Based on Ernest Cline's book of the same name, Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One is a fantastic adventure in the vein of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Upon his death, video-game maker James Halliday set forth a way to pass on his ownership of the OASIS, the virtual-reality universe that has captivated the world, to whomever can solve the three puzzles he has hidden within it. The movie's story has lessons to pass onto viewers, yet somehow they are overlooked by the filmmakers.
RP1 opens in in Columbus, Ohio, 2045, in an area called The Stacks, which is a series of mobile homes stacked high upon each other. Humanity has dealt with a corn syrup drought and bandwidth riots, causing people to give up fixing their problems. Our narrator is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young man who lost his parents and now resides with his aunt and her latest boyfriend. Like many, he spends his time living in virtual reality, trying to earn credits to better his life inside and outside the OASIS and trying to avoid his avatar getting killed, which would result in his losing all his credits and starting from scratch.
In addition to the many individuals competing for the grand prize, Innovative Online Industries, the second largest in the world, wants to own the OASIS and monetize it. They are such a ruthless corporation they use indentured servants and are not above murdering innocent people. Their over-the-top activities make them hard to take serious, especially when the authorities don't take their actions seriously.
The OASIS is an amazing construct within the story and also the movie itself thanks to the visual-effects artists. There is an overwhelming plethora of nods to '80s pop culture, which upon reflection seems a little odd that it is so heavily decade specific considering its set 60 years later. Did none of the characters like the '60s or the '90s? Maybe if Wade has liked the '70s more, he would have noticed his love interest Samantha (Olivia Cooke) looked liked a David Bowie album cover.
RP1 has some amazing sequences. The car race to the first key is action packed although no one can finish because of all the obstacles in the way. To access the second key, players have to make their way through Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, a wonderful nod to Spielberg's friend. The climatic battle will overstimulate the eyes and ears.
Unfortunately, the film's ending is unsatisfying because the story's lesson is ignored. There's a clear way to improve things but life remains close to the same as when the story begins, which is a very odd choice. Part of the problem might be the director. Spielberg's cultural impact affects the story greatly, but he wasn't able to step back and offer a critique on himself and society in terms of that impact. He's too busy being entertainer rather than an artist.
The Blu-ray presents an impressive high-definition experience. The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Great care was taken with the film's cinematography and the visual effects, and both are well represented here. The colors, particularly in the OASIS, come through in brilliant hues. Blacks are inky and whites are bright. The texture details, even in CGI, help bring a realism of both worlds to the screen, as does the depth within the image.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 fills the surrounds, and immerses the viewer in both worlds. Dialogue is clear, although Aech's is slightly distorted to allow for a reveal that is obviously coming because no other character in the OASIS sounds as bad. The effects appear from different directions, zooming past and bouncing around as required, such as the first car race, a perfect way to show off one's system. They, along with Alan Silvestri's score, occasionally distort from being mixed too loud. However, the mix is predominantly well balanced and exhibits a wide dynamic range.
Available with a Play-All option, there is over 90 minutes of bonus material in HD. The '80s: You're the Inspiration (6 min): Author Ernest Cline, Steven Spielberg, and cast talk about the decade and its pop culture which influenced the story. Game Changer: Cracking the Code (57 min): An in-depth behind-the-scenes documentary that covers different aspects of the production. Effects for a Brave New World (25 min): A more focused look at the creation of the visual effects. Interesting to see Spielberg explore the digital world through VR googles. Level Up: Sound for the Future (8 min) is a similar featurette that examines the sound design. High Score: Endgame (10 min): Because John Williams was busy on Spielberg's The Post, Alan Silvestri, who had worked with Robert Zemeckis, was brought on. The director and composer talk about working together. Ernie & Tye's Excellent Adventure (HD, 12 min): Author Cline and actor Sheridan team up in their hometown of Austin, Texas before the film's premiere talking about their reactions to being part of the film and working with Spielberg.
Ready Player One is a grand spectacle without substance because it offers its own OASIS without reflecting on what that means. But if it's just the OASIS one seeks, this movie delivers as does the Blu-ray so dive right in.
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