By William Wolf

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I have never played a video game, nor do I want to, and therefore I come as a total novice to director Steven Spielberg’s video game spectacle “Ready Player One.” Working with the complicated, imaginative screenplay by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, based on Cline’s novel, Spielberg, like a boy with a toy, has gone all out to make an unusual film with enough special effects to go-around for ten movies. Get the special effects Oscar ready.

The film is loaded with explosions and the kind of violence one would expect in the imaginary world of video games. This is make-believe about make-believe, but still those who see “Ready Player One” should know what to expect in the violence department.

The plot involves interaction between those who make video games and those who play them, which also means becoming avatars in the game. All begins in Columbus, Ohio in the year 2045 in an ugly depressed area with grim housing units piled vertically and appropriately called Stacks. Tye Sheridan plays Wade Watts, our guide into the story. The imaginary world is called Oasis, and the battle begins with the competitive goal of finding three keys to a hidden egg. Whoever finds the egg will become rich as the controller of Oasis and inheritor of its assets.

Sounds simple? But when Spielberg and his creative screenwriters get going, all digital-style hell breaks loose, involving chases, fights, uprisings and elaborate visuals, sound effects, assorted creatures, a touch of romance, some social relevance and enough “in” references to past movies and characters to please film fans like Spielberg.

For example, in one sequence a theater playing Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” is entered. It becomes a huge space, but there is a more intimate scene in which an attractive naked woman is taking a bath. She gets out, and stands bare facing her amazed onlooker. Then suddenly she changes into a withered, face-crumbling old hag who charges forward ferociously wielding a knife.

Others in the cast include Mark Rylance, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Olivia Cooke, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki and Simon Pegg. But the real star of the film is its production. In many respects Spielberg, abetted by the wild, ultra-imaginative action-filled Penn-Cline screenplay, has outdone himself.

I first interviewed Spielberg when he was a young fellow making “Jaws.” He mentioned how as a boy he would make little films with his video camera. Now, as one of the most successful filmmakers in the world, he was probably having the boyish time of his life pushing the envelope with “Ready Player One.” He is in effect inviting the public to play a massive video game with him, and whatever the reaction, the film comes across as a visual powerhouse of digital-age know-how. A Warner Bros. release. Reviewed March 31, 2018.


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