Score another hit for Spielberg with “Ready Player One”
Updated: Mar 14
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) hopes to win the OASIS three Easter egg challenge set up by the late computer mastermind James Halliday.
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“READY PLAYER ONE”
4K Ultra HD, 3D+2D Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2018; PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: 60-minute featurette “Game Changer: Cracking the Code”
STEVEN SPIELBERG, 71, was inexhaustible in the first six months of 2018. Two of his most recent films received high marks from critics and fans. “The Post,” with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, was honored with an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, while his virtual-reality adventure “Ready Player One” nearly topped $600 million in worldwide box office returns.
The celebrated filmmaker has been a 4K sparkplug since April releasing five more of 33 films onto the home viewing Ultra HD format: “The Post” (April 17), “Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Edition" (May 8), “Jurassic Park: 25th Anniversary Collection” and “The Lost World” (May 25), and “Ready Player One” (July 24).
Already out on 4K is “Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 40th Anniversary Edition” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: 35th Anniversary Edition” “Schindler’s List: 25th Anniversary Edition” is coming this fall making Spielberg the leader of 4K content.
His adaptation of Ernest "Ernie" Cline’s sci-fi bestseller “Ready Player One” is a visual marvel set in a troubled, not-too-distant future of 2045. Its hero is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an orphan in his late teens. He lives with his aunt Alice (Susan Lynch) and her “endless string of hard-loving losers” in a shantytown of trailer homes stacked 20-stories high near downtown Columbus, Ohio (Oklahoma City in the book). Needing escape from harsh realities, humans devote their conscious hours to the virtual realm of OASIS, the brainchild of the late computer mastermind James Halliday (Mark Rylance).
Halliday left behind three-cyber Easter egg challenges hidden within OASIS, a salute to his pop-culture favorites pulled from the late 1970s into the early ‘90s. Each winner receives a key and a clue to the next challenge. The first to collect all three will inherit a half-trillion dollars and take control of Halliday’s gargantuan empire.
But not a single hunter or “gunter,” as they’re called in OASIS, have discovered a key in the past five years. The big scoreboard remains empty. Wade continues to search and hope for a clue as his cool-kid avatar Parzival, who drives the “Back to the Future” DeLorean through a minefield of obstacles including King Kong and T-Rex, a wink to Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park.”
Every time Parzival and his gunter friends – Sho (Philip Zhao), Daito (Win Morisaki), Aech/Helen (Lena Waithe) and love interest, motorcycle speedster Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke) – come up short of the finish line.
Their greatest competition comes from the Sixers, an army of gunters who work for tyrant Norman Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), CEO of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), the world’s second-largest company with plans to become the biggest if it can grab the three keys.
Six featurettes provide more than 90-minutes of production info. “Ready Player One” was filmed mostly on a near-empty soundstage in England, where performance capture devices recorded the actors’ every move for the OASIS scenes. “This was one of the hardest films I’ve ever had to make because it’s not like taking a crew and going off and filming. There are so many iterations, so many technological levels to create and realize the OASIS,” Spielberg says in “Game Changer: Cracking the Code,” a featurette found on the Blu-ray disc and streaming sites.
Spielberg admits he hadn’t read the novel until Warner Brothers came to him with a copy and an early draft of the script from Cline and co-writer Zak Penn ('The Incredible Hulk,” “The Avengers”). He took them home to read over a weekend was “completely WOWed,” Spielberg says.
Cline relates how the Atari game Adventure, the first video game to have an Easter egg, was a key inspiration. It featured a secret room where the designer’s name, Warren Robinett, was hidden. He also credits Roald Dahl – especially his “Willy Wonka” books, wondering if Wonka had been a video game designer, how he might have handled the Golden Ticket contest. “I started to think about the riddles and puzzles and clues this eccentric billionaire [Halliday] and video game designer could leave behind to find a worthy successor,” Cline says.
Halliday built his clues around his favorite movies, music, books, etc. that mirrored the author’s own fanboy passions.
Favorite food – Hot Pockets
Favorite restaurant – Chuck E. Cheese
Favorite game variant – Slappers only
Favorite first-person shooter – Oddjob from GoldenEye
Favorite Song – “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles
Favorite Video – “Take on Me” by A-ha.
Favorite quote – “Some people can read ‘War and Peace’ and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on the back of a chew-gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.” – Lex Luther, “Superman” (1978)
During the featurette “‘80s: You’re the inspiration,” Spielberg says he considers Cline “The Oracle of popular culture.” Cline’s formative years were spent in Austin, Texas, where he got his first video game console, his first home computer and his first VCR, which motivates the storyline. For co-writer Zak Penn the novel, “Went into my memory and grabbed out every single thing I remember from all of the MTV references to comic books to movies to TV shows.”
“Effects for a Brave New World” highlights the groundbreaking visual effects, which contain a record number of FX characters created from scratch, says Animation Supervisor David Shirk of Industrial Light & Magic. With thousands of concept art drawings creating launching points, every single set within OASIS was created by ILM and Digital Domain. Spielberg donned a VR headset that put him into the virtual set. It included a camera, with which he could preload his preferred camera positions and movements.
A rarity in Spielberg filmmaking, “Ready Player One” was mastered in 2K, and then upconverted to 4K. With a majority of the film created and rendered in the computer, cost and time more likely pushed the visual effects to the lower resolution. Real world scenes were captured on 35mm film (2.39:1 aspect ratio) with a base nearing 6K and downconverted to match the rest of the film.
Find an across-the-board uptick in visuals on the 4K disc, and more defined film grain evident when Wade first puts on his VR headset and we see enhanced complexions. Spielberg’s desired wide-angle composition and framing are also more defined.
The most noticeable difference kicks with the HDR/Dolby Vision toning and its expanded color palette that pushes the Technicolor-like OASIS into a kaleidoscope of blues, reds, greens, yellows, and everything in-between. The black level is deeper and highlights brighter providing REAL POP to the overall picture. Real world scenes are purposely desaturated, adding to its gloominess. No wonder everyone wants to spend their lives in OASIS.
The enveloping sound design – bound to be nominated for an Oscar – is extremely active. It bounces around the room, especially to height speakers with the eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack. In “Level Up: Sound for the Future,” Producer Kristie Macosko Krieger recalls Spielberg telling her: “Sound design is going to be everything.”
Seven-time Oscar winner Gary Rydstrom (“Jurassic Park,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Terminator 2”) and his team produced one of the finest multi-layer sound effects tracks ever. It perfectly blends dialogue, effects and score. Composer Alan Silvestri’s (“Forrest Gump,” “Avengers: Infinity War”) score borrows from his own “Back to the Future” and John Williams. Williams, who normally handles music for Spielberg, was tied up with “The Post.” Cline and Silvestri exchanged autographs, a signed copy of the book with a “magnificent inscription,” says Silvestri, who then signed Cline’s vinyl LP jackets to all three “Back to the Future” films.
“Ready Player One” may not be a sci-fi masterpiece, but its pure escapism and remarkable eye-candy satisfy the 4K fan in everyone.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer