READY PLAYER ONE (8 out of 10) Directed by Steven Spielberg; Written by Zak Penn and Ernie Cline; Starring Tye SheridanOlivia CookeBen MendelsohnSimon PeggMark Rylance; Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language ; Running time 140 minutes; In wide release March 29, 2018.

Steven Spielberg has done it again.

By “it,” I mean once again make a film for the ages. One that takes visual effects to the next level without distracting from the plot, and tying it up with a ribbon of sentiment. Because that’s what he has always done. Even the Indiana Jones films were about more than searching for artifacts. They addressed spiritual growth (to a degree), familial relationships, romantic reunions.

And E.T. isn’t a movie about an alien. It’s a movie about a boy who made a friend, and how that friend changed his life and the lives of those around him.

So it goes with Ready Player One. Yes, visually it’s CGI-heavy with glitzy graphics and vibrant colors, but since the story is about a virtual world, it’s sort of a requirement. The OASIS is a haven for the denizens of 2045, and they use technology as a means of escaping their dreary lives. But the man behind the OASIS had a larger vision for it, and he creates a game inside the virtual world that will award vast wealth and control over his creation to the person who finds the three keys. But will they discover something else?

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) idolizes Halliday (Mark Rylance), the reclusive creator. He studies the man’s life, watches all the same movies he watched, views reenactments of his life, and keeps newspapers and magazines clipped to the walls of his secret hideout. He uses this knowledge to piece together clues to acquire the first key. 

But the situation takes a dramatic turn when his name appears on the leaderboard. The corporate drones at IOI begin buzzing, with slimy Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) leading the charge. He wants Parzival out of the way. By any means necessary.

So a race for the keys becomes a race for control, for survival, for friendship. As in the book, Parzival and Aech are already friends, but the movie has them already connected with Daito and Sho. Then Parzival seizes an opportunity to become acquainted with Art3mis (Olivia Cooke). That’s not where the difference between the book and movie end, however. There are a lot.

Since Ernest Cline’s novel is told in first person point of view, much of the story involves Wade alone. But to keep the story more kinetic, the challenges were altered, actions performed by one character became plot points for another, the fate of other characters were drastically changed, and a new character created as an ally for Sorrento.  

But don’t let that deter you from the film. Because the changes maintain the spirit of the story and expand upon it. I thought the adaptation very clever, with the stakes in the real world much higher than they were in the book.

And let’s not forget all of the intellectual property that’s in the film. Yes, there are some Spielberg homages despite him saying for some time that there wouldn’t be, but blink and you’ll miss them. Blink and you'll miss a lot. Don't blink. The action scenes are fast-paced, and the screen so dense with characters at times that I know many of us will have to hit pause on the Blu-ray when this becomes available. I saw He-man on my second viewing. Batman is hard to miss. The Iron Giant was revealed in the trailer, so that’s no secret.

The movie is so chock-full of stuff I sat in silence after first seeing it, trying to digest it all, feeling as if I’d gorged on a heavy meal. I had spent nearly two and a half hours trying to absorb the music, the references, the changes in the story, the effects. I was exhausted. So I saw it again last night and relaxed and appreciated it simply as a film by my favorite director, and I left happy.

Hazy light streaming through a window. A boy searching for connection. The underdog against an impossible foe. These are the hallmarks of Spielberg. And beyond the digital realm the movie has heart. Yes, it’s a bit of a “groaner,” as one character admits, but there’s a message here. Log out sometimes. Connect.

Because, after all, the real world is the only place you can get a decent meal.

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