The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Ready Player One

Ernest Cline's 2011 novel “Ready Player One” is like “Fifty Shades of Grey” for '80s pop culture obsessives. So who better to direct the film version than Steven Spielberg, the man who practically defined pop culture during that decade? This is the filmmaker's attempt to work some of his old magic – to make a big, exciting, escapist blockbuster adventure. He hasn't done that in quite a while. Turns out he still has the touch. Ready Player One is ridiculously entertaining.

The story takes place a few decades in the future. Most of humanity plays a virtual reality game called OASIS that allows them to choose their own avatars, often inspired by popular videogames, comic books, and movies. The eccentric creator of OASIS, Halliday (Mark Rylance), dies, leaving behind a message that an “Easter Egg” is hidden within the game. Whoever finds it will gain total control over OASIS, as well as his half-a-trillion dollar fortune.

One person who really wants to win is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an impoverished young man who goes by the name Parzival in the game. He sets out to unlock the mysteries of Halliday's mind in order to accomplish this task. Wade is not the only one on the hunt. He meets, then teams with, Samantha (Olivia Cooke), a.k.a Art3mis, another hardcore gamer. Then there's Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the head of a corporation that employs hundreds of gamers in an organized effort to find the egg. Winning at all costs is his objective.

What follows is a thrilling journey through 1980's entertainment, with a dash of the late '70s and early '90s thrown in for good measure. Part of the pleasure of Ready Player One is noticing the clever ways that familiar elements are utilized. An early scene finds Wade engaged in a race where he drives the DeLorean from Back to the Future, outruns the Batmobile, and encounters King Kong. Another challenge requires Wade, Samantha, and some friends to enter a classic horror movie to retrieve a clue. The grand finale is a large-scale battle in which various pop culture icons can be spotted fighting. Many of the shout-outs are obvious, others more subtle. The more you know about entertainment from that decade, the more enjoyment you'll get.

If all the movie had to offer was an endless assortment of references, it wouldn't amount to a whole lot. Spielberg, working from a screenplay adaptation by Cline and Zak Penn, is too smart for that. He keeps the primary focus on the search for the Easter Egg, emphasizing what it means to the various characters. For Wade, it's a way out of poverty. For Samantha, it's a chance to be the ultimate gamer. For Sorrento, greed is the primary factor. Ready Player One builds excitement by showing how they compete to solve Halliday's riddles, all of which are based upon his own pop culture obsessions.

There's also a healthy emphasis on the way the characters interact with each other. Wade's best friend is Aech (Lena Waithe), someone he trusts implicitly despite their never having met face-to-face. Midway through the movie, Samantha reveals to Wade one of the biggest reasons why she prefers to live inside the OASIS rather than the real world, and her vulnerability is touching. The vast majority of the film is computer animated, but the characters shine through whether they're CGI or live-action thanks to a story that, at heart, is about people using technology to avoid reality.

Sheridan (Mud) and Cooke (Bates Motel) are both terrific, supplying a human touch even when in avatar form. The standout performance, though, comes from Oscar winner Mark Rylance. It would be hard to think of a less-likely actor to play a pop culture-obsessed computer programmer. Neverthless, Spielberg's decision to cast him is inspired. Rylance puts his own quirky spin on the “nerd” stereotype, investing it with dignity and emotional frailty. He provides the soul of the movie.

Ready Player One puts the pedal to the floor from the very beginning and doesn't let up. Spielberg's camera is constantly moving. If someone launches into the air, the camera launches with them. It swirls around people, moves alongside and under vehicles, and swoops through OASIS environments. You really do feel as though you've entered the world's most awesome videogame. The pace never slows, which – combined with a solid human factor – makes this a one-of-a-kind thrill ride that provides an abundance of fun.

( 1/2 out of four)

Note: For various reasons, the film had to change some of the key pop culture references from the novel, but the replacements work, and they maintain the feel of what was on the page.

Blu-ray Features:

Ready Player One comes to Ultra HD 4k Blu-ray combo pack, 3D Blu-ray combo pack, Blu-ray combo pack, and DVD on July 24. A complimentary copy of the Blu-ray was provided by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment for the purposes of this review.

There are about two hours of supplementary material on the disc, all of which is extremely well-done, making this a must-own release.

“The '80s: You're the Inspiration” looks at the influence that decade had on Ernest Cline's book and, by extension, the film adaptation. Co-star Simon Pegg rightly points out that it was “a seminal decade,” while Spielberg reveals that he cut most references to his own iconic '80s output so that he could celebrate pop culture from the era without seeming to celebrate himself.

“Gamechanger: Cracking the Code” is the longest bonus feature, running almost an hour. It's an in-depth look at the making of Ready Player One, delving into how the filmmakers adapted the novel, the casting process, the complex motion capture/special effects, and everything in between. This is a nicely-produced, highly-informative glimpse behind the scenes.

The 24-minute-long “Effects for a Brave New World” goes even more deeply into the visual effects, with Spielberg discussing how important it was to make the virtual world look close to the real world, while also allowing the audience to be able to distinguish between the two. The segment contains footage of the director using virtual reality gear to plan shots and control what he wants them to look like. Whereas many similar features on other Blu-rays present the FX in a general manner, you get a wall-to-wall explanation of how they were accomplished here, making it a useful primer in modern-day CGI.

“Level Up: Sound for the Future” focuses on the sound design, which – according to producer Kristie Macoscko Kreiger – Spielberg said at the outset was “going to be everything.” Legendary Gary Rydstrom is here, talking about lowering actress Lena Waithe's voice for her character, who is a virtual giant. He also shares some of the joy he had in recreating famous '80s movie sounds, like that of the Back to the Future DeLorean.

“High Score: Endgame” is all about the musical score. This film marked a change for Spielberg, in that he couldn't use longtime collaborator John Williams, because Williams was already working on the score for The Post. The director therefore turned to another old friend, Alan Silvestri of BTTF and Who Framed Roger Rabbit fame. The feature shows how the two worked together to create a score that would heighten the movie's tension.

Finally, there's “Ernie & Tye's Excellent Adventure,” which is a conversation between Cline and star Tye Sheridan. They discuss their experience in making the movie and share stories.

Between the terrific, fun main feature and a series of substantive bonus features, Ready Player One is an impressive Blu-ray release.

Ready Player one is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.