Based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 best-selling novel, Ready Player One could be considered a futuristic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory substituting 1980s pop culture icons for candy bars. It also marks director Steven Spielberg’s return to blockbuster popcorn movies after a bit of a dry spell.
The Production: 4.5/5
In 2045 Columbus, Ohio, much of society finds the virtual world of the OASIS, developed by computer whiz and owner of Greagarious Games James Halliday (Mark Rylance), much more enjoyable than the poverty-stricken world they actually live in. When Halliday dies alone, he releases a video will stating that he has hidden three keys within his virtual world that will unlock an “easter egg,” and the first person to discover the egg will inherit his fortune and the OASIS, worth an estimated half trillion dollars. Of course, the public begins searching for clues that will lead them to that first key (referred to as “gunters,” short for egg hunters), but so does Greagarious’ rival corporation Innovative Online Industries (IOI), led by former Halliday intern Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Sorrento wants the egg so badly that he not only has formed a group of anonymous soldiers (known as “sixers” because their employee numbers all begin with the number 6) who are paid quite handsomely to find the keys and the egg, but IOI is also using the poverty-stricken to pay off their debts in internment camps the company calls “loyalty centers.”
When Wade Watts aka Parzival in the OASIS (Tye Sheridan), a young man living with his Aunt and loser of the month boyfriend in the slums of Columbus called “The Stacks” (quite literally, trailer homes stacked one atop of another), finds the first key by completing an impossible race through the streets of New York, he meets Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), a beautiful young woman with lots of spunk and hatred for IOI and its army of sixers, who quickly follows in finding the first key. The two team up with Parzival’s online friends – behemoth and tech-wizard Aech (Lena Waithe), samurai warriors Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao) – to find the remaining keys. Furious that IOI is far behind in the hunt, Sorrento has enlisted the aid of I-R0k (T.J. Miller) to find Parzival’s true identity and wipe him out of existence on the OASIS.
After the box office disappointments of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Adventures of Tintin, and The BFG, director Steven Spielberg came back to hit a home run at the international and domestic box office with Ready Player One, fusing a dazzling virtual world created using performance capture technology (which Spielberg first used on Tintin) and a drab pre-apocalyptic real world rather seamlessly. His mostly young cast help sell the fairly simple story, with some help from Simon Pegg as Halliday’s only true friend, Ogden Morrow, a kind of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the futuristic virtual world. Alan Silvestri’s score is reminiscent of his own scores for 1980s films Back to the Future, Predator, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, to name a few, which fits in perfectly with the infusion of 1980s and 1990s pop culture and video game references throughout the movie. And it is those references that make Ready Player One a real treat on repeat viewings, as there are an unknown number of “easter eggs” hidden by the production design and visual effects teams.
3D Rating: NA
Ready Player One had its real world shot on 35mm film and the virtual world of the OASIS rendered at 2.8k resolution, with the final film completed as a 2K digital intermediate with Dolby Vision high dynamic range grading. Warner’s 2160p upscale retains the film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1, plus adds both HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range, and the image is dazzling. When compared to already excellent (and included) Blu-ray edition, the colors in the virtual OASIS world are much more vibrant and bold, with more even gradients, and no instances of blooming. The real world, while often drab, is slightly less monochromatic as seen on the Blu-ray, appearing more naturally desaturated. Contrast, particularly with black levels, is where the UHD disc truly excels, revealing more shadow details (and, hence, more easter eggs) than its Blu-ray counterpart.
I still do not understand why Warner continues to author their 4K UHD discs to default to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track rather than the Dolby Atmos track (and, for that matter, why are Blu-ray’s the opposite). The DTS-HD MA track is very good, but the Atmos track quite literally blows that out of the water. As expected, LFE is much more pronounced and tighter, but without sounding overly boomy. Heights are used to great effect to include the sounds of IOI’s drones buzzing overhead almost constantly in the exteriors of the real world, as well as extending the “headroom” as it were for scenes inside the OASIS. Sound effects are placed more precisely within the viewing/listening area, with dialogue always coming across clear and understandable.
Special Features: 4.5/5
As usual, all of the special features can be found on the included Blu-ray edition of the film.
The ‘80s: You’re the Inspiration (1080p; 5:38): The book’s author along with select members of the cast and crew discuss the 1980s nostalgia factor.
Game Changer: Cracking the Code (1080p; 57:22): A very in-depth look at the making of the film. A bit of a warning, though, there are quite a few spoilers in this documentary.
Effects of a Brave New World (1080p; 24:39): A closer look at the visual effects created for the film.
Level Up: Soud for the Future (1080p; 8:03): Supervising sound designer Gary Rydstrom and sound designer Kyrsten Mate discuss the challenges of creating the complex sound of the film.
High Score: Endgame (1080p; 10:04): A visit to the recording stage as Alan Silvestri conducts the score for the film.
Ernie and Tye’s Excellent Adventure (1080p; 12:00): Author and co-screenwriter Ernest Cline and star Tye Sheridan discuss making the film just prior to its premiere at the SXSW festival.
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy of the film on Movies Anywhere. I redeemed my code on Vudu, and received the film in UHD on Vudu, FandangoNow, and Google Play Movies, HD on Amazon Prime Video. Redemption will also most likely get you the movie in UHD on iTunes, as well. The code also provided access to the digital exclusive bonus feature Ready Player One: From Concept to Screen on Vudu plus Trivia and Production slide shows on the Movies Anywhere app and website.
I loved every minute of Ready Player One, and in the three viewings so far have found more easter eggs each and every time. Video and audio are excellent, as are the special features. Recommended.