‘Ready Player One,’ an energetic digital fantasy

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Gamers will delightfully revel in the electronic stupor of this Steven Spielberg CGI spectacle. The story featuring virtual reality takes place mostly inside the game. Set in the future (2045), it celebrates the past with references to games, music and cultural references from the 80s, which just might have been Spielberg’s most creative days.

This is a shameless geek-fest of technological wonder that can entertain even those that never mastered “Pong.” However, serious video gamers will have the most fun with this energetic and over-indulgent digital fantasy. Based on the novel by Earnest Cline, the story depicts a dystopian society created by war, droughts and riots.

Young Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) realizes life is a bummer. Virtual reality allows his avatar, Parzival, to enter a world called “The Oasis.” There, he can do anything and go anywhere. That is, in this immersive virtual universe, he can go somewhere without going anywhere. Given the real world being what it is, most of humanity does the same.

The OASIS was created by brilliant eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance). The icon will leave his immense fortune and total control of the OASIS to the winner of a contest designed to find a worthy heir. The game includes clues, keys, magical gates and a hidden Easter egg. The entire world competes for the most successful venture of the day. However, some nefarious weasels just might not play fair.

The movie depicts characters from “TRON” (1982), “Child’s Play” (1988), “The Shining” (1980), “Iron Giant” (1999), “Tomb Raider” (1996) and many more. The soundtrack includes songs from Van Halen, Blondie, Bee Gees, Earth Wind and Fire, Twisted Sister and Hall and Oates. Although Spielberg typically collaborates with John Williams, who was not available, the original score from Alan Silvestri is masterful.

This movie is best seen on the big screen, where the audience can fully immerse themselves into the experience of this virtual universe. The fast-paced CGI ride clips at an energetic and exhausting pace. We couldn’t follow all the action and cultural references, so they should have posted a running score in the corner of the screen.

When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he becomes both a hero and a target. Unlike the real world, Wade has met friends in the OASIS. Calling themselves the “High Five,” they are off and running into a fantastic world of discovery and danger to save the OASIS. The difference is that any setbacks may now have real consequences that could include the words, “Game Over.”

Gene Wilder was originally suggested for the role of Halliday, who gives away his business to a well deserving kid, but passed away before filming began. Spielberg films are heavily referenced in the novel, but he removed himself from the movie version, other than possibly the use of a DeLorean from “Back to the Future” (1985).

This is Spielberg’s first sci-fi film since “War of the World” (2005). The 71-year old director claims it is the third most difficult movie he has made, after “Jaws” (1975) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). The original release date was pushed back to avoid competition with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017).

“Ready Player One” is a very long 140 minutes and rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, bloody images, suggestive material, partial nudity and language. A well-published casting call sought new talent, which caused a flood of fan-boy interest, but also much disappointment and anger when established actors were cast.

“Ready Player One” is a phrase that greeted and challenged players at the opening of early video games. Like many Spielberg movies, the plot allows kids a way to plausibly save the world. As virtual reality becomes ever more advanced, maybe parents can more confidently reassure their kids, “You can be anything you want to be.”

Ron’s Rating: B Leigh’s Rating: B

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Ron & Leigh Martel