Grade: A-/A
Entire family: No (10 and older)
2018, 140 min., Color
Sci-fi Action-Adventure
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity, and language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHd
Bonus features: A-/B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Amazon link

What a fun ride this is—Jason and the Golden Fleece for the 21st century. Fantastic graphics and CGI special effects, plus a strong, suspenseful story and likable characters make Ready Player One a real winner for all ages.

Based on the young adult novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One requires knowledge of video gaming no more than another Steven Spielberg directed film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, required viewers to have seen a UFO. Sure, audience members will reach another level of allusions if they’re gamers, but there are plenty of cultural markers here for non-players to enjoy.

Besides, the film’s overtly stated theme is that maybe, just maybe, people spend too much of their lives avoiding reality, so parents thinking that this is just another film that glorifies video and online gaming so much that it’s a virtual commercial can relax. Cline and Spielberg are on your side.

Ready Player One is set in 2044-45, when so many people live in slums or have mediocre lives that just about everyone dons virtual reality headgear in order to spend time in the OASIS, a virtual reality world where people go after work or school to relax, have adventures, and meet other people. They all have avatars and other names when they’re in the OASIS, and that’s when Spielberg and his effects team really gets going. But the opening slums known as the “stacks” are also pretty impressive—a trailer park of sorts for the future, with mobile homes stacked on ramshackle iron structures—an idea as unique as we’ve seen for future living prognostication.

The hero is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a 17 year old who lives in the stacks with his Aunt Alice and whatever male friend she’s seeing lately. His avatar name is Parzival, and the action really begins when the co-creator of the OASIS, the deceased James Halliday (Mark Rylance), is shown on a pre-recorded video announcing that whoever can find an Easter egg that he’s hidden somewhere in the OASIS will be the new controlling interest in charge of the OASIS. The catch is that it takes three keys to access the egg, and each key can be found only through studying Halliday and OASIS and speculating where it might be.

The first action feels like the start of an old Land Rush, with people in all sorts of vehicles starting when the fireworks begin and rushing headlong into a gauntlet of traps and hazards. The villains are the video game manufacturers Innovative Online Industries (IOI), with Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) demanding that one of his hundreds of researchers, gamers, and “sixers” (virtual slaves) get to that egg before anyone else, so he can control the OASIS and raise prices. Meanwhile, record numbers of “gunters” (egg hunters) are also joining the frantic hunt, and that includes a well-known avatar named Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), whom Parzival befriends early in the movie by keeping her from getting “zeroed out” by a rampaging King Kong.

You’ll find all sorts of old games and cultural icons in Ready Player One, including the Iron Giant, Back to the Future car, and an extended reference to The Shining that reportedly was inserted after Spielberg was denied permission to include Blade Runner references because of the upcoming Blade Runner 2049 film.

The stakes are high, people get threatened, intimidated, injured, and, yes, killed. And while it’s less political than The Hunger Games, a corporation trying to stack the deck in a free-for-all contest is bad guy enough for a film that consciously tries not to be too dark. Because the tone is right, everything is high speed, and the violence is video-game style, it’s a PG-13 film that probably could be watched by older elementary schoolchildren as well. And get this in Blu-ray or 4K—it looks great in the former, and you really want the best picture and sound to be able to fully enjoy Ready Player One.

Language: One f-bomb comes at a funny horror moment, and the rest are lesser expletives
Sex: The nude back of a woman is seen, and sides of breasts are seen
Violence: Lots of explosions and blasting, some limbs are cut off, but except for one scene it’s fairly bloodless; because the world is virtual reality, you accept it as video game violence
Adult situations: Alcohol use is implied, but nothing is shown; an alien bursts out of a character’s stomach (allusion to Alien)
Takeaway: When you see Spielberg’s name in the opening credits, you sigh in relief, knowing that what follows will be good; the man’s brand is trustworthy as can be