The self-proclaimed “holy grail of pop culture” has finally found its way to the cineplex, almost eight years after Warner Bros. snatched up the rights. And with Steven Spielberg at the helm, all of geek-dom is abuzz. Though fans of the Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One may be split on the end result (the plot strays early and often), taken by itself the film is a knock-your-socks-off thing of beauty. Full of nerd-tastic 80s references (Back to the Future’s DeLorean, an Atari 2600, and a Rubik’s Cube all play vital roles), it’s the ultimate inside joke, provided you’re over the age of 35. But if you’re too young to know Beetlejuice from Battlestar Galactica, fear not. There’s more than enough dazzling visual effects and a break-neck scenes to make your head spin with child-like glee.

Tye Sheridan stars as Wade Watts, a loner teenager living with his aunt in overcrowded Columbus, Ohio, thirty years in the future. He spends every waking moment as his avatar Parzival in the OASIS, a virtual world created by tech pioneer James Halliday (Mark Rylance). In his will, Halliday bequeaths his trillion-dollar empire and complete control of the OASIS to anyone who can solve three near-impossible puzzles and find a final easter egg, therefore proving his or her worth as the ultimate geek god.

While a well-meaning gunters (egg-hunters), including Wade, have some fun poking around, evil corporate behemoth IOI is on a mission to beat the challenges and win control of the OASIS. IOI bigwig Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) has hired an army of tech wizards to while away their days working on the puzzles.

Once Wade figures out and wins the first challenge, things kick into high-gear, prompting Sorrento to step up his efforts and pull out all the nefarious stops he can in order to keep Wade from getting any further. Wade, meanwhile, teams up with fellow gunters Aech (Lena Waithe) and Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) to stay ahead in the game, and the race for the control of the future is on.

The mile-a-minute script, which Cline co-wrote with Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand), resembles the original novel only in the broadest of plot points, a fact that may leave devotees feeling like they just lost their last life at the arcade. But if you take the movie as more of an accompaniment or supplement to the book, there’s no way to leave the theater without a huge grin and a lingering sense of deep nostalgia for the good ol’ days of Space Invaders and Galaga.

At the same time It’s damn near impossible to reconcile the fact that the director, just three months ago, was chatting up his latest project, the Oscar-nominated The Post—a movie as far from the 3D, high-tech world of the OASIS as Richard Nixon is from Pitfall Harry. Spielberg may well be cinema’s greatest chameleon, a top-of-the-heap auteur who is as comfortable coaxing a nuanced performance out of Meryl Streep as he is shepherding what looks like it may be the most visually game-changing movie of all time.

From its opening scene (set to Van Halen’s anthemic “Jump”, naturally) to the eminently satisfying conclusion (to the tune of Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams”, duh), Ready Player One is the ultimate eye candy, a non-stop roller coaster of pop culture goodness that asks nothing more of you than to just just sit back, strap in, and enjoy. Just leave your book at the door.


4.5/5 stars

Worth the 3D glasses?

All day, every day. Do not pass up the plastic specs on this one, folks. They’re well worth it.