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Steven Spielberg Delivers Pop Culture Sensory Overload With ‘Ready Player One’

Lots of eye candy but not much soul

Photo caption: Wade Watt (Tye Sheridan, on right) meets his idol game designer Jim Halliday ...

Photo credit: Warner Brothers

Wade Watt (Tye Sheridan, on right) meets his idol game designer Jim Halliday (Mark Rylance) inside the virtual world of The OASIS in "Ready Player One."

Companion viewing

"Final Fantasy: Spirits Within" (2001)

"Crank: High Voltage" (2009)

"Hardcore Henry" (2015)

Steven Spielberg, hot off of Oscar nominations for last year’s "The Post," already has a new movie out. It's the eagerly anticipated "Ready Player One."

To be perfectly honest, I much prefer the popcorn Steven Spielberg to the serious, socially conscious one. I enjoy "Sugarland Express" and "Jaws" far more than "Schindler's List" and "The Post."

"Ready Player One" returns Spielberg to a more purely pop entertainment film and it's a reminder that he is better when not weighed down by lofty ambitions.

"Ready Player One" (based on the book by Ernest Cline) is set in a dystopian future where the majority of the populace seeks escape through virtual reality gaming. The plot is set in motion when Jim Halliday (Mark Rylance), the creator of a VR world called the OASIS dies. He leaves behind a challenge to all players.

"I created a hidden object, an Easter egg, The first person to find the egg will inherit half a trillion dollars and control of the OASIS itself."

This starts a mad frenzy of competition among the players as well as some scheming and manipulating by one of Halliday's old business partners, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Sorrento begins particular perturbed when a young player named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) starts to unravel Halliday's mystery and seems on track to claim the prize.

"Ready Player One" serves up an onslaught of 80s pop culture references that are fun to spot. Although it's a bit of sensory overload. The CGI looks flashy and since it is not trying to look realistic — it represents the players' avatars in the game — it is enjoyable.

But all the eye candy distracts from what should be a more melancholy tale underneath. The film may lack soul but Mark Rylance’s sweetly awkward performance as the brilliant game designer with regrets gives the film true heart. This is the second time that Rylance has given a Spielberg film its emotional core. The first time was in "Bridge of Spies," for which he won a much deserved best-supporting actor Oscar.

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