Blu-ray Review: Ready Player One

By , Contributor
There's a whole lot to like about Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, an extravaganza centered on the near-future virtual reality universe called the Oasis. Ty Sheridan (often looking strikingly like a young Spielberg himself) plays Wade Watts, a young man disillusioned with his humdrum existence. The year is 2045 and seemingly the entire world has lost itself in the Oasis, a fully-immersive virtual world in which people can be—and do—anything (i.e. climb Mount Everest with Batman!). When the Oasis' creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away, he posthumously announces a contest that will decide the new ownership and full control of his invaluable sim platform. Wade, via his avatar Parzival, is determined to pass the various tests, uncover the tricky "Easter eggs" planted by Halliday, and win the whole darn thing.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment unleashes Ready Player One on Blu-ray (also Blu-ray 3D, 4K UltraHD, and standard DVD) on July 24, 2018.

Ready Player One explores people's need for escape from reality. The Oasis is, from what we see of life in 2045, a far better place to spend one's time—even if it's not "real." Spielberg masterfully glides back-and-forth between live-action "real world" action and the completely computer-generated Oasis. Parzival forms an alliance with Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe) to combat the corporate interests of Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn)—CEO of Innovative Online Industries—to win the very soul of Halliday's creation. The whole scenario is reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a debt that Ready Player One source-novel author (and co-screenwriter) Ernest Cline freely acknowledges. 
Ready Player One feat.jpg As dazzling as Spielberg's action scenes are (one set piece features both a T-Rex and King Kong rampaging through a skyscraper-laden city) and as fun as it is to catch all the nostalgic nods to 20th century pop culture (people in 2045 are inexplicably obsessed with anything '80s-related), there are some tonal inconsistencies that keep Ready Player One from being all that it might've been. Sorrento is such a buffoonish villain (Mendelsohn seems to be consciously evoking the late Paul Gleason, famous for playing the principal in The Breakfast Club, a connection made more obvious by direct references to John Hughes' films), his more evil-minded doings seem too heavy for this particular film. Murdering innocents is pretty nefarious, to say the least, yet Spielberg also wants Sorrento to serve incongruously as comic relief.

In the end, Ready Player One succeeds as a piece of a breathless adventure storytelling. But it is increasingly shot down by a tendency to drift into kiddie-oriented silliness. By the third act, Wade/Parzival and his buddies are seemingly modeled after the gang of kids from The Goonies. Not helping matters at all is Sheridan's omnipresent "golly gee willikers"-style narration. No discernible arc ever develops between Wade as contented gamer to Wade as battle-hardened hero.

Sorrento's enslavement of the "Sixers," an army of workers he commands to win Halliday's Oasis, is glossed over, adding to the overall difficulty in treating Sorrento as a truly hissable baddie. Yes, Spielberg gives us plenty of pure entertainment value throughout, but the whole film is severely lacking in gravity. By the end, the proceedings are dominated by a pervasive cuteness, a Disney-esque corniness that also kept ambitious adventures like Tomorrowland from transcending a twee "family fare" feel.

Warner Bros.' Blu-ray features an excellent array of special features, led by an hour-long documentary "Game Changer: Cracking the Code" that goes above and beyond the typical 'making of' featurette. This behind-the-scenes look at Ready Player One alone would be enough to make the supplements worthwhile, but there are also five additional featurettes that total another hour ("Effects for a Brave New World" is, at 25 minutes, the most substantial of these). Along with a perfect 1080p transfer and boisterous Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core; also DTS-HD MA 5.1) surround mix, Warner has made Ready Player One something special for the home video format.
Ready Player One BD.jpg

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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