- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of author Ernest Cline’s 1980s pop culture overloaded novel moves from a successful theatrical run to 4K-enabled home entertainment rooms in Ready Player One (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 140 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $44.95).

Within the high-tech-infused tale, protagonist Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) reminds viewers early on that reality in the year 2045 really stinks, witnessed by his dysfunctional family living among trailer-home-stacked towers in urban ghettos.

Thankfully, computer-gaming genius James Halliday (Mark Rylance at his most naive) created the ultimate escape in a virtual realty universe called the OASIS that allows humans to control customized avatars in wondrous realms.

Life is pretty grand through those rose-tinted goggles, but for the serious players, the now deceased Halliday has left an enticing contest.

Specifically, anyone who conquers three challenges as well as accompanying riddles will find three keys that they can use to unlock his riches and own all of his pixelated kingdom in the finest of Willy Wonka traditions.

Of course, an evil corporation led by Nolan Sorrentoby (Ben Mendelsohn) wants the fortune to control both worlds, but a group of rebels, led by Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), wants to stop him. Naturally, Wade (aka Parzival) wants to win and his obsession with Halliday’s life may be the rebels’ key to victory.

Viewers get immersed in intense action from the start and meet plenty of familiar characters as an opening salvo features a wild race with our hero driving a supped up “Back to the Future” DeLorean while avoiding a “Jurassic Park” style T-Rex and King Kong.

Equally impressive is a neon-encrusted, zero-gravity dance sequence in the Distracted Globe nightclub (did I just see Joker and Harley Quinn?) that ends with a massive firefight.

Offering a truly, all family encompassing nostalgia trip, the narrative covers five decades worth of pop culture Easter eggs popping up in every corner of the screen.

Look for appearances by the Iron Giant, Freddy Krueger, the vintage 1960s TV Batmobile, Robocop, Spawn, Marvin the Martian, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jason Voorhees, Beetlejuice, and even Mortal Kombat’s Goro and an Alien chestburster.

The story’s focus might hit a bit too close to home for some parents watching their children’s evolving obsession with social media and gaming, but the director mainly ignores any preaching on its ills and instead overloads a rollicking pile of adventure with plenty of eye candy.

Despite reaching the ripe old age of 71, Mr. Spielberg’s childlike wonderment for the film medium remains firmly intact. Don’t expect a masterpiece such as “Indiana Jones” or “E.T. the Extraterrestrial,” but do expect a highly entertaining evening with “Ready Player One.”

4K UHD in action: Viewers can now scrutinize Industrial Light & Magic and Digital Domain’s meticulous work in building this massive pop cultural homage thanks to the ultra-high definition format.

Despite viewers getting a 4K upscale from only a 2K master resource, the transfer still delivers razor-sharp imagery that clearly defines the differences between the real and virtual worlds.

Mr. Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński were meticulous in their filming choices using high-end digital camera technology to shoot OASIS versus traditional, grainier film stock to show humanity’s oppressive existence.

Their choices led to saturated neon colors of the virtual world literally swirling and exploding on home theater screens, thanks to the high dynamic range enhancements

Witness the neon green undergird of the opening race while watching all of the chaotic detail happening above, or appreciate the Distracted Globe nightclub loaded with neon purples and blues or even a collection of zombies bathed in green fog ballroom dancing in “The Shining” mansion.

Details abound such as watching defeated players burst into coins, the villain i-R0k’s torso featuring a metallic skull with holes for the mouth and eyes; rebel Aech’s hydraulic torso; and Parzival’s textured skin, where one can nearly count every intersection of grids.

Viewers will also find themselves at numerous points stopping the disc to scour the onscreen action for many an Easter egg, also thanks to the vibrant 2160p resolution.

Just look closely during the firefight in the Distracted Globe to see Parzival wielding a Colonial revolver from “Battlestar Galactica” and Art3mis using Ripley’s pulse rifle from “Aliens.”

Additionally, the aurally rich Dolby Atmos sound mix brings every roar, explosion and classic sound effect to life culminating with the ear-bleeding sounds of Mechagodzilla on the warpath.

It also enhances a pop-rock-infused soundtrack to enjoy 1980s hits such as Blondie’s “One Way or Another,” Van Halen’s “Jump,” and Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself For Lovin’ You.”

Best extras: Sans an optional commentary track from the director, viewers will find more than two hours of production featurettes covering plenty of minutiae about the technologically complex film.

A 57-minute documentary is the crown jewel offering behind-the-scenes screen time with Mr. Spielberg orchestrating the action. He works with the cast and crew and offers insight into what he considers one of the most difficult projects that he has ever worked on.

Other featurettes worth a look include: a focus on the special effects featuring interviews with key members of Industrial Light & Magic; footage of the actors expansive motion capture performances; and the director acclimating to the new equipment used in digital filmmaking.

I also enjoyed a segment with sound designers Gary Rydstrom and Kyrsten Mate as they discussed recreating hundreds of classic sound effects in the film, such as the noise made by the exhaust ports on the DeLorean.

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