Ready Player One

How many more movies and TV shows will simulate virtual reality to tell a “thought-provoking” story about the fate of society? I gave up on Netflix’s Black Mirror because I could not bear another tale of VR gone awry, but Ready Player One brings the pedigree of Steven Spielberg, plus Ernest Cline’s bestselling novel. How could it miss? 2045, Columbus, Ohio has become the new Silicon Valley, but for most folks it is a dreadful existence, with the rank-and-file crammed into teetering stacks of mobile homes. They escape each day into “The Oasis,” an elaborate virtual world where almost anything is possible. Designed by pop culture-obsessed genius Halliday (Oscar winner Mark Rylance), it is also the location of his posthumously announced contest: find three hidden keys and gain full control of The Oasis, plus a half- trillion dollars in stock. Pure-hearted Wade (Tye Sheridan) finds the first key, but there’s no time to celebrate as an evil corporation determined to win the game at all costs has put him in its sights.

Spielberg first and foremost seeks to dazzle the audience, and while the scope of the virtual world is respectable, the VR trappings depicted feel mostly been-there, done-that. Cline’s beloved book has essentially been gutted for this adaptation, which soon devolves into a series
of young-rebels-raging-against-the-machine clichés. Too bad the filmmakers did not grant the same priority to crafting sympathetic characters as they did to perfecting the texture and lighting of their avatars. Also, the fact that this homage to ‘80s iconography is directed by the man who created so much of it is a tad bizarre.


Ready Player One was shot on a combination of 35mm film and digital video, a fitting mix considering the nature of the two worlds depicted. Yes, the realm of The Oasis is vast, and it’s rendered in just enough detail to keep the realism “virtual” while still teasing the eyes to explore around this corner of the 2.39:1 frame over here, or to plumb that shadow over there. The speed and fluidity of the movement through these meticulous environments were undreamed of but a few years ago, so let’s not overlook the technical accomplishment. I heartily recommend viewing RP1 in 4K and high dynamic range (it’s in Dolby Vision, though I watched in HDR10) to get the full experience. Upon my second viewing I spotted even more of the Easter eggs, which are beyond counting. (There’s apparently a converted 3D version of the movie as well, which is probably a lot of fun.) The sole visual distraction I noticed—a weird flicker on the pattern of an X1 VR “bootsuit” chestplate—was fleeting, and also more pronounced on the 1080p Blu-ray, where it degraded into outright moiré.


The Dolby Atmos soundtrack (I listened to the TrueHD 7.1 core) immediately immerses viewers in the drone-filled skies above the crowded stacks—even the air here feels congested. No effort has been spared to conjure a credible sonic presence for the real world, warts and all, while the digital realm in contrast is all about “wow.” Legendary sound designer/mixer Gary Rydstrom once again is on-point, putting a unique spin on familiar cinematic scenarios and even revisiting a certain irritable T-Rex. The mix is a bold, layered confection with slick panning between the speakers, as when a motorcycle zips around a dense pack of jockeying vehicles. There’s no shortage of big, wild action and the LFE track does its part admirably, while the plethora of ‘80s pop tunes are woven in full and wide.

Ready Player One’s bundled regular Blu-ray disc version carries six behind-the-scenes featurettes, nearly two hours total, that are mostly free of fluff and delve into meaty analysis of the movie’s special effects and beyond. A printed code unlocks a 4K digital copy. Appropriately enough, a Snapchat augmented reality experience is also supported.

Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray
Studio: Warner, 2018
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
HDR Format: Dolby Vision and HDR10
Audio Format: Dolby Atmos with TrueHD 7.1 core
Length: 140 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg