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Ready Player One (Blu-ray Review)

Ready Player One, based off of the Ernest Cline novel of the same name, became one of the first bigger hits in the Spring of 2018 post-Black Panther. The film took in some nice dough and found a some popularity overseas, raking in almost 600 billion dollars on the worldwide stage. Financially its been one of Steven Spielberg’s biggest in years. Now, its coming from the theater arcade to your home video console. I’m excited for this to be a Blu-ray release, but boy…how fun would it have been to include or sell separately a collector’s Beta or VHS tape of the film. And not in letterbox either, fully cropped as was per usual. Missed opportunity there. Maybe on a rerelease. Anyway, this release is pretty loaded with extras and you can check it all out when it arrives on July 24th.

Film 

Set in 2045,  the world is on the brink of chaos and collapse. But the people have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday. When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that grips the entire world. When an unlikely young hero named Wade Watts decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger.

While it feels weird having Steven Spielberg make a film based on a book that wags his own tale, after seeing it, I can’t possibly imagine the film working as well as it does without him. Spielberg smartly avoids a lot of his own personal referencing, but also does his best to avoid constant cringe-inducing pop culture references. The film still includes many, but in the hands of someone else, this could have turned into a hollow, eye-rolling 2+ hour episode of The Big Bang Theory. Instead, Spielberg knows the film’s background environment is gonna invite that anyway, so he puts story and characters first, knowing that the other stuff will naturally fill in afterward.

Another touch that elevates this film above “generic reference identification wankfest” is that Spielberg has an eye for how to tell this. The action scenes in this film may be fully CGI but many do they have a great eye and hold up and amuse wonderfully. The opening car race scene is quite incredibly and one of the best cinematic action scenes of 2018. Ditto for how he handles the haunting insanity within The Shining sequences. The finale is loud, full and crazy and earned, but I have to say that those other 2 sequences were based on more simplicity and paved the way for it to just go all out. Lets also not forget that this includes some real world action that feels right at home with some classic Amblin sequences.

Ready Player One is full of some familiar looking avatars, but it also features some solid classic character skeletons that pump up some of the more emotional weight on the film. Wade Watts is a bit vanilla, but luckily Tye Sheridan is enough of a performer to really put him in a better place. Storywise, I feel like Artemis may have been a more interesting character to focus on, but she helps make Wade a better character. Ben Mendelsohn absolute owns the villian here and really helps the film as a whole find more stakes and gives weight to the obstacles and challenges faced by our characters. Simon Pegg isn’t in the film much gives a really touching performance. The surrounding characters are fun, even if many of them wind up being hampered with some expositional dump lines and cringey things to say. Speaking of exposition, this film is loaded with it in the first act, but I’ll give it that the stuff discussed and what’s happening onscreen is informative in an interesting way and I only noticed how bloated the narration was on this 2nd viewing and didn’t care.

Ready Player One is rollicking fun time that will transport the audience (and characters) to a world they can relate to and may never want to leave. However, it also delivers a solid and worthwhile revelation and message by the time things close. Oddly, this film kind of feels long, but I mean it in a good way. The characters are playing a fun game with a great sense of adventure that you sort of don’t want to see come to a close. Out of the hands of Steven Spielberg, I’m sure this film would still have been hyped and popular, but it may not have a lasting quality and effective action set pieces to it. Above all else, another director may have been so tempted to earn easter egg street cred, but Spielberg puts the focus on story over that of showing off easter eggs or pop culture knowledge.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Ready Player One debuts with a pretty superb looking Blu-ray. Had I not been keen to what the 4K image looked like, I’d be pretty ecstatic with this one. There is a nice attention to detail, especially on the CG characters and worlds in the film. Everything looks kinda real but also fabricated at the same time and that translates to the image. I mean that in a positive way. The image is good, crisp and sharp and really brings everything to life in this top notch picture.

Depth:  This features some stronger three dimensional looking fun in the Oasis. Its a bit more static and not has open feeling as the 4K, but that’s to be expecting. Motion and depth of field in the image remain still pretty strong through.

Black Levels: Blacks are pretty deep here. Some details are lost or are not as fine in the darkness. At other times it helps to craft a gloomier image. There are no crushing instances present.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty strong in this image. Some of the display screens I feel could have given a little more (Improved on the 4K presentation), but aside from that I’m pretty surprised and impressed with some of them. Much of the clothing and neon lighting in this film really gives a nice little luscious burst when intended to show off.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural, with an hint of coldness, and consistent in color from start to finish of the film. Facial features like moles, dimples, wrinkles, dirt, sweat and wetness from crying all come through with good clarity at any reasonably given distance.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese

Dynamics: The Dolby Atmos track on Ready Player One is wildly impressive. The sound design for this movie is dynamite and the track absolutely makes sweet love to it. Every little detail is captured with depth and layering mastery. Volume levels are set accordingly and can give you the real feel of a quiet room or the loud rambunctious insanity of battle hearing every thing up front and in the distance. This is one impressive track, just wait til I tell you about the experience from up top.

Height: This could quite possibly be my favorite overhead experience so far of all Atmos sound designs. The ceiling channels are very active and nuanced in this mix. They are also louder and pronounced. Things fly and shoot overhead, passing through tunnels give a woosh, things fall from above, music haunts through areas and overall intense sequences get it going. Heck, the drone at the beginning of the film is pretty wow’ing and at the same time so matter of fact. The top speakers are always involved in this film and it truly adds to experience of being in a simulated world.

Low Frequency Extension: The subwoofer gives a terrific performance here, but it oddly could be the weak link. Things do relatively hit, but in a more restrained but still effective fashion. It all works though, you can just turn it up a tad and get it to where you want it. I was perfectly satisfied with my default level though.

Surround Sound Presentation: The multi-channel audio mix here is immaculate. Every speaker has what feels the most important task. Motion, movements, little spots that you know where they are in the environment but not onscreen at the time are fully accounted for. This mix is precise, its loud and its full. Every speaker is putting in overtime to deliver this incredible Oasis experience.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp. Audible clarity is present during even the most pandemonium on screen.

Extras 

Ready Player One comes with the Blu-ray edition and a digital copy of the film. All bonus materials are found on the standard Blu-ray disc.

The ’80s: You’re The Inspiration (HD, 5:38) – Author Ernest Cline discusses his love for the 1980s and why its an era he was fond of and we get some of those involved with the film’s thoughts as well as Spielberg who says he cut his own references out and also left many on the cutting room floor.

Game Changer: Cracking The Code (HD, 57:22) – A thorough look at the making of the film, from picking up the book, through adaptation, casting, shooting, set design, you name it, this takes you all over and includes interviews with pretty much everyone.

Effects For A Brave New World (HD, 24:39) – This takes a closer look at the effects in the film from previsualition to onset work to post production. It goes over the complex work and attention to detail used in the film.

Level Up: Sound For The Future (HD, 8:03) – A cool aspect not included in a lot of bonus features or making ofs nowadays, this one goes over a lot of specific sound designs used in the film. From character voices to falling buildings. Spielberg comments that he’s not sure he’s spent that much time on a sound stage ever and that they were creating new sounds every day.

High Score: Endgame (HD, 10:04) – Spielberg talks tapping Alan Silvestri with having John Williams busy doing The Post for him. This then goes over the inspirations and the coming together of the score with specific scenes from the film touched upon.

Ernie & Tye’s Excellent Adventure (HD, 12:00) – The author of the book and the star of the film sit and reflect on the film and the cool stuff they experienced. It ends with Tye giving Ernest the most softball movie quiz and a tease of a Ready Player Two sequel.

Summary 

In terms of the popcorn fun of enjoying old school things woven in with the modern element with those classic Amblin storytelling touches, Ready Player One checks off all the boxes. Steven Spielberg has pull off a 1-2 punch on opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum as really on he could do with this and The Post within months of each other. If you don’t have 4K yet, this Blu-ray gives a great way to experience the film at home with top notch video presentation for the format and outstanding Atmos sound, giving you the real deal Oasis feel. The extras are pretty thorough, making this a pretty complete release for fans.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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