MARCH 28, 2018 -- Steven Spielberg's latest film is one of those films that immerses you in a fantasy of pop culture that baby boomers will identify and the cyber fantasy of gaming that millennials find themselves living. Oh my, what a blast!


In every way "A Wrinkle in Time" and "Pacific Rim: Uprising" failed us, "Ready Player One" succeeds. The master filmmaker takes us on a trip to a dystopian future in the crossroads of Ohio - Columbus. In his film, in 2045, it is the fastest growing city in America with trailer homes stacked in precarious fashion to accomodate the overload of people; it depicts the rest of the world.


Here we find Wade Watts (Tye Sheridon) doing what everyone else in the world is doing to escape the doldrums of overpopulation...escaping into video games. To be sure, there is one game called the Oasis which is a surreal fantasy where anyone can be anyone if they have the money. Players create their own avatar - Wade's is Parzival (named after one of King Arthur's knights, but looking like a Justin Bieber cartoon) and he like everyone else is engaged in the cyber action.

That action was developed by a techno geek named Halliday (Mark Rylance) who has buried a special prize in the game - namely an Easter egg. There are lots of Easter eggs, but the person who finds this main big one wins his half-trillion dollar empire. Oh, Halliday is dead and he appears on video replay much like Steve Jobs might have.


Playing along with Wade are his two cyber friends Samantha (Olivia Cook) whose avatar is Art3mis and Helen (Lena Waithe) whose avatar is Aech. They don't really know each other, only their cyber beings. While playing the game, they make it pass the first stage of guntering (egg hunting) and find themselves now in the thick of real competition where they discover professional players hired by an evil (of course) corporate big wig named Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants to win the game - so that he can take over the world by running Oasis.


Suddenly Wade, Art3mis and Aech find themselves not only in the cyber race, but also a real life race much like "Slumdog Millionaire" - people want to know how these nobodies are progressing through the game. In the cyber world they are surrounded by old movie themes like the DeLorean from "Back to the Future", the Trex from "Jurrassic Park", "The Shining", "Iron Giant" and other nostalgic flicks backed by rocking music like Men Without Hats Safety Dance, Cindy Lauper's Time After Time, and Van Halen's Jump.


The pace is frenetic, the visuals are amazing and the nostalgia is a blast... for anyone familiar with most of the themes. Alas, some youngsters might get lost. Mendelson and Rylance are having a blast in their roles as villain and cyber geek. Sheridan and Cooke are adequte in their roles though their avatar personalities are much more believable than their live characters. The story will remind you of a lot of what you'd get if "Tron" (1982) and "Gamer" (2009) were combined.


The movie is adapted from Ernest Cline's sci-fi novel of the same name, though I understand Spielberg trimmed back on the homage to his own films which are prevalent in the book.


"Ready Player One" is a fantastical hoot that should be seen on an IMAX screen to get the full effect of the visuals, but nearly as immersive in regular cinema. It is a virtual blast to the future and back.   -- GRADE A --   GEOFF BURTON