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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Ready Player One

“The Con Is On” is also new to Blu-Ray this week

“Ready Player One” is “Forrest Gump” for Generation Xers. Much like Robert Zemeckis’ Best Picture Oscar winning 1994 movie played on the nostalgia of the Baby Boomers, Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” plays on Gen-X nostalgia, mostly from the 1980s—but with some ‘90s thrown in. It works.

As someone who is part of Gen-X and spent his formative years in the 1980s, half the fun of this movie is spotting all of the cool stuff I remember from my childhood, gasping and pointing to the screen and saying, “DeLorean!” or “The Shining!” or “OMG there’s a ‘Greatest American Hero’ symbol on the side of the protagonist’s visor! So cool!” Even Zemeckis himself gets some nods, not only from the aforementioned DeLorean, which is easily spotted as the centerpiece of his “Back to the Future” trilogy, but also in that what we who remember the ‘80s once called a Rubik’s Cube is now called a Zemeckis Cube.

But nostalgia alone does not make for a good movie. There needs to be a good story and characters we care about as well. Luckily, “Ready Player One” has that too. One can even read the plot of “Ready Player One” as an homage to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” a staple of Gen-X youth in which a young boy is put through a competitive series of tests to earn a very special grand prize from a mysterious and eccentric recluse.

In “Ready Player One,” the prize is the Oasis—a virtual reality simulation in which the population of the dystopian future living in 2045 spends most of its time. It was created by an eccentric, socially awkward recluse named Halliday (Mark Rylance). Before passing away, Halliday stated that he left clues that lead to three keys, and whoever collects the three keys will become the proprietor of the Oasis.

Wade (Tye Sheridan, who looks a bit like a young Spielberg) is a huge Halliday fan who knows all there is to know about the man. He thinks he can crack the clues and get the keys to rule the Oasis, thereby giving him a virtual and real world escape from the doldrums of living in “the stacks” (a slum) in Columbus, Ohio. Too bad for Wade that a greedy man named Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the head of a company named Innovative Online Industries (IOI), also wants control of Oasis, and to that end has put a substantial amount of his company’s resources into hiring “sixers”—folks who go into the Oasis to treasure hunt for the keys. Sorrento’s ultimate nefarious goal is to fill up each player’s view screen with ads to increase revenue. He even did a calculation that eighty percent of the player’s screen can be filled before they risk going into seizure. You don’t have to be a gamer—anyone who’s ever fought off pop ups on the Internet knows that this is bad news if he gets his hands on the Oasis.

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Luckily for Wade he has some back up, most notably in the form of Samantha (Olivia Cooke), a fellow gamer and real world love interest, as well as a hulking behemoth in the virtual world named Aech who, as played by Lena Waithe in the real world, is not quite what’s expected.

If there is any downside to “Ready Player One,” it’s that it dips into completely unnecessary vulgarity. Granted the movie is PG-13, but a movie this dazzling and brilliant would have been a great way for Gen-Xers to introduce their young children to the pop culture of their youth, and some parents may be turned off by the swearing. I also can’t believe that a movie directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring the Atari 2600 didn’t at least tip the hat to the notoriously bad “E.T.” Atari game that was based on Spielberg’s classic 1982 movie. I think enough time has passed where a fun, good-natured jab would have been appropriate and not feel out of place. Seems like a missed opportunity.

That aside, “Ready Player One” is eye candy galore. Particularly during the action scenes, the movie is filled edge to edge and corner to corner with eye popping visuals and fun pop culture references to spot. But none of this would work if the story didn’t have a sense of urgency, which it certainly does, and if the movie didn’t have characters we care about and cheer on, which it does. What’s most impressive is that the movie managed to make the stories being told in both the virtual world and the real world compelling and entertaining. Buy it.

More New Releases: “The Con Is On,” about a couple who flees to Los Angeles to plot a jewel theft after escaping England to avoid paying off a massive gambling debt to a notorious mobster, starring Sofía Vergara, Alice Eve, Uma Thurman, Crispin Glover, Parker Posey, and Tim Roth; and “Sunset Society,” starring Motorhead’s late, great frontman Lemmy Kilmister as the head of a hard partying secret society of Hollywood vampires.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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