasional blasphemy. I suppose content like this isn’t unusual these days, but I was kind of hoping Spielberg may have mellowed out by now when it comes to the kind of content he puts in his films geared toward wider audiences.
Just a glance at the content written above goes to show how unusual and often surprising Ready Player One can be as a film, but there’s enough of the “Spielberg magic” to make the movie worthwhile. There are some great action sequences, although the whirling camera work at times – especially the car race early on — can be dizzying and overwhelming. Even the finale battle is so chaotic, fast-paced, and overstuffed with Easter eggs that it’s just full-on sensory overload. But in a way, it’s part of the fun of the film, too. The climactic finale has a bit of that idealistic, almost Goonies-esque feel that feels dated and maybe too idealistic, however, it fits the vibe and approach of the film so well.
Ready Player One won’t be everything fans of the book hope to see, and it will certainly not be every movie-goer’s cup of tea, but it’s otherwise a fun, imaginative, and highly entertaining sci-fi romp. And even if you haven’t picked up a video game controller since Atari was the king of the gaming world, you’re still likely to find enough to relate to, if not love, about Ready Player One. (However, due to its edgy content, it makes it tough to give it a full-on recommendation.)
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/30/18)
4K UHD / Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Along with the feature film in 4K UHD, the 2D Blu-Ray disc and digital copy of the Ready Player One are the following Extras:
Ready Player One in 4K UHD – The 4K version of Ready Player One, with HDR (High Dynamic Range) is quite good, taking advantage of the wide color range and crisp detail to make it easier to spot the hidden gems the film has to offer. It was fun looking around the screen from scene to scene to see what new things I could discover — spotting a Wil Wheaton cameo on a mayoral poster in Parzival’s hideout, as well as a hoverboard from Back to the Future II off to the side of the screen in the same scene. This film is a great choice for viewing in 4K.
Treasure Room – The “Treasure Room” is a collection of roughly 30-second-long videos that cover just some of the many, many Easter eggs hidden in the film. It is broken up into the following segments: snacks (the He-Man lunchbox), speed, torpedo (Star Trek II), race (the cars), Plymouth (the car from the movie Christine), eagle (from Spaceballs), Perseus (shield from Clash of the Titans), Gizmo (his basket from Gremlins), Jade (things hidden in Halliday’s office), sixty, van, fourteen, twenty (a 20-sided die from Dungeons and Dragons), robots, quarter (featuring the font from the book’s cover art), invitation, copper, posters, crystal, and droid (R2-D2 in the final scene). The last video is simply titled “?” and is a 1-minute video about the young girls who were cast as the twins from The Shining.
Extras (1:57:41) – The following featurettes are viewable with a Play All option.
The 80s: You’re the Inspiration (5:37) is about author Ernest Cline’s undying love for the decade and its rich, imaginative entertainment.
Game Changer: Cracking the Code (57:22) – This is an almost hour-long behind-the-scenes featurette on how the film got made. It opens with how Ernest came up with the story, how Steven Spielberg was introduced to the book and script and inevitably got on board, and then how it all translated into a feature film. The featurette covers how they tried to stay true to the book, found and cast the yougn actors, costume design, and more. We’re treated to lots of on-set mocap footage for the OASIS scenes, and learn about Steven’s struggle to basically make two movies at once. The cast affectionately talk about what it was like to work with Steven, as well. This featurette feels like a conglomeration of multiple segments as it sort of concludes one topic and fades out, and then moves on to another one. They talk in depth about creating The Shining sequence, building various sets, filming with actual film for the real world scenes, using the mail truck in the real world chase, building the Stacks — and blowing them up — and wrapping it all up with Steven’s toast to the cast and crew on the last day of filming. It’s a really interesting look behind the scenes!
Effects for a Brave New World (24:39) is about creating the virtual world of the OASIS and designing all the virtual sets. It’s pretty cool to see and learn about how Steven directed scenes in virtual reality, often wearing headgear to go inside the digital space. They even had artists on set editing for him in real time. For the real world physical sets, they would digitally extend those sets to expand them, and we see more footage of the actors acting in a blank, white space using motion capture technology. It continues to cover the dancing sequence, The Shining sequence, character design, the big battle in the finale, and the car race.
Level Up: Sound for the Future (8:02) is about designing sounds of the OASIS and trying to capture a “fun” feel in a synthetic world. We even learn that the sound designer reused the sound effects of the titular ocean liner breaking apart in Titanic for the creaking sounds of the collapsing Stacks.
High Score: Endgame (10:04) – Legendary composer Alan Silvestri talks about scoring the film. I’ve adored his work in the Back to the Future trilogy, and loved his recent Avengers: Infinity War work, so it was really cool to hear him talk about working on this film. We also get to see Ernest visit the set and geek out about meeting Alan.
Ernie & Tye’s Excellent Adventure (11:58) – Tye played the film’s main character, Wade, and here he sits and talks with the book’s author, Ernest, outside of his personally owned (and customized) Delorean. The pair talk about meeting each other, memories of working on the film, and what it was like to meet Steven Spielberg. We also learn here that Ernest is writing a sequel, and when he shares the plot details with Tye (but we don’t hear it), he exclaims in awe… I guess we have something to look forward to! (1 “S” word, 1 “Oh G-d,” 1 “Oh my G-d”)
Trivia – A series of screenshots from the film with trivia about things featured in it wraps up the extras for the film. The screenshots are also viewable as a slideshow.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 7/21/18)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: As Wade climbs through the stacks, we see a heavy-set woman in sweats wearing OASIS goggles and dancing around a stripper pole; The Art3mis avatar wears a cleavage-revealing dress inside the OASIS; Art3mis runs her hands over Parzival sensually, so we see Wade in the real world wearing a high tech suit, with areas on his body illuminating in response to her touch. As such, we see his crotch light up as her hands go up his body in the OASIS; Aech stumbles into a bathroom in The Shining and we see a beautiful woman slowly push back the shower curtain to reveal she’s sitting in a tub naked. She then rises out of the tub slowly (we see the top of her bare breasts, but not the nipples) and then her bare back as she walks towards Aech (not her bare butt, though). She then turns ghastly, old, and scary and we see her running around, still naked, in a decomposing state (with saggy breasts); We briefly see some clothed pole dancers in the OASIS.
Vulgarity/Language: At least 1 “F” word, 14 “S” words; 9 “h*ll,” 2 “a” words, 1 “a**h*le,” 2 “g*dd*mn,” 2 “d*mn,” 2 “b*lls,” 3 “Oh my G-d”, 2 “p*ssed,” 1 “Oh G-d,” 1 “sucks,” 1 “d*ckweed”, A character playfully gives two middle fingers to other characters.
Alcohol/Drugs: There is some drinking, but nothing focused on too much.
Blood/Gore: When characters are stabbed or explode or are shot in the OASIS, we see them burst into a puff of coins; A large avatar corners Parzival and an alien from Alien bursts through its chest and proceeds to chew up the front of the character, until it falls away revealing another person underneath (it’s a little bloody); Aech tries to open elevator doors while in The Shining and blood pours out of it and washes him down the hallway in a raging flow of blood; A nude woman suddenly turns old and decomposing and attacks Aech; We see zombies dancing and twirling in a ballroom; Sorrento has some blood on the side of his head; F’Nale has an abrasion or two on her face.
Violence: There’s lots of sci-fi action and video game related violence. When characters die in the OASIS, we see them burst into an explosion of coins (instead of there being blood or guts); Drones blow up a stack of homes, killing some people; Soldiers with guns raid some places to try to nab some OASIS players; A man grabs Wade and puts a cloth over his mouth to knock him out; We see some people fall over while playing with their OASIS goggles on; While in the OASIS and playing inside The Shining, we see a woman turn old and ugly and chase after Aech with an ax, then we see characters running through a maze outside while being chased by someone with a huge ax, and we see zombie ballroom dancers. Art3mis jumps on top of the heads of several zombies, breaking some of their necks; A car race involves many car wrecks, with some characters “dying” in the OASIS; The finale involves a huge battle inside the OASIS, with many players’ avatars “dying” in the game; A character is chained inside of a small telephone-booth-sized box and forced to play inside the OASIS; there’s a real car chase in the real world; we see a Chucky doll attack and kill characters; and lots and lots of other video game style violence.