Based on the novel by Ernest Cline who co-wrote the screenplay with The Avengers writer Zak Penn, Ready Player One takes you into two-worlds, both real and virtual, that eventually intersect creating conflicts (and danger) in both existences. We’ve seen similar plots before and can predict much of what will happen, but Spielberg adds enough wit and originality to carry it through. The real savior of the movie, however, may be the film’s impressive technical execution from Industrial Light & Magic and cinematography from Oscar-winner Janusz Kamiński.
Ready Player One uses the term avatar (a generic term for one’s virtual entity) and it’s hard not to think of James Cameron’s Avatar, a film made 10 years ago in which the protagonist goes into a virtual body to explore another world. In Ready Player One, however, the world is a virtual place called the Oasis in which humans escape their dystopian existence on Earth.
The premise of the film is to find an Easter egg (a gaming term for a hidden message, joke or secret) in Oasis hidden by its creator James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance). The game was on for participants upon Halliday’s death who promised total control of Oasis to the one who finds it. Participants need to find three keys in order to unlock the Easter Egg, and so much of the film is spent discovering the keys.
Ready Player One is also a love story in which the two main characters find each other in the virtual world while searching for the Easter egg. “Parzival” (whose real name is “Wade”) meets up with “Art3mis” (Samantha) during a high speed chase in which she is almost crushed by a King Kong avatar. Art3mis, with eyes as wide as a Porg, is a much cooler character than Parzival. She rides the motorcycle borrowed from the Japanese anime film Akira — one of the many 80’s references in this film. Parzival, on the other hand, drives the DeLorean-turned time machine from the mid-eighties film Back To the Future.
Those are just the start of the 80’s movie references: Art3mis pulls a prank as an ‘Aliens’ creature; Parzival actually goes back in time using the DeLorean; and there’s a visit to the Stanley Hotel from The Shining. Pop culture actually becomes part of the plot, but we won’t give away too much more in this review. The film is also loaded with references to video gaming gadgets, the virtual gaming industry, and the potentials and warnings about virtual environments that have long been a discussion since MUDs and MMORPGs emerged.
But missing from the film are the really seedy elements of virtual worlds, which if you’ve even spent some time in worlds like Second Life you’d know how perverse it is. The movie shows some of the “clubs” in which avatars interact, but given the teenage characters and targeted younger audience never delves deeper in the darker components of virtual space.
There are plenty of movies it can be compared to, and some titles that come to mind include Beowolf, the ‘Matrix’ franchise, Avatar and of course Spielberg’s own The Adventures of Tintin. Those who love pop culture, video gaming, and sci-fi action might watch Ready Player One multiple times.
We really wanted to review the 3D Blu-ray edition of Ready Player One, but a copy was really hard to get a hold of (Best Buy was sold out and Amazon is way overpriced at $48 bucks). However, we did pick up a copy of the 4k Blu-ray SteelBook edition from Best Buy with packaging that’s so cool it’s worth the extra $5 bucks. Like most of Best Buy’s exclusives, however, the guts are the same.
The race scene with Parzival, his virtual-buddy Aech, and daredevil motorcyclist Art3mis is the first place the movie really shows off the color depth, detail, and wide range of contrast the 4k Blu-ray has to offer.
Seen after Art3mis’s bike is crushed by Kong, Sorrento’s workshop is incredibly detailed and sharp with rich color in every nook that is enhanced on HDR TVs. The ballroom dancing scene also shows off a color depth not possible on the 2k Blu-ray, and is even diminished minus the HDR (you can usually turn off HDR on your TV to compare).
The “real world” scenes are nowhere near as impressive as the Oasis environment, but that might have been a strategy to create contrast between the two worlds. In the Oasis, the color saturation is elevated, depth is increased (also a result of being virtual) and details in every image are abundant.
The 4k Blu-ray version of Ready Player One is a huge improvement over the 2k Blu-ray, although the biggest difference is in the Oasis scenes. In terms of sharpness, however, you can always sit back a few more feet and not notice much of a difference. However, take out the color depth generated through the Dolby Vision encoding and there is no comparison. Ready Player One needs to be watched on an HDR TV.
Alan Silvestri, whose name you might know from a slew of blockbusters such as Avengers: Infinity War, Forrest Gump, and of course Back to the Future, created an epic soundtrack that’s intermingled with hits from the 70’s and 80’s such as “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (Prince), “Blue Monday” (New Order) and “Stayin’ Alive” (Bee Gees).
There must have been a lot of licensing here, but one might wonder what would have been the result if Silvestri’s original score was the only music in the film. Would it have been as affective? Would the film still keep viewers engaged through the two-hours plus without the aid of “America’s Top 40” hits?
On a Dolby Atmos-supporting soundbar Ready Player One has a nice range of audio depth. There are scenes when your room might shake a bit (depending on volume) but what we found was even in the quiet scenes the audio levels were clear and there was no need to turn up or turn down the volume for clarity.
We mentioned the ballroom dancing scene above and here is an example of where you can hear effects such as a dead dancer’s bones crushing, flesh tearing and arms falling off as if right next to you. At times the audio depth matches the level of detail in the imagery — and surrounding sound creates an immersive experience.
Ready Player One drags at times during its two-hour and twenty-minute duration. The plot is fairly predictable and the endless raids do get tiring (it’s no surprise Parzival figures out a way to get out of all of them). But there is plenty of content to keep you in your seats.
Is Ready Player One a must-buy on Ultra HD Blu-ray? Probably, given the Oasis world is greatly enhanced by more resolution and deeper color depth with HDR via Dolby Vision (which, by the way, adds a lot more detail in shadow areas). If this film was mainly in the real world, however, we’d say save your money and just pick up the Blu-ray as only the Oasis world is really 4k-worthy.